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Motherhood Matters: How one phone conversation helped me stop feeling 'mom-guilt'

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My friend Laney has a big, bold personality. She is confident and unapologetic about the things that matter to her — and she always says it like it is.

I, on the other hand, am naturally prone to people-pleasing and worrying about things I have no control over. So being around Laney is like a breath of fresh air.

A few years ago, Laney and I were talking on the phone about an online article that encouraged moms to stop being so hard on themselves when she asked me an interesting question: “Rachel, is ‘mom-guilt’ a real thing? I mean, do some moms really feel like they aren’t enough for their children?” I assured her that many of us moms do.

Then she said, with her signature honesty, “The only thing that I ever feel guilty about is how often I think, ‘My kids are so lucky to have me!’”

I burst out laughing and she joined me, and then she continued, “But seriously, Rachel, my kids have such a good life. They have parents who love them, grandparents who love them, aunts and uncles who love them. I read them books every night, they go to good schools, they have food to eat, friends to play with, beds to sleep in, clean water to drink. I mean, their lives are basically perfect.”

She went on: “I am not going to waste my time and energy feeling bad for them or feeling bad about myself because they watch a little too much TV, eat more sugar than I’d like, or that I yell at them on occasion. My kids know that I love them. I am doing my best, and they are lucky to have me.”

Even though it’s now been several years since that phone conversation, I think of it often. Whenever I feel a familiar twinge of "mom-guilt" creeping in — the thought that maybe the life that I’m giving my kids or the work that I am doing as their mom isn’t enough — I think of Laney’s wisdom and heave a sigh of relief.

I recently went to South Africa for 10 days, and the poverty that I witnessed in the rural areas was truly heartbreaking. I saw so many children who don’t have clean water, nourishing food or opportunities for education. I talked to single mothers who travel by bus to their work as domestic helpers in the city. Because they must leave for work before dawn and come home after dark, their children are alone much of the time, fending for themselves in communities without consistent access to food and water.

My experience in South Africa reinforced what Laney was saying that day on the phone: my kids and I really do have incredibly blessed lives. There is no point in me feeling sorry for them or bad about myself because I can’t do it all or be it all for them.

So if you, like me, struggle at times with mom-guilt, try this as you go about your day today: Instead of thinking about the things that you aren’t doing for your kids or the ways that you wish you could be better, think about how blessed their lives are. Think of all of the many, many things that you and others are giving them. Make a list. Write it down.

For example, my son is the world’s pickiest eater, and I often feel like it’s all my fault. I think things like, “If I ate more vegetables myself and didn’t like sweets so much, he wouldn’t be this way!” Or I beat myself up with “I should have forced him to try more foods when he was younger,” only to find myself thinking a week later, “I forced him to try too many foods when he was younger and ruined his natural appetite for healthy foods.” (I mean, honestly, I can’t win.)

So my son is a picky eater. And maybe it’s partially my fault. The truth is, it doesn’t matter: He has food to eat and a happy family to sit around the table with. When I choose to focus on that instead of my failings as a mother, we are all a lot happier. I hope that someday my son will grow up and start trying new foods and eating vegetables, but even if he never does, he’s had a good life, and I am a good mom. It is so liberating and important to realize that.

Of course there are still many things that I want to improve on as a mother, but I’ve learned that mom-guilt does not motivate me to change — it only drags me down. When I acknowledge the abundance in my family’s life and take myself a little less seriously, I am much more able to be the mom that I truly want to be.

I will forever be grateful to my bold, wise friend, Laney, who, in one life-changing conversation, helped me to start challenging “mom-guilt” by recognizing that my children have great lives, and, as flawed as I am, they are lucky to have me as their mom.

Question: What causes mom-guilt in your life? Is there any way to challenge those thoughts by listing off all of your kids’ blessings?

Challenge: This week, notice if you have habits of negative self-talk, comparison with other moms, or mom-guilt. Refuse to believe it anymore. Write down all of the ways that your children have blessed lives and the reasons that they are lucky to have you as their mom.

This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.