Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Guilt of Being An Inadequate Parent

Some people spend their lives in knots of worry. Me? I feel guilty. All the time. And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty. It's a vicious cycle, an almost daily soul-wrestling for almost five years now.

It all started when I took on the title “mother” and a baby boy was given to this untried woman to raise (what was God thinking!?). Oldest son wasn't but a few weeks old when the guilt kicked in. Guilt when I screamed in his little face to STOP, STOP, STOP the hours of night time colic crying when I should have whispered calm words that didn’t work either but that would have been more motherly. Guilt when I learned part of his crying was because I had made him go hungry the first month of his life, all because no one told me my medical condition would likely make me not produce enough milk.

Somehow after all my screw-ups with the one, God gave me two more. Now as a stay at home mom of three toddlers, I still feel those pangs of guilt, only now triple-fold, for telling a little face "No, I can't do that right now" because…, for choosing cooking/cleaning/washing over playing/reading/rocking, for typing an email or taking a student's phone call.

Even when I drop everything and give the little ones my full attention, go on nature walks, push swings, sing nursery rhymes, dance in the kitchen, and read books to them, those feelings of guilt still well up like an underwater volcano. This time, it's because I didn't read them enough books. I didn't color long enough. I forgot to do the ABC puzzle with the twins. I didn't provide enough structured learning time for my oldest. I didn't go over the books of the Bible again today.

Last week, the sense of my worthlessness as a mother was so overwhelming, I called my husband and spilled over with liquid guilt that I wasn't preparing my children well enough to survive in kindergarten, that I was cocooning them too much in an unstructured environment of independent playful inquiry versus a rigid inside-the-box mentality necessary for survival in this world where learning is judged by how well you fill in a bubble, by whether your letters stay between the lines.

Then Saturday, Wyatt came to me, leaping, radiant with excitement. “Get the caterpillar book!” he screamed. And so we tromped out to the swamp to identify a plump hawk moth ready to cocoon for the winter. Later, I watched as he and Emerson built a wild animal “trap” with every yard object light enough to carry or drag to the playground.

This morning, I listened to Emerson mumble prayers along with me on our prayer walk. I overheard Wyatt sounding out words in a book I had read to him earlier in the week. I caught Amelia telling her kitty, “Shh. Shh. It’s okay. Mommy’s here.” This evening, I even strapped roller skates on my 34-year-old feet and gave my three a lesson in how not to fall down.

My children may not be the quietest or stillest. They may never be the best at taking tests, the fastest at learning a new concept. They may have difficulty using inside voices and learning to walk versus bounce. But their compassion for each other overflows even when mommy isn’t watching. Their creativity, imagination is wide and deep.

Besides, how can I expect them to fit the mold when I don't. To be social butterflies when I have to work hard at not being a recluse. To be normal when everything I am shouts different? To focus on the cares of this world when my passion for Jesus defines my every action and marginalizes me as a freak, a radical?

This living in the uber-competitive world but not of this world--it's tough. This "different" mother is not sure how to navigate my children through it, to seek my God's definition of success and not be at all concerned about the world's version, wondering if the two versions must necessarily go in opposite directions or if their paths can cross, even parallel.

It's a question that keeps me knocking on His door at all hours of the day and night.

Photo: Mommy letting Wyatt be Wyatt--pink wig, sword, and all.


  1. Oh, Jennifer, God bless. This is so real and raw; thank you for sharing your heart and the things that break it. I can really empathize with some of what you wrote. I don't feel guilty, first (usually), but I feel guilty for experiencing other negative emotions like anger or fear, and the guilt compounds those other negative feelings. You're doing an amazing job; I can just tell. I am praying for you RIGHT THIS MINUTE. xo

  2. Oh, i so relate to this! I am trying to hard to relax and not worry about anyone else's perception of me -- for that is where most of my guilt and anxiety stem from.

    In the meantime, I'll remind you (as one of my sweet friends often reminds me) - You are the momma God chose for your children, therefore you are the perfect momma for them.


  3. Brandee--I can't tell you how much I covet others' prayers. I know I'm nothing on my own.

    Jenn--I hadn't heard that before. Some days I wonder what God was thinking!! :-)