Most times in our life we reserve guilt for things we knowingly do wrong, things that hurt others and/or ourselves, yet we have gained some temporary pleasure and so we forego doing right in the name of instant gratification.
Mommy guilt syndrome (MGS) is a special exception to the rule. In this extreme type of useless and plaguing guilt, one is able to feel guilty over such things as eating, hygiene, exercise, sleep, emptying of the bladder and a barrage of other necessary daily functions. Additionally, the condition is exacerbated by any and all pleasurable activity that does not benefit the child. Then there is the guilt for every action or inaction that has caused or will cause the child any type of suffering yesterday, today or tomorrow.
MGS can rear its ugly head at anytime. For instance, your child is begging you to play but you continually say “Not now, Mommy needs to make dinner.” Finally the child gives up and begins playing by himself. You look in and instead of feeling happy that your child is learning life skills and happily playing you feel guilty that they were forced to give up on all their hopes and dreams because you could not take two minutes to build a tower while you let the water come to a boil on the stove.
Another instance, you take a break from making dinner and scoop up your happy little one and snuggle on the couch with them as they tune into their favorite cartoon and your thoughts are “We should be doing something that stimulates their imagination. Why do I let them watch so much t.v. I should be playing with them more.”
The following day you play a rowdy game of hide-and-seek in the house and your excited toddler hides in the closet closing the door on your other child’s fingers. “WHAT WAS I THINKING?!! Closing my eyes for 30 seconds! How could I let this happen?!!”
If you suffer from MGS, everything is a trigger. Meals should be healthier, the house should be cleaner, play should be educational, time should be productive, smiles should flow endlessly, and laughter must ring at all times.
Yesterday I was working from home and had set my boys up with a 30-minute cartoon, sippy cups and snacks so I could commit this time to my business. My 2-year-old, Corbin, had a cold and was not feeling well so he was unhappy with the arrangement. I stood at my laptop, quickly checking email, as he whined around me begging to be held. I picked him up, plopped him in front of the T.V., explained that I would only be a few more minutes and then we could snuggle, and then I returned to my email. Moments later, when I was caught up, I eagerly went to snuggle my boy and came upon this:
OH THE GUILT!! I had a complete MGS flare-up! My baby boy was sick and over-tired and just wanted a Mommy snuggle, and I left him there all alone in his suffering being babysat by a television set. MOMMY FAIL!
In that moment, I stopped and said “Enough! Time to change your perspective.” Why do I focus on my lack? He has had this cold for a week and a thousand times I picked him up and comforted him. Now he is peacefully sleeping. No evil has occurred here.
Isn’t it strange that we seem to instinctively turn our blessings into obligations? How unfair to our children to make them the source of such inner turmoil. It would seem this MGS comes from some unattainable desire for a truly altruistic existence where we are somehow made better by at least feeling bad about not being perfect. As if that moves us any closer to our goal.
I’m so done with it! Who is with me? Okay, yeah, I have had some really low Mommy moments for which I have needed to be sorry and seek forgiveness in my heart, but for the most part it is just a huge distraction from really living in the moment and enjoying my children.
I only know one cure for MGS and that is Gratitude. As I shifted my perspective and looked at my sweet little sleeping boy I thought “Lord, thank you for the extra rest to help Corbin get over his cold.” Then I snapped a cute little picture and I scooped him up and held my sleeping little guy for a half hour while watching cartoons with his big brother. That’s right..we watched t.v., and it was glorious!
We can always work toward becoming better parents, and as you see things you want to work on, write them down and consider an action plan. For instance:
Problem: We don’t spend enough time outside.
Action plan: Every day we will try to bundle up just before lunch and spend some time outside, even on the porch if it is icy out.
And if, at the end of the week, you only got out three times…be sure to say “I’m grateful we got out more this week. We will try to hit five next week.”
Children learn what they live. Let’s not teach our children how to live in guilt. Let’s teach them how get to where they’re going and to take setbacks with resilience. Don’t let a useless illusion of personal lack steal your parenting joy. Get a prescription for Gratitude and start treating your Mommy Guilt Syndrome TODAY!