Q: I can't shake this feeling that somehow I'm messing up my kids. How can I combat the guilty, nagging sense that I'm not a good enough mom?
A: The first paperback I ever clutched to my chest and squealed over was Julie Ann Barnhill's book, Motherhood: The Guilt that Keeps on Giving. After a particularly challenging season with my son, the title alone was like a new BFF, a salve to my frantic mama's heart. Would I ever be a woman worthy of raising my three children? Apparently Barnhill knew my agony, and since that day I've chatted with moms across the country who raise this exact question. Most of us carry some level of anxiety over our parenting; it's an expected element of parenthood that stalks us the moment a nurse discharges our newborn from the hospital.
For many moms, guilt over feeling we're the "world's worst parent" stems from hyper-marketed, naive notions about mother-hood as a blissful, dreamlike state filled with library visits and art projects that rival Monet's childhood. Parenting should go down like the catalogue covers, right? I dreamt of matching gingham bedding, high end strollers, and having the infant who napped and nursed like a pro. After all, women have been mothers for centuries. This is one of God's greatest gifts to us, so how difficult can this endeavor really be?
Yet in an honest moment most moms will admit parenting is more raw and intense than they ever suspected. My friend Amy simply asked one morning how it was going with my kids. I grumbled the only response my exhausted self could mutter: "They are killing me."
I confessed that I yelled often, found myself constantly frustrated, and felt confident that I would somehow screw up this entire endeavor. Then I leaned in to whisper a final confession: I could not stand to play with toy trains and dolls anymore!
Amy squealed with delight and relief.
"Me too!" She sighed. "We are so going to mess this all up. How did God let us be parents anyway?"
Her simple sentiment was a gift. I was not alone. She met me in the fear and guilt that most of us lug around like a 75-pound suitcase with broken wheels. She helped me recognize this mom angst is as common as a headache. Learning to admit and talk through these feelings is how we face and overcome them. Honest confessions and conversations bring us into relationships where we can begin to grow into better parents. What works in other homes? What do other moms do to manage the yelling, chaos, and intensity of parenting?
Finding a safe place to discover this common ground is essential during motherhood. God's design for humanity is that we commune and lean upon one another. To do so during motherhood is part of God's survival plan for parents. C. S. Lewis once said, "True friendship is born that moment when one person says to another, 'What? You too! I thought I was the only one.'" Finding partners for the journey can transform our families.
There is no quick fix to ease this guilt. An earnest question like this, when asked among safe people, can also lead us into tender places that need attention. What if my anger is out of control? Consider seeking out a Bible study, small group, or community group where you can process your parenting and ask the questions that will help you grow.
Continue to seek God's help throughout the day. Ask him to give you strength and a sense of peace about your role as a parent.
Take heart: you are not the "world's worst parent." Simply acknowledging the guilt and asking the question takes you out of the running on that one! But you are in good company: you stand along with imperfect parents everywhere who love their children desperately and want to do God's best for them.
God himself is the only perfect parent. What a tremendous source of relief, as it takes the pressure off and places us in the good, imperfect company of a few billion other women, and places our "success" as a parent in the hands of God himself.
Check out an excerpt from Tracey's book, Mom Connection by going to TodaysChristianWoman.com/2-2012.