This phrase has been bouncing around in my head for the past two years or so. It is a well-known emotion that comes out of nowhere and afflicts almost every mother I know; it’s called Mommy Guilt.
Now, I don’t mean the kind of guilt you feel because your mother makes you feel a certain way, I’m referring to the kind of guilt you feel, at times, because you are a mother.
I had my first major bout of it three days after Sam was born. Six hours after being discharged from the hospital, we had to turn right back around and readmit our very jaundiced, dehydrated little boy. Turns out, my breast-milk had not come in and Sam was more or less starving. This, of course, was upsetting everything in his little world. Hungry stomach, few wet diapers, increased bilirubin numbers, and a very unhappy newborn. Sam stayed overnight in the hospital under lamps, an IV in his foot, and was bottle-fed while we waited for my milk to come in.
What we thought would just take another day or so, actually turned into weeks (and then months!) of me trying to increase my milk supply. I tried everything. And some of you might be thinking, Oh, but I bet she didn’t try this one little thing that would have helped her. Nope, I tried it, I promise!
Doctors later confirmed that some of the factors contributing to my infertility struggles were also affecting my milk supply. I gave Sam everything I had, but my body just couldn’t keep up with his needs, so we had to supplement with formula (or poison, as some lactation consultants would like you to believe).
Looking back, I can say that I definitely wasn’t prepared for the amount of guilt I experienced over not being able to breastfeed my child. It’s as if somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that loving my child = breastfeeding my child. When in reality, loving my child = sacrificing to feed my child. The method of feeding Sam was becoming far more important to me than the principle of feeding Sam, and this is when Mommy Guilt began to take over.
I cried buckets over this issue. And at times, if I’m honest, the lies still creep in and I have to fight against them. Is this why Sam has so many ear infections? Would Sam feel more bonded to me if I could have breastfed? And so on. I felt the burden of responsibility as if all of Sam’s emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health depended on me and me alone.
We lived with the Pipers during this time and I will never forget Noël coming downstairs one day and sitting on the couch with me. She wrapped her arm around my shoulders and listened to me as I shared my fears about going to church looking like a bartender mixing Sam’s “drink”, while all the other lactating moms nursed their babies underneath their cute little nursing covers. I feared that others would think I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my body for my child (when in fact, I was actually exhausting my body with supplements, medication, pumping, and visits with lactation consultants).
Noël looked at me and in her loving, confident voice said, “Jenny, you walk through those church doors with your head up, because it really is no one’s business but your own as to how you feed your child.” She reminded me that I loved Sam, and that’s what truly mattered. I will love her forever because of this. I went to church the next weekend feeling a little braver.
Since becoming pregnant with my second child, I’ve noticed a lot of this same Mommy Guilt resurfacing again. Will I be able to give Sam the attention he needs once the baby arrives? I’ll never be able to do for my second child what I was able to do for Sam. Will I really love another child as much as I love my first? And so on…
I’m definitely still in process and it’s something I know I’m going to be working through for the rest of my life as a mother, but it’s something I’m asking the Lord to help me with.
I need help because the danger with this kind of thinking is that mothers (and fathers, I’m sure) can become tempted to take credit where credit isn’t due or feel unnecessary guilt over things that are beyond their control.
For instance, if our child is an excellent student, walking closely with the Lord, and is proficient in five languages, we tend to pat ourselves on the back and believe that our parenting skills were the decisive cause in our children’s success.
The inverse can be true as well. If our child is sick, we wonder what in the world we did wrong. If they reject the faith of their parents, our impulse is to take sole responsibility for their actions and heap mountains of guilt upon ourselves (which isn’t to say that parents don’t have a significant role to play in raising their children to trust God).
We quickly forget that if any good resides in our children, it is God’s grace at work in their lives, and not merely our parenting success. And when things seem to fall apart in the lives of our kids, we blame ourselves instead of asking God for more of his mercy.
I don’t want to fall prey to the schemes of the devil, and more often than not, his plots against mothers look a lot like his plot against Eve in the garden. Satan wants me to believe that I can be more than a creature, more than a mother. He wants me to believe that I can be God.
God never intended for me to meet all of my children’s needs. God is the one who meets my children’s needs. He will oftentimes meet their needs through me, but it is always God making provision for my child.
I’m convinced that it is in the best interest of my children for me to learn now, while they are still young, that their deepest needs can only be met by the Lord. My job is to point them to the One who is sufficient for all things.
In the middle of one of my postpartum laments about breastfeeding, my very wise and sensible husband looked at me and spoke words that still ring true in my heart today. He said, “Jenny, Sam needs a mother who is happy in God far more than he needs breast-milk.”
A mother who is happy in God. That’s what I want to be. And I know that’s what my children need.