A bad case of mother guilt


I’ve been feeling pretty guilty recently. What have I been feeling guilty about? I’m a mum, so you shouldn’t have to ask! Like so many mothers, I feel guilty because I’m not doing enough for my family. I’ve been trying to juggle too many things, and I’m worried I’m neglecting my children. (Actually, I don’t think I am when I’m thinking logically; if anything’s neglected, it’s only the dust balls. But guilt doesn’t think logically.)

The other morning I poured out my load of mother guilt to God, and found him doing what he does so well—gently, powerfully, wonderfully lifting the burden of guilt from my shoulders and replacing it with the assurance that he loves me and has forgiven me because his own Son died for me.

Guilt carries a weighty load. It brings a leaden heaviness to each of my tasks. It brings desperation as I consider all the things I haven’t done. It saps me of joy, so that I trudge cheerlessly through my days. It brings a hidden, unspoken fear that God is going to ‘get’ me (surely some kind of punishment—some kind of payback lies—in store for me!).

I could accept God’s grace for three months of imperfect, messy, distracted motherhood. But surely six months of imperfect motherhood is stretching his grace a little too far? Surely he’s run out of patience by now? Surely he’s no longer interested in giving me energy and grace? Perhaps if I punish myself a little—wallow in guilt feelings, drearily drag myself through my tasks—I’ll somehow make up for it.

When I write it down, the logic is so clearly ridiculous, I’d laugh—laugh if I wasn’t living as if Jesus’ death isn’t enough without me adding something to it: my guilt, my repentance, my emotional penance, my perfect motherhood.

The truth is that God never punishes me, for Jesus took my punishment (Rom 3:21-25, 8:1). He may discipline me, but I rejoice in that as a sign of his fatherly love for me (Heb 12:5-7). He hasn’t stopped loving me. He hasn’t stopped forgiving me. He hasn’t even stopped rejoicing over me (Zeph 3:17). There are no obstacles between us; Jesus’ death took every one away.

So what do us mothers do with our guilt?

  • We repent of any true, known sin. (If you’re a wallower or if you’re over-confident, it could help to ask an impartial observer!)
  • We rethink our priorities and make any changes that need to be made (acknowledging that there are no perfect plans [we’re not going to somehow ‘get it right’ next time], but making decisions in prayerful wisdom).
  • We accept that there are some consequences of our choices that can’t be changed (while changing what we can!). Then we fulfil our responsibilities with joy, not with a heavy burden of guilt, and trust God’s sovereignty and grace.
  • Above all, we bring our burden of guilt to the cross, accept God’s forgiveness, and rejoice in his love.

Here I am, at the foot of the cross again. Here I am, laying down my heavy burden. Here I am, receiving God’s free gift of forgiveness. Here I am, enjoying the sun of God’s love and joy on my face. Come and enjoy God’s grace with me, my fellow mums.

God is not looking for perfect mothers to raise perfect children. He’s looking for imperfect mothers who are raising imperfect children in an imperfect world, and desperately dependent on a perfect God for the results.1

1 From Vicki Courtney’s excellent book Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter, B&H, Nashville, p. 257. I’ve changed ‘daughters’ to ‘children’.

One thought on “A bad case of mother guilt

  1. I remain convinced that the vast proportion of mother guilt in our country is a tactic of the Evil One to make us less productive in our ministries by decreasing our focus on God’s sovereignty and grace—and to keep non-Christian mothers from thinking beyond the next extra-curricular class.  (I hope you find that perceiving the next round of guilt as a tool of Satan will save you from its effects!)

    There might be a small amount of mother guilt that is really the voice of sanity telling us that we are working too hard or on the wrong things, but most guilt seems to me to be the unproductive kind.

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