Two of my kids have summer birthdays and I remember questioning when to put them in school even before they broke their first tooth. As my oldest was weeks from his high school graduation, my husband asked me if I thought we had done the right thing sending him “early.” He wondered if school would have been easier for him or if he would have fit in better in a different class. I hadn’t thought about it since we’d enrolled him but all of the sudden it kept me up at night and had me imagining an alternate life for my son.
As we were sitting in the living room one evening, I blurted out, “Should we have put you in the class behind you? Would you have had a better life? Did we hold you back with our choices?” I held back tears as he laughed and responded with, “Why are you thinking about that?” He told me that he couldn’t imagine having other friends and even though things weren’t always easy, they were good and made him who he was. I love who he is. I love all of the things that made each of my kids who they are. I’ve felt that familiar mom guilt overwhelm me and I realize that sometimes I can let it rob me of my joy. Mom guilt has a role but that is NOT it!
Mom guilt can serve as confirmation that we care, and it can remind us that we aren’t perfect. Those are things that I want my kids to know about which feel zero guilt! I’ve had to apologize to each of my children at some point for not getting “it” quite right, and I’ve also broken down and cried on every vacation as my perfect plans fell apart. Those things have taught them humility and how to deal with plans going awry in ways that making all of the “right” choices never could.
It’s easy to look back and recognize that mom guilt is a choice and that we don’t need to waste our time there, it’s another thing completely to let go of it in the moment. And let’s face it, there are a lot of moments! My mother-in-law gave me a great piece of advice early in my parenting journey: “being selfish for an hour so you can be a better mom for 8 is a good trade.” For her, that was putting her kids in front of PBS for lunch while she took some time for herself. That hour of screen time made her a better mom and I love that! I also think her son turned out pretty okay!
The best thing I did to combat my mom guilt was to find a community of moms early on. For the first few years it was a close group of friends but then we moved, and the isolation hit hard. I found a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and decided to give it a go. I felt like an outsider for the first two meetings but I was desperate, so I stuck it out and it ended up shaping my parenting, friendships and marriage two decades later. We shared “real mom moments” that were funny, embarrassing, difficult and sweet. This became a space where moms with different personalities, priorities and parenting styles could lay it all out and feel encouraged. Things that I felt guilty about resonated with other moms. We were there to become better moms and part of that was sharing what made us imperfect moms. We were raising imperfect people after all! I found friends that did things differently than I did but still validated my choices, and I was able to understand and embrace the diversity of my community.
Community looks different right now. Zoom meetings with toddlers aren’t always authentic and the internet is great at telling you what you’re doing wrong and planting, watering and harvesting boom crops of guilt. But you get to choose your community and your response to your circumstances. Something I learned is that you never have to let your circumstances dictate your attitude. There are things that you cannot choose but mom guilt is not one of them. Embrace it for a moment, decide what to do with it and enjoy those imperfect little humans that you’re raising!