The Guilt of Motherhood – Am I Ruining My Child?

The guilt. Oh, the deeply penetrating guilt of motherhood that can’t be shaken from my bones. The guilt that continues to culminate with each day.

guilt of motherhood

I never imagined the scope of the guilt I would feel as a mother. Each day is filled with choices and moments, and not all of them are positive. I feel a stabbing to my heart not only for the mistakes that I make in navigating the joys and pressures of caring for another little life, but also for the times I do the “right” thing to help my child learn and grow, only to be seen as the bad guy by my child (and possibly the other adults who don’t understand what I’m doing).

I feel guilt for refusing to lift my child to the monkey bars she can’t reach on her own, even while explaining to her that if she can’t get up herself, it means her body’s not ready to be there yet.

I feel guilt for eating most of the gummy candies she picked out, hiding the well-intentioned gluttony in the front seat of our truck or the still of the night, when she can’t see my efforts to have her eat less of the treat she picked out.

I feel guilt for rushing her out the door when we’re running late, annoyed that it’s taken so long to get us ready yet again.

I feel guilt for every stuffy, outfit, and toy that is passed on without her approval, even if I know we can’t keep everything.

I feel guilt for making demands rather than listening, truly listening, to her seemingly ridiculous requests, that aren’t so ridiculous to her.

I feel guilt for letting my preschooler watch episode after episode of programs when I know as an early childhood educator the negatives that come with too much screen time.

I feel guilt for all the many things I insist on or look past, when the professional in my knows that I’m not doing the “right” thing for her optimal development. I had no idea raising my own child would be so much harder than caring for other parents’ children, and feel an extra sense of failure because “I should have this!”

I feel guilt for every meal time that sneaks up on us without a proper plan and wholesome ingredients, and turns into a poor excuse for a meal.

I feel guilt for leaving her when she wants to come with me, but can’t.

I feel tremendous guilt for all the times when I responded in anger or frustration, rather than kindness and compassion.

I feel like the worst mother in the world when I see my daughter be anything but kind and patient with her peers, feeling that it must be something I’ve done that is ruining her good nature. Yes, there are stages they all seem to go through as they learn appropriate behaviour, but it’s just so easy to see your worst self in your children’s least positive moments and feel you’ve failed them.

I’m guilty of dropping words I shouldn’t have. I’m guilty of losing my patience. I’m guilty of half-hearted listening. There is so much guilt that I fear will never go away, even if it does somehow lessen as time goes on.

The heart ache is very real. And I’m sure it’s not just mine.

I have a feeling that this guilt isn’t a one-off occurrence in motherhood, but my own experience of the reality that is carrying the weight of someone else’s world on your shoulders until they are capable of doing so themselves. And even then, I have a suspicion that this weight is never fully lifted.

So what do we do about this guilt? I could try to push it aside, try to deny it’s existence in an attempt to become numb to the pain. But something tells me that it’s here for a reason, and to push it aside would be doing myself, my child, and the world a disservice.

Instead, I will try my best to reflect on this guilt. To hold it in my mind and turn it around, to decide carefully how to move forward. What needs to change in order for this guilt to be lessened.

Some of this guilt comes from a place of wanting my daughter to never feel sadness, and that’s not functional for any of us. There will be many times I will have to say “no”, leave her behind, or reduce her candy stash in light of her greater good. This is the guilt I need to let go of, while still looking for every opportunity to transmit empathy and compassion while being firm in my boundaries.

The rest of this guilt, the horrible feelings arising from my actions that are clearly mis-steps in my journey of motherhood and humanity, let this serve as a reminder to find a better way. To practice patience. To spend more moments with my attention on nothing but her. To respond as soon as I can to her requests. To keep a handle on my temper and model appropriate ways of dealing with emotions. To give more snuggles and smiles and silliness when my first instinct is to reprimand.

Guilt is something we feel for a reason. And while we have to accept that we cannot be free of all guilt – we are always human, and will continue to make mistakes – we can use it to better ourselves. Can’t we?

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