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Mommy Guilt Does Not Exist

I've been chewing on this one for a long time. My blog is meant to inspire and uplift - and possibly entertain - as I catalogue my journey to being debt free. My wife is affected so much in this, just like me. I can't help but listen to what she says and what other mothers say as they struggle day to day.

First, I should explain the attention-pillaging title. Mom Guilt is a term coined by many, many circles. But I don't think its guilt. I do not believe "mommy guilt" is an accurate description of what you wonderful women experience. You give birth to a wonderful, new, engaging, demanding, beautiful child. You rear that child for a few short weeks or months. Then, 'x' happens:
  • You find out you can't breastfeed, or you struggle so much your nipples bleed.
  • You return to the workforce.
  • You struggle to meet the needs of older children.
  • You can't get your kids into every activity you'd like (again, if you have older children).
  • You learn that your newborn/older child has a developmental issue or a latent birth defect.
  • You notice a behavioral or personality trait in your children. They struggle with it. You blame yourself for it.
I get it. I'm just a dude trying his darndest to get out of debt. My perspective is invalidated for much of the female world because of that chromosomal fact. But I'm a married dude. And I married well. I've watched Amazewife struggle in deep dark moments with this. 

Do this. Think back over the past <insert period of time since the birth of your last child>. Think hard. Did you ever ask a question in your heart that started like this: "Am I a bad mom for…?" And when you did, how did it make you feel? If your answer is towards the depressed side of the scale, it's not guilt.


There I was several years ago sitting in therapy. Yep, therapy. I recommend it. I'm convinced everyone needs at least some.

Anyway, there I was. We were on the subject of change and the emotions involved.
The therapist drew a diagram on a whiteboard and proceeded to explain the difference between guilt and shame.

Shame, he explained, is a tool of the Adversary. It is self-deprecating and breeds a sense of blame. A loss of hope. It convinces us that we are not worthy to feel better. It tells us we aren't able to change because, well… we're just not that great of people. We're weak. We can't do it. Oh, and look at your kids. Of course you should be ashamed. They're dirty. Or they smell. Or they're loud. Or they're short.
Shame is all about what is wrong with me, and how those wrongs make other people wrong. In shame, there will always be things wrong with who I am and what I do for myself and others.

Guilt, on the other hand, is a tool on the opposite side of the Table. Guilt is an awareness of honest, true wrongdoing. It motivates change. It gives energy to finding resolution and makes difficult decisions possible, if not necessary. 

It is to the spirit as pain is to the body. Let me illustrate:

I stab my hand, my hand hurts. I'm injured.
I lie to my child. I feel guilt. I'm spiritually injured.
I tell myself I'm terrible for lying. I feel shame. I keep the spiritual injury open instead of committing to turning a new leaf.


This brings me to my point. What I hear my wife talk about, what I hear the mothers in my family talk about, and what I hear mothers in my community talk about isn't guilt. It's shame. It's mommy shame. 

It's a well-meaning mother or grandmother who asks, "Do you really think you should be working this soon after having the baby?"

Or it's the well-meaning peer that asks, "Are you really going to stay on maternity for three months? How will you survive?" 

Or it's the little voice in your head that says, "Your kid yells and bites his siblings. You yelled and bit as a kid. How could you have passed that on?"

Or, "Your child is short. What were you thinking? How could you have gotten that emergency cesarean? How could you have ordered vaccines? How could you leave a stale, shortness-causing Cheeto beside the car seat?"

It's shame. And it can be the result of being shamed. By media. By parents. By spouses. By yourself.


Mine is a blog about getting out of debt. That means work. I am a senior technician for a small outsourced IT company. I deliver pizzas at night. My wife is a crisis and family counselor on the Boys Town National Hotline. She convinces parents not to beat their kids. She talks kids out of cutting. And she talks all of the above down from suicide. Like a boss. 

There's no shame in that. There should be no shame in being a mature woman making mature decisions either alone or with a significant other. 

As Angela Arsenault on mommyish said four years ago about being away from children:
"You're supposed to be enjoying a peaceful or stimulating adult conversation and connecting with other humans who know how to tie their own shoes and not pee in their pants. That is what you should be doing during this time. Assuming you left the love or loves of your life with a trustworthy, capable, responsible person, then rest assured that your children are, at the very least, safe. They know that you love them, and they will still love you when you get back. There's no rule in the mommy handbook that states that you must be the sole caregiver. If there is, then you're reading the wrong book and should burn it immediately."
Worry about yourself. Don't feed incorrect social pressures, and don't believe them either.


That being said, let me finish back where I started. I'm going to pull a 180. 

Mommy Guilt does exist. And it's personal. But it's not shaming. It is a lively sense of your own wrong decisions. That is between you, your Lord, any offended and especially a spouse. It is something you work through as you see necessary. 

Maybe you shouldn't go back to work. Maybe the decision to do so was wrong.
Maybe you shouldn't let your child watch that show. Maybe the decision to do so was wrong on a spiritual level. 

Who knows?

BLAM. YOU do. You know. God knows. So figure it out, improve and move on. But don't shame yourself. And don't shame others. Work out your own weaknesses and support others as they do the same. 

I'm eternally grateful for my amazing wife. She is a hard worker. She supports us in what we are doing together and she supports me as a person. I hope I can do half as good of a job in return. But what I'm going to try NOT to do is shame her. 

SHAME BAD. GUILT GOOD. GUILT PRIVATE. Mind your own business.




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