"And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!”


And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”

- Iain Thomas

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Chasing Mom Guilt

November 22, 2016


Have you seen the #endmomguilt video? It’s a number of moms talking about all the places where they feel guilty, and it’s incredibly touching. My heart broke when I heard the mom who has a child with special needs, and feels like her other daughter gets neglected.  Click here to watch the video.  


Beautiful, right? And of course we want to end mom guilt. Feeling shitty about our parenting choices, about what we are and aren’t doing, about all the places we think we’re failing…..nobody needs that. Yes, let’s definitely end mom guilt.


Except….we kind of need guilt, don’t we? I mean, how would we know when we’ve done something wrong if we didn’t get that feeling? And, I hate to be that guy, but we can’t “end” a part of our human experience. It’s just not going to work. And let me tell you, I lose enough battles a day; I’m not interested in adding another one to the pile.


(Lils, that red plaid shirt doesn’t really match your pink leggings. What? You want to wear it anyway? Oh, and you want to layer on your purple sequin skirt from Christmas? Awesome.)


I think what we’re looking for is an in-between place. Where we feel and acknowledge when we’ve done something wrong or when we’re not living in line with what’s important to us, but we don’t beat the crap out of ourselves.


What does the voice of your Guilt sound like? Mine is an asshole. It’s a mean, nasty, finger-wagging jerk that is constantly telling me what a bad job I’m doing and how I’m failing. When Guilt comes up for me, my whole body gets hot with shame. Guilt is that guy in the car next to me, yelling at me through his window for checking my phone at the red light (I know, I know).


But what if it wasn’t? What if it was a different voice? What if we’ve been hearing it wrong? What if by sending our Guilt into the basement, by trying to disown it, the channels got mixed and we’re getting the message all wrong? What if Guilt isn’t a mean asshole, what if it’s more of a moral compass? A guardian angel?


What if Guilt doesn’t intend to shame us or make us feel terrible? What if it’s just trying to keep us on track?


Here’s the thing - when I turn into my uncomfortable feelings (instead of pushing them away by being defensive or dismissive), what I have found over and over again is that they change. Suddenly it’s not this terrible monster anymore, but something very different.


Up until recently we’ve had a lot of trouble with Ander’s sleep. As a result of my sleep deprivation, I wasn’t spending much quality time with the girls (the TV was doing a lot of parenting) and I was short and cranky with them. I’ve been feeling really damn guilty about that.


Our culture’s natural reaction to this would be to say, “Oh, don’t feel guilty. They’re fine. This is just a phase and it’ll pass. They know you love them.” Etc, etc.


And while that would be true, what I’m doing instead is turning into my Guilt. I’m looking it straight on, and seeing what it has to say. And the voice is changing.

What I’m getting now is a voice of integrity. A voice of morals. A voice that calls me to live in line with my values, to do what I say is important to me, to take care of myself, and to take care of the people I love. Stay with me…….my Guilt is starting to sound like Michelle Obama.


“I know what kind of parent you want to be. It’s okay that you haven’t been that parent for the last few weeks, but now it’s time to change. No need to beat yourself up, but you know what you need to do. Time to reconnect with the girls, get yourself some help so you can sleep, and stop trying to be a hero on this. I know who you are. Time to start being that person.”


If that was too political for you, pick something else. What if Guilt sounded like Mother Theresa, or Miss Honey from “Matilda”, or your grandmother, or Kate Middleton?


Now, rather than trying to end my guilt, I’ve been seeking it out. And what I’ve noticed is that I don’t feel guilty about everything all the time; my guilt moves. Sometimes I feel guilty about eating unhealthy food. Sometimes I feel guilty about not calling my friends. Sometimes I feel guilty about spending too much money. Sometimes I feel guilty about sleeping in.


And if I follow it, what I’m noticing is that Guilt may be the answer to the ever-elusive “balance.” You know that thing that moms are always talking about? Won’t life be so great once we can all just find some balance?


Guilt might be the answer! Now when I feel crappy about something, I’ve been using that as a prompt to get curious. I’ve been following my Guilt around and letting it tell me what’s needed.


Sometimes the action is "do nothing".  There are times when I decide that under the current circumstances what's needed is to just keep doing the best I can, and trust myself that when the time is right I'll make a change.  But not now.


And sometimes the action is to acknowledge the guilt isn't mine; that it's something I've taken on unnecessarily.  These are the moments when one of the millions of societal expectations of what a "good mom" should and shouldn't do has snuck into my subconscious.  Then the action is to release it by letting it be, and continue on with new awareness and a clear heart.  


Learning the difference - what's true, what's not mine, what needs to change, what will have to wait - well, that takes practice.  What I know for sure is that opening up to Guilt is the first step.


When we resist a part of our experience, when we try to push it away, or vilify it as something to get rid of, not only does it push back harder but it can get a little gnarly. This is what’s happened to Guilt in our culture - it’s uncomfortable because we’ve disowned it and sent it to the shadows.


Let’s bring Guilt back and put it in it’s rightful place. Rather than something we need to “end,” let’s welcome it. Notice when it comes up. Look for the truth. Love and forgive yourself for anything you’ve done up until now that was out of alignment.  


Now, decide what’s needed to bring you back.


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