This expression has become a cliche for mothers nowadays. We say it all the time, we hear it all the time, and most of all, we think it all the time.
It creeps us on us when we start comparing ourselves to other women, and what we think we should be doing.
"I'm having such mom-guilt for putting the tv on so I can doze for half an hour in the afternoons!"
"I have mom-guilt for making Kraft Dinner when their father's out of town."
and so on and so forth.
Sometimes we use this expression jokingly in our modern parlance. I sarcastically said to my sister on the phone how "oh yeah I have reeeeal 'mom-guilt for not doing a craft every day with Noah."
I was using a joking tone of voice, but I think I was revealing an insecurity. I was seeking affirmation from her that it's okay that I don't devout every waking minute to my kids' enrichment.
November 2011. Making pizza dough
Oh how I miss those baby faces!
I stopped myself after saying that, and apologized to her. It's a really unhelpful expression, and one that I need to eradicate from my vocabulary.
You see, my spiritual director once pointed out that we need to differentiate between guilt and neurosis. Guilt is a good thing, it is the natural side-effect of sin that reminds us that we have done something wrong, and need to seek forgiveness. Neurosis is the tendency to beat ourselves up over things that aren't actually sinful.
Did you catch that?
Almost everything that we label "mom-guilt" is probably neurosis. I think the phrase, the notion, of 'mom-guilt' is paralyzing many good mothers from loving their children, and raising them with confidence. Of course we all sin. We fail miserably. We cry out to God for His mercy, we ask our sweet children to forgive us for the ways we fail them.
But we should put "mom-guilt" aside.
Let me put it to you this way. Do you think a nun suffers from "nun-guilt"?
Do you think she confides to one of her Sisters, "oh I am having such nun-guilt because I didn't sing the Office as joyfully as Sister Mary Josephine today"?
Of course not.
First of all, she probably knows better than to talk about problems like that to another Sister. She would bring it to God in prayer, and then perhaps to her spiritual director. But maybe, just maaaybe, she might have the wisdom to see that simply lacking in a gift that another Sister is strong in is not reason enough to feel guilt. The idle chatter about this, though? The sense of envy? Now those are reasons for authentic guilt, because they are actually wrong.
So it goes with mothering. I think we need to free ourselves from unnecessary 'guilt' and watch how our ability to love our children flourishes.
“And when night comes,
and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been,
and how much you planned that has gone undone,
and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed:
just take everything exactly as it is,
put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him.”
— Edith Stein