I seriously struggle with guilt. I think it’s one of my biggest areas of needed help in my life, honestly. I feel guilty about absolutely everything, all the time, particularly with parenting.
I never noticed that I felt so guilty and fearful all the time until a few weeks ago, when a friend posted an article about being a mom in “the age of fear,” as it was titled. The article really struck a chord with me. I get really “soapbox-y” about “Good Samaritans” (I always put that in quotes because I don’t think they are actually being good or providing help) who call the police on parents who they think might be neglecting or abusing their kids when they don’t really have enough information to determine that – like people who call the police on someone for leaving their kid in the car for 5 minutes or letting their kids play alone in the backyard. I think these people are cowardly. I don’t think they want to help; I just think they get a kick out of being self-righteous, tattling hall monitors. And this is my great fear as a parent: I fear, fear, fear – every single day – my children being taken away from me and traumatized by someone who was being a self-righteous, tattling hall monitor when my child wasn’t actually in any danger. It’s so out of hand that I fear doing simple tasks for fear of being judged (and even receiving criminal charges). For example, when I get to Aldi every week, I grab my quarter, leave the kids in the car, go the front of the store, get my buggy, and bring it back to my car, where I then lift the two big ones into the double cart (Aldi, I love you), put the wrap on, place the baby inside, and then begin walking into the store. I don’t mind in the slightest taking my kids in to Aldi with me, but that less-than-2-minute interval where they are left in the car so I can get a buggy has me second-guessing my choices as a mom EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. This also happens at Target, for the record. I should be able to do that without living in great fear that some nosy person will think I’m a terrible mother.
I am an excellent mother. I am imperfect in every way. I mess up every day. But by golly, I am an excellent mother.
My house is always a mess. My kids don’t eat healthy even though I consistently try to feed them healthy food. My oldest child will be 5 in two months and isn’t completely potty trained during the day (interestingly, he is completely potty trained at night). I have lost my temper and yelled and slammed doors. I have spanked out of anger rather than out of loving punishment before. I have gone several days without cleaning up their room. I have gone several days with a dirty diaper sitting on top of the dresser, continually forgetting to throw it away. I have cleaned up yogurt handprints from my fabric furniture several times a day because my children WILL NOT stay at the table to eat no matter WHAT we do. My kids have gone over a week without having a bath before; I forget to brush their teeth way more often than I’d like to admit. There are no baseboards in my house and I still haven’t found about half of the newborn-3 month clothes that I had for Ellie after we moved because the basement is a wreck of total destruction.
I worry about every single one of these things. I feel so guilty that I can’t seem to just get it together and be Wonder Woman and tame it all with my lasso. (Actually, I wish I could throw all our crap in the invisible plane, because that would be handy to quickly hide it from people when they are coming over!) I’m feeling nauseated even writing this down – I’m literally scared RIGHT NOW that someone is going to read this and report me to DCFS because they think I neglect my children or can’t properly care for them. But in the spirit of authenticity, I want you to know that we are doing okay in the midst of extreme chaos with 3 kids under 5. I work hard to stop all of these things that I listed above. I am currently working hard to get my house in order and have routines that will stop the messes. I am working very, very hard to enforce routines and rules that will help my kids self-regulate and be neater and cleaner. I am working hard to take a deep breath and discipline in a way that is effective, consistent, and deeply rooted in love and a desire to see the character of God in my children. I’m exhausted and worn and weary. THIS PHASE OF LIFE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.
So judge away. Judge me for those embarrassing things I listed above. Think in your head that I’m a terrible mother. Make that grimace-face at me. Tell me on my walk with all three kids when two of them are acting crazy that “oh, you’ve got your hands full!” Text me that it isn’t okay that my kid spread his poop on the walls when he was three or that my daughter had yogurt in her hair at church on Sunday morning. Judge me at Aldi because I forgot to grab the kids’ shoes on the way out the door so they are barefoot in the cart. I have decided that I welcome your judgment.
I’m fighting the urge as I write this to list all the things I am great at as a mom. I don’t think that matters, though. I have a deep need to validate myself by overbalancing the scale – I do more things well than poorly, so that makes me a good mom. I actually don’t think that’s true right now anyway; I do more things poorly than well. But I’m not going to list them.
Here’s what I am going to say: thank you. Thank you to my friend who came over to deliver us a meal after Grace was born and helped us scrub purple sharpie off our cabinets. Thank you to my friend who came over to bring us food about an hour after my kids spread ashes over the entire house and stayed for over an hour to clean it up with me. Thank you to those people who are willing to step into my ridiculous mess of a zoo and help me.
This is who I want to be. I want to be the person who helps in a mess. And I want to be the person who invites people into the real – even when it is ugly – to live life alongside one another.
Most of all, I pray deeply every single day that my children will see that when life is a hot mess, we help each other. I want them to see that we reach outside of ourselves. I want them to see that spilling food isn’t a problem because it makes a mess; it’s a problem because we’re wasting our privilege. I want them to learn that we take care of our bodies by bathing and brushing our teeth because they are temples of the Holy Spirit, given to us by God to do His work on this earth, so they need to be cared for.
In letting go of my incessant need to have a perfect life, or more specifically, to appear like I have a perfect life, I pray from my inmost core that my children can learn the grace of God. I pray that the LORD will arrest their hearts for His cause, that he will fill them up with love and mercy, and that they will be His beacons, His World Changers, His light. And I pray every day that in spite of my huge list of imperfections, they will seek His kingdom first.
I pray that they’ll see me turning toward my Jesus in every moment of weakness, and that they’ll learn that doing that is the greatest strength they can have.
And if I am perfect, or if I try really hard to look perfect, then they don’t get to see that. They miss that chance to learn humility. They miss that chance to learn grace.
So judge away, friends. I’ve decided that being real is more important than looking perfect.