Guilt Management in Motherhood

I have the privilege of reading an advanced copy of Jen Hatmaker’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life (out August 8, 2017). I read it quickly and have since been pondering some of the thoughts in various chapters. One particular quote resonated with me and has had me wrestling internally, especially lately.

In a chapter titled “Moms, We’re Fine” Jen writes:

Motherhood often feels like a game of guilt management; sometimes the guilt is overwhelming and debilitating, sometimes just a low simmer, but it always feels right there.

I am in the trenches of motherhood, parenting a 4- and 7-year-old. I do feel that there’s always some aspect that is nagging at me trying to fill me with guilt over something I’m not doing or am doing incorrectly. Right now my guilt centers around playing with my children. The feeling of being obligated to play with them constantly presses on me. I read somewhere that I am not supposed to be their constant source of entertainment, that they need to learn how to deal with boredom on their own and I do agree with that concept. Because I don’t work outside the home I believe that part of my job is to interact purposefully and intentionally with my children regularly (and I bet a lot of working moms feel that they should spend some, most or all of their non-work time connecting with their kids as well). But what exactly does that mean and look like? And what is the right balance?
k jenga
Yes there are things I need to get done but how much time should I allot for chores, play, etc and what types of play count? Is it fine to say, “I will do X, Y or Z  with you but not T?” [T for me being imaginary play. I will read books, play board and card games, build Legos, practice sports, and hide and seek. Playing good guys versus bad guys with the Lego men every day (and having to be the good guys ALL THE TIME) wears me out. “Mommy, pretend the bad guys are going to steal the good guys’ hide out.”]
How do I say “no” to this face?!

My husband and I have tried to recall our childhoods and don’t have memories of our parents playing toys with us. I remember playing Barbies and dolls on my own for hours. I remember playing Micromachines and Pogs with my brother. I remember days of running around outside with neighbors. I remember seeing my parents doing yardwork and housework. I remember mowing the lawn with my dad on our riding mower, playing basketball as a family, family movie nights in the basement. I remember fun birthday parties. I remember my parents coming to my sporting events, school performances and award ceremonies. I just don’t remember ever playing Barbies or “let’s pretend” with them. I still have positive memories and feelings of my parents and childhood. I felt loved and supported.


Or “no” to this one?!

So is this guilt something I perceive to be a lack from what I think other mothers are probably doing? Is it a lie from Satan? Do I feel this pressure to constantly engage from social media images? I have no idea. What I do know is that I feel tremendous guilt if I respond “No” or “Not right now” when my son asks me in his sweet little 4-year-old voice, “Mommy, will you play with me?” It’s a dagger to the heart to hear that request. That request makes me feel like I’m failing because the lie in my head tells me that he shouldn’t have to ask but that I should initiate.

I know (from experience) that kids will take as much time with you as they can get. I cannot completely satisfy their desire for a playmate at all times. Nor should I. Like I mentioned above, it is good for them to learn how to manage their boredom and learn how to entertain themselves (preferably without electronics). They have plenty of books and toys and even a dedicated playroom where they are free to do whatever their heart desires. But all of this knowledge still doesn’t quell the guilt.

I should probably be covering this part of my life in prayer. Prayer for peace, for confidence and reassurance that I am parenting well and that my kids do feel loved and supported. Prayer for wisdom to know when and how to engage. Prayer against guilt when I don’t spend every moment of my child’s day playing, but instead take care of some of my responsibilities.

This is my current struggle. Anyone else here in this trench with me? Anyone have any encouragement or advice for this season of life? I could really use a “me too” today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s