As I read through the nearly 450 comments on last week’s post from women answering the question “what stresses you out most during the summer”, I noticed that several concerns seemed to be common stressors for women. One of the most prominent patterns was “mommy guilt”.
So many women expressed the guilt felt from leaving kids in summer camps and child care all day long while at work that I could almost see the mommy guilty emotions oozing between the lines.
Whether our kids are babies, toddlers, school age or teens, our mama’s heart always stays with them while we are at work. Then when summer hits and we feel like we should be home with our kids all day, those feelings of guilt, anxiety and unattainable desires can make the weight of summer seem hotter than three digit temperatures.
I know that to be true, because I once carried a heavy load of mommy guilt.
Although I resigned from my full time job eight years ago to move into ministry and be a stay at home mom, I still vividly recall the pangs of guilt that I felt all the years of summer months when I worked. For several summers before resigning, my husband and I hired a teenager to stay with them all summer in our home, and each morning as I left for work, I felt a twinge of heartache and resentment.
Why can’t I be a stay at home mom? How is it fair that this teenage girl gets to spend all day with my precious little ones, while I only get a couple hours with them at night? Why do they get excited when she arrives each morning, and seem to be fine that I’m leaving? Why do I feel resentful when she can take the kids to the pool, and I cant? And if one of them ever calls her mommy by accident, heads will roll.
I felt like I was missing out on special activities; voiding out memorable experiences that my children and I could have; wasting my life away working when I should be spending lazy days with them; feeling guilty that they were stuck home all day because we couldn’t afford to send them all to expensive summer camps for two months. I resented that someone else was getting to enjoy my most valued treasures while I was at work. Yet, at times, when I was looking forward to projects or travel at work, I felt guilty about that too. What kind of mom looks forward to leaving her kids at home all day?
It was a time of conflicting emotions, and this toxic mixture of guilt, resentment, anxiety and stress began to feel overwhelming and suffocating. The stress of my emotions, in addition to all the normal stressors of summer, made me feel like I was drowning in guilt.
I decided to sit down and have a long talk with God. I needed holy direction for how to deal with the summer when my heart was so torn between work obligations, desires to be home, and guilt about everything. I prayed for God to help me align my priorities, to give me guidance about where I should be (work or home), for peace and comfort, and for relief from guilt.
In scripture, guilt is never referred to as a feeling. Instead, it is a condition which we inherited. Romans 5:18 says “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (NLT)
The first part of the verse tells us we are guilty, condemned. The second sentence tells us that Christ cleared us of that guilt. So although we may feel guilty for not being able to win the mother-of-the-year award every single day, we are guilt free in God’s eyes. Christ died for us, so we wouldn’t have to feel guilty about our sin or our real or perceived shortcomings – as a woman, or a mom.
Guilt is heavy, and God doesn’t want us to carry that weight.
Maybe today you are drowning under a wave of summer stress and a riptide of mommy guilt. If so, below are a few thoughts to keep in mind over the next few weeks, and some tips for putting aside guilt to enjoy the season God has you in.
1. Remember you can’t have it all every day.
Our culture tries to convince us that we should be able to have it all, do it all, and be all to everyone. But that is not reality. Life is a constant juggling act of responsibilities and desires, and sometimes we need to stop thinking all the negative thoughts (like what we’re missing out on, that the kids are unhappy at daycare, and what a bad mom we are) and start thinking positive thoughts instead (how lucky you are to have a job, how you are helping provide for your family’s needs, that you are demonstrating a healthy work/life balance for your children, what a good role model you are with regards to work ethic, responsibility and dependability). Rather than focus on the time you don’t have during the day, commit to maximizing the time you do have with your children.
2. Refrain from comparing yourself to other mothers.
If you are working mom, don’t feel guilty and assume that stay at home moms are better mothers. If you are a stay at home mom, don’t feel guilty for wishing that you could be at a job and get away from the kids for a while. Avoid the comparison trap which will probably cause to feel like you are falling short in some way as a mom. Ask God to replace thoughts of guilt or inadequacy with thoughts of all of your good traits. Focus on how much you love your kids, and how much they love you, and accept that all moms and kids are different, and different is okay.
3. Remember that children are not traumatized for life because they spend time in summer daycare or camps.
My children barely remember the summers they spent at home with a sitter, or their days at daycare – what they do remember are the fun times we had when I wasn’t at work and the vacations we spent together. Make a commitment to yourself to make the best of the time you can spend with the kids this summer, and plan fun activities around your work schedule.
4. Order up some “me” time without a side of guilt.
Just because a mom has to work, doesn’t mean that every non-working moment has to be spent taking care of the children. Children need to learn that they can’t always be the center of attention, and moms need some pampering and alone time every now and then. When a moms heart and soul are nourished, she is better equipped to enjoy the time she has with the kids and give them patience, kindness and love.
5. If you having serious working mom guilt, consider if there are specific concerns making you feel that way.
Are unhappy with your caregiver or daycare facility and worried about your child’s well being? Do you feel God is calling you to leave your job or make a change in your life? Do you need the kids to pitch in more around the house, or long for more support from your husband? Has it become impossible to have any form of work/life balance and your family is suffering?
If you determine that it’s more than mommy guilt that is tugging at your heart, address the issues and ask for God’s guidance and direction in your decisions. Not all things can be fixed over night, but with attention and prayer, you can work through issues and look begin making plans for change as needed. Ask God if your guilt is a sign of a needed call to action, or if you are just being too hard on yourself.
6. Remember that all moms, whether employed or unemployed, deal with challenges.
It’s common to idealize the life we think we want, while ignoring the challenges that accompany it. There are pros and cons to being a working mom, and pros and cons to being a stay at home mom- in every season of the year, not just summer. But in either case, what we imagine might not be all we think it is because the grass is not always greener on the other side. Stay at home moms can deal with as much as stress as working moms, possibly more depending on the age of the children, medical or behavioral issues, and the number of children. Working moms may endure chronic work stress which stay at home moms may not fully understand.
Rather than waste time feeling guilty because you may not be where you want to be, make a commitment to trust God at this time in your life and to appreciate the blessings, and the adversities, as they come. If you feel God is calling you to make a change, then pray for Him to open doors and give clear direction for the future
7. It’s okay if the house is messy during the summer. That is a sign of a vibrant and thriving home.
I know that one day, my house won’t be any messier in the summer than it is during the rest of the year. After my kids are all off at college and living their own lives. So for now, although I am a neat freak of sorts, I can live with the extra messiness of summer. If the mess brings stress, set up a routine for daily chores and come up with a rewards and consequences system. Or set aside thirty minutes at the end of each day to straighten up after the kids to bed. But most of all, don’t beat yourself up if the house is a mess because one day all too soon, you might find yourself missing the mess.
Motherhood is hard year round and no matter our situation, summer can only exacerbate the challenges we face every day. So when we allow feelings of mommy guilt to build up in our hearts, summer stress is unavoidable.
Where ever you find yourself today, give yourself permission to let go of the guilt. Trust that God has you right where you need to be, and remember that although you can’t be with them every minute of every day, our God can.
I am so excited about today’s giveaway! Nancy Kennedy, author of Miracles and Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Moms, has agreed to give away 5 free copies of her book today!
Nancy’s book is a collection of fifty stories told by women who have taken on the toughest, yet most rewarding, assignment of their lives — motherhood!
If you can relate to #6 above, you’ll want to read Chapter 19, “The $20,000 Breakfast”, and if #7 above sounded familiar you might especially like Chapter 37 called “The Dirty Days of Summer”! These stories will touch your mom’s heart for sure and are are written by many popular authors and bloggers such as Lynn Cowell, Glynnis Whitwer, Melanie Shankle (BigMama) and Sophie Hudson (BooMama) .
To enter to win one of the free copies of this inspiring book for moms, leave a quick comment with your commitment to God and yourself to let go of the mommy guilt!
Winners will be announced on Friday, July 19th.
To visit Nancy’s website, visit nancybkennedy.com