Last week I started to feel it, just in time for school to start. It’s a feeling I know well. We’ve been together for over a decade now. It’s a feeling that tells me I didn’t do enough with my children over the summer months. It tells me I allowed too much screen time. It tells me I didn’t schedule enough pool parties or play dates for them. It tells me they didn’t read enough. It’s a universal parenting phenomenon. I’m pretty sure dads feel mom guilt too. She’s sneaky like that.
In a variety of weird scenarios, it tells me I’m not a good enough mom. It’s not so strong to say I’m not a good mom altogether, just not as good as other moms. It creeps up in weird ways. Other moms already have their school shopping done. Other moms ordered school supplies in July. Other moms did music lessons all summer. Other moms did daily devotions with their children. Other moms take their children to a National Park every summer, the moms that care about nature and preserving it (I don’t know where this one came from, somewhere along the line, I adopted this weird idea). Other moms…fill in the blank. But what’s weird about Mom guilt is that it sort-of lives under the radar. You don’t really know it’s replicating itself until it’s just right there. All of a sudden, school starts tomorrow and you’ve pitted out your t-shirt with mom sweat.
Here’s the other nasty thing about Mom Guilt, she’s served with a gross little chaser. It’s kind of like when you order a Bloody Mary but when it’s served to you, it’s completely average. It’s so average that comes with a light beer chaser to wash it down. If you have to have a light beer to wash anything down, something’s broken with the original order. In the case of Mom Guilt, the gross little chaser is the ticking time bomb to empty nesting. “You’re not as good as other moms and it’s really unfortunate because after this summer you only have seven more summers with Joey until he goes to college. And all high school moms know that the summer after tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade don’t count because he won’t want to spend any time with you. So, you’re basically down to four summers left. You probably should have done more with him while you had the chance.”
The craziest thing about Mom guilt, it’s total crap. It’ a lie. I think I’ve always “known” this, but we still allow it to have a weird voice in the background. I know for sure it’s crap because in the year of our Lord 2021, the boys and I had the most amazing summer. At the beginning, we did almost all the things that I’ve always wanted to do with them. I entertained them. We went to the parks, the falls, the cabin, the farmers markets, the lakes and the amusement parks. We had picnic lunches. And then they weren’t entertained. We had long mornings. We had lazy pool afternoons. We made cookies, banana bread, and eleven hundred chocolate protein shakes. We read books and took advantage of our public library. It wasn’t always entertaining like I had once envisioned in my mind. We watched movies on the two rainy days we actually had rain. They learned to clean the house better. They helped plan the meals and went grocery shopping. They learned to fold their clothes better. They contributed to the home and also enjoyed just being home with me. We took walks. We rode bikes. We worked out together. We had time to talk to each other. We also had so much time we didn’t feel the need to talk to each other. I got to hear their sweet little conversations that I didn’t get to hear when I was working full time. They taught me how to pitch a baseball with correct form (please don’t expect much from me). We raced to the mailbox when the mail lady came and to the door when an amazon delivery came. We discussed our fears and we discussed what we’re hoping for. In addition, dental appointments were had, well child visits were scheduled, and bible camp was attended. It was the sweetest time together in my whole life. I’m so grateful for my boys and the sweet memories of just being their momma this summer.
My point isn’t to rub in how great our summer was though. My point is that Mom Guilt and her gross litter chaser still tried to show up last week. Somewhere in the Pinterest and Instagram curated reels (Reels, don’t worry, I still love you), I internalized that motherhood was about loving but also about performance. If your performance isn’t worthy of an audience, you’re doing something wrong. But when I had the summer with my boys I’ve always wanted to have, I still felt like I was doing something wrong. I started to feel that feeling again, that I wasn’t enough. What the heck? Oh no Mary and Joseph, there’s no room in this inn. See the previous paragraph detailing Best Summer Ever 2021. Mom Guilt, you back that ass up! Nothing to feel guilty about here.
I was a great mom this summer. But here’s the deal, I was a great mom last summer, and the summers before that. I asked Joey what his favorite summer was, he said “this summer.” I asked him why, this was my moment of glory. But, it wasn’t because I was home with him. He simply said, “we swam more this summer.” When you’re a new middle schooler, you don’t feel the need to expand. My little guy Charlie said “I liked having you home but I missed going on field trips with Kids’ Company.” Kids Company is our local school’s summer program. What? So, I could have had a day or two a week by myself while they frolicked with their buddies??? Moms, as it turns out, just get your kids a pass at the local pool or splash pad, that’s all you need to be mom of the year. Their happiness isn’t and shouldn’t be tied up in us as their parents. If we believe that enough to create that, we’re going to put some pretty messed up adults into the world. They will show up entitled with a gross little chaser called dependence.
So let me get this straight, Mom Guilt isn’t rooted in reality and the behaviors it promotes only create unhealthy kids??? Kids still just want to be loved and cared for? They don’t want and shouldn’t be entertained every moment of every day? They just need time to play and rest? And when we provide love, care, play and rest to them, we are great parents, and they are healthy?
The verdict is out. You are a good momma. So am I. Tell that little twerp Mom Guilt and her gross little chaser to exit stage right. The performance is over. The kids are loved and cared for. We’re already enough.
Is Mom Guilt lying to you again? Does the new school year have you feeling like you’re not enough? It might be time to reflect on that inner dialogue. Mom Guilt internal messaging was likely adopted after watching someone else’s highlight reel, it’s not ‘reel’ life (see what I did there😊). It is not serving you. Reflect on the values that you’ve decided are foundation to your parenting and check in on how those values showed up in your summer. I think what you’ll find is that your children are in great shape. You’re already enough! If negative thoughts surface easily for you, it might be time to keep a journal about all the great ways you’re parenting your children. Sometimes, you just need a pat on the back, from yourself.
Now, go meet a friend for brunch and treat yourself to Bloody Mary, hold the gross little chaser.
In this next week, who is a woman (or person) that needs encouragement from you as she navigates transitioning to the new school year or season? Can you be a mentor to her? Can you be a peer supporter? Maybe you’ve successfully walked through this years ago and can just be someone’s biggest cheerleader. If this is you, you’re a woman in position to help another woman! This is great news. Just go ahead and pick up the dang phone to EncourageHer. You are amazing!
EncourageHer Leader’s Corner: I have learned that many of the people that read this blog are people leaders, leaders of leaders, or entrepreneurial leaders in their own businesses or organizations. As a result, I want to provide some context for you specifically as you step into your leadership.
Mom guilt is just one of the negative narratives that your team might be telling themselves. However, when you allow any negative self-talk to run on autopilot, it can really affect results in all areas of life, especially work results. Yes, how you address Mom Guilt (or any negative narratives you’re holding on to) affects your work results! I wish I could go back ten years and uncover some the narratives I was believing about myself. They weren’t grounded in reality, and the behaviors only created unhealthy results. Your role as the leader is more important than ever. You may not feel comfortable checking in on your team’s internal narratives, but you can start by reinforcing and reminding them of how you see them showing up at work, at home and in community. They need to hear this positive news all the time from their leader…YOU! An exercise that might be helpful is to have them write down what they would want to be true about how they show up in their work. Ask them to share it with you if they feel comfortable. Example: “I am an exceptional leader. I drive exceptional results that drive our company towards our mission. My teammates can rely on me. I focus on the most important activities to drive results, even when it’s hard.” You get the point. Ask them to keep this in front of themselves on an ongoing basis. Guess what, when we continue to focus on new narratives, the brain will start believing those new narratives and figure out a way to make them true.
I see you. I love you. I’m cheering you on!