“Any advice from a seasoned parent?” the words glared at me from my phone screen beckoning wisdom, but I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I have four kids, a number that often seems to elicit shock and awe. As if somehow having a lot of kids invokes immediate super mom status, but the truth is, I haven’t earned it. I don’t feel like I have this whole parenting thing figured out. Not even a little bit.
I didn’t increase in parenting knowledge and confidence with each baby I brought home, quite the opposite actually. I assumed that time and experience would bring wisdom in motherhood, and to a degree that’s true, but mostly I’ve learned humility.
You see, I’ve learned parenting is not about confidence that you’re doing things right, it’s about self-awareness and a willingness to admit that so often we make mistakes. My friends and I rarely get together and swap tips and give advice. In fact, often we do the opposite.
We laugh and sometimes cry. We unite over the common desire to love our kids well, and the struggle we feel when we don’t know how. We share our latest challenge and connect over the confusion of it all. How we don’t have all the answers, and try as we might we’re still terrified we’re doing it wrong. With each child we brought into this world, we were humbled by how little we knew then, and how little we still know now.
Basically, so-called “experienced” parents like me aren’t really seasoned in knowledge and wisdom, we’re seasoned in humility. This brings me to my one little nugget of advice. The golden nugget of wisdom that parenting has given me. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
And honestly, I feel like a hypocrite because I struggle with it, but remember I’m not the expert. The student doesn’t become the teacher in parenting. Nope! Instead, we have internal coaching sessions where we repeat: Don’t be too hard on yourself!
Mom guilt is strong. The stakes seem so high and the weight of our mistakes is often so heavy it can feel all-encompassing. Add that to the fact that nobody truly knows what they are doing, and it can feel terrifying. We’re all just grasping at straws and trying to do right by our kids. But sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we stew in them for unnatural and unhealthy amounts of time. Mom guilt affects the so-called “seasoned mom” and the new mother all the same.
I’ll never forget the first time it hit me. I had just gotten home from the hospital with my first child. Despite my best efforts, I had been struggling with my supply and getting him to nurse, so we picked up a case of formula on the way home. I sat in his bedroom trying to nurse him and just bawled, convinced I was failing him already because I couldn’t seem to produce enough milk. Moments later, he nursed and I didn’t have to crack that case open until we had a sitter, yet that guilt washed over me like a wet blanket pinning me down.
The crazy part is, I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why on earth should I feel guilty if I couldn’t nurse my son? I don’t have any say over whether or not my body cooperated—there’s no switch! Yet, our mind plays tricks on us.
Then there are the things we actually do mess up on. Motherhood is filled with those. I have loads of experience in that area. Tons of “seasoning.” I have many regrets, and I try to own up to them with my family. I apologize when I yell or interrupt my kids because I’m too busy being busy to listen to them.
I try to be aware, but mom guilt is one step further. It’s weighing it all out constantly. Replaying your worst moments over and over and over in your head long after you’ve apologized. It’s the mental scorecard of motherhood where despite your best efforts, you never measure up.
Mom guilt is toxic, and truth be told, it accomplishes nothing. We are so much more than our mistakes. And contrary to the voice of shame in our heads, those hours or days mulling over our shortcomings don’t make us better parents. Quite the opposite in fact.
Mom guilt steals our focus. It causes us to hide away in shame instead of being present. On the other end of the spectrum, it can make us overcompensate. Going to extremes to course correct and losing sight of what’s important along the way.
Most of the time our kids can’t even remember the very things we let occupy our minds with anxiety. And even if they do, love and accountability are the fix, not shame.
So take it from me—a mother seasoned in humility and experienced in mistakes—move on. Nobody is perfect, but you are trying your best. Let it go.