Mom Guilt

At an event with other women last week, some mothers were talking about how they actually do the work of dozens of professionals each day. And it’s true, if you think about it. Moms are superheroes. We are awesome at multi-tasking, soothing frumpled emotions, negotiating fights, navigating tantrums, juggling dinner and soccer practice and scouts and recitals and housecleaning and laundry. We comfort everyone around us, we cry with our kids, we defend them and pray for them. We can take the best lawyer, detective, CEO, accountant, cleaning service, professional organizer, and psychologist to task. We are the most talented event planners, we have the endurance and patience of monks (sometimes), and we sacrifice everything--our time, our privacy, our chocolate—to our families and children. We are awesome.

So, here is a question for mothers out there. If we are so awesome, why do we so often not feel awesome at all—at times, actually, the opposite of awesome? Why do we so often feel inadequate, or like we are failing? Why are we fraught with Mom Guilt as we over-analyze where we have fallen short? That's right: Mom Guilt, with capitals, because guess what? It’s a huge force in our lives.

One of my friends had a conversation with her wonderful mother the other day where her mom called up, nearly crying. She wanted to know what she had done wrong as a mother. She said that she knew she had failed in so many ways. My friend was aghast. She didn’t know where this was coming from, and tried to remind her mother of all of the amazing things she had done as a mother, and of everything that she had taught her. But for every nice thing my friend told her mother, her mother had a counterexample of a way she had failed. After my friend hung up, she realized this pattern was all-too familiar. I know that I myself have done this very thing. Too often, I kneel before God at the end of the day with a sense of failure and disappointment; a sense of guilt that I wasn’t this, that, or the other type of mother. I list off all of the things I did wrong.

I know I’m not alone in feeling Mom Guilt. I’ve had enough conversations with moms over the years to know that most of us have experienced it at one point or another.

Here’s the thing. Guilt, in its most pure form, is a great motivator for change. It is a catalyst in our lives when we have made poor choices, and it spurs us to return to God. However, I think that a lot of the guilt we feel is not of that kind. That emotion has been hijacked and it is used against us all of the time to give us a FALSE sense of unworthiness that keeps us from finding the love and comfort and support of God, and from feeling joy in motherhood. In addition to this, we ourselves become quite practiced at manufacturing guilt out of thin air, and filling our hearts with it. And guess what? It’s not real—it isn’t deserved. The Mom Guilt that feel is often not from God—it is from our own minds, fashioned from the internet’s glowingly perfect Pinterest boards, Mommy blogs, social media highlights reel, and, from the best we see in other mothers. In the end, the joy of motherhood is hindered by this false guilt that prevents us from seeing our true success stemming from our unique style and strengths.

Is that what God would want for us? To be constantly plagued with doubt and a feeling of falling short? No. God doesn’t sit up there every day with a checklist of our failures as mothers....we may do that each day, but that is not how He works.  Instead, God is cheering us on, noting our progress, and rejoicing in our journey towards filling the measure of our creation. Sure, we can take stock where we want to improve and stay humble, but to use our weaknesses to beat ourselves down into a state of miserable self-loathing? No. That is not God’s way.

And yes, we are flawed, and we do sometimes make mistakes. When that guilt is real, it’s a good thing we have the Atonement, right? To quote Jeffrey R. Holland, “With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.”

We are given grace through the power of the Atonement. And we should utilize that power. And by utilize it, I don’t mean kneel each night with a list of our failures and beg for forgiveness and feel guilty about them and carry those failures around like a weight in our hearts in order to show penance. That isn’t how this whole Atonement thing works. Utilizing the Atonement means kneeling, acknowledging our weakness before the Lord, and laying those weights at His feet. And then--and this is the part that I think so many of us miss—it is standing up with joy and hope in our hearts, and moving forward, not burdened by a sense of despair, but with a sense of joy that we have the Savior and the Atonement in our lives. We can wake the next morning, relieved of that weight in our hearts, and live the day feeling good about ourselves, yes, even as mothers! That is what the Atonement is for: to live each day feeling joy.

So today, mothers, I give us all permission to stop feeling guilty that we aren’t perfect mothers. What exactly is a perfect mother, anyway? If I were to ask this question to each and every one of you, I bet we could all come up with an answer, and guess what? Often that answer will be based on the comparison factor. It will be based on what we have seen other mothers do that we don't do very well, and somehow, we build this monument called “perfection," a monument built with the stones of other mother’s strengths. A lot of the guilt we feel is created through our own comparison to that monument.

And this tendency—to compare ourselves to other mothers and walk away feeling incredibly lacking—is in the end, a denial of who we are. When we define our success as mothers primarily through looking at other mothers—either around us or as seen in society and social media—the problem is that we don’t see ourselves as US. God gave each of us a distinct set of personality traits, strengths, and yes, even weaknesses, that combine to make us who we are….which is still, even including those weaknesses, a unique and individual creation of God.

I am not a perfect mother and you are not a perfect mother. But I AM me, and you are YOU, and that makes you a mother that is distinct and yes, dare I say it—wonderful? Flawed but beautiful? And let me ask this, and if you haven’t been paying attention so far, please tune in for this one, moms, because it is critical: Do you really think that God didn’t know who you were, individually, when He sent you children? That He didn’t know your individual strengths and weaknesses? That He didn’t know what type of mother you and I, separately, would be? Do you really think that God didn’t know who your children were when He chose to send them to your care?

Of course He knew. He knew exactly what He was doing. You are the mother God knew you were going to be, you can be exactly the mother that He intends you to be, and your children need YOU, not your next door neighbor or some other mother who you compare yourself against.

Sometimes, we set our goals to some distant mountain top that we label “perfect motherhood,” and spend our days laboriously trudging towards that distant peak. When we don’t make it there at the end of each day, we feel we have failed. Here’s the thing though: even if we were to make it to that peak, that isn’t necessarily the peak God meant us to climb. It doesn’t have the views we were meant to see—they were meant for someone else. If we were to focus only on hiking to that peak—that peak of perfection built from what we see in other mothers--we are choosing not to hike to the peak that God set aside just for us.

God has prepared a very specific and unique path for every mother. Just because your path doesn’t look like your neighbor’s doesn’t mean it isn’t as sanctioned or destined or fulfilling or right or correct. Let’s stop trying to veer off our own paths as we try to find someone else’s path, or walk a path we set up in our own minds as the right one.

So, mothers, each and every one of you, are the mother you are supposed to be. You are beautiful because you are different and distinct. You are beautiful because you are real, and human. But the bottom line is—you are beautiful.

So, let’s celebrate. Let’s be happy about not only the amazing talents and skill sets that all mothers have, that frankly, to add to my list, defy even the most talented hostage negotiator, crisis interventionist, juggler, circus performer, and a host of other under-touted talents that we develop along the way. But also, let’s celebrate Motherhood with a capital M, as established by a loving God, as the most divine, sacred, and fulfilling role here on earth. Motherhood is the role that occupied the Savior’s last dying thoughts; it is the role that is used in scripture to symbolize poignant and unparalleled love and care. It is role that softens men's hearts and heals the world. It is the role that molds the faithfulness of future daughters and sons. And it is the role that has, for me, taught me more about heaven, miracles, and unbounded joy than any other.

Moms, let yourselves be happy with yourselves, and let yourselves be filled with the joy of having the privilege to bear this most sacred role, the privilege of being called mothers.