I remember the day like it was yesterday. I sat bawling my eyes out on the kitchen floor feeling like a complete failure after yet another unsuccessful nursing session with my second born daughter, Cora. She was four and a half months old, an age I had been anticipating, an age the doctor said her digestive system would begin to mature and she would not scream from stomach discomfort. I had clung to his words, reassuring myself, “If I can just make it through, if I can just keep nursing her until four months this will get better and she’ll start nursing without any issues!” I was a determined mama, and though the days and nights were long with her, I knew we could do it. I knew I could make it through, so I persevered. I cut nearly everything out of my diet in hopes my milk wouldn’t cause her such distress. I read blogs and articles and asked for advice, and tried and tried and tried to make it work.
And then the four month mark came and went. And the stomach aches, screaming at the breast, arching her back in pain, and refusing to eat continued. Her weight gain was poor throughout those first few months because our nursing relationship was so challenging. She would scream from hunger but then scream when she was fed. It was as if my milk was some kind of toxic sludge to her. I was barely hanging on by a thread, but kept telling myself… “she’s four months now, so any day now and this will stop!”
And so finally, weeks later, after no signs of improvement, after more sleepless nights and confusion and pain… I flew my white flag of surrender and gave in. I was willing to do anything to help my baby girl thrive and stop hurting so much. Willing to do anything to restore the peace in our home.
So I sent my husband to the store, and I told him to go buy Nutramigen, a hypoallergenic formula recommended for baby’s with colic. Within only two days, Cora was a different child. Sleeping better, happier, and way less gassy. We were relieved.
And yet. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I failed somehow. I loved nursing Eveleigh, my first born. She latched right away, ate like a champ, and I loved the bond we had nursing. And so when I had to stop nursing Cora, I felt like I failed her. I was so heartbroken. I cried and cried over it, a part of me knew I gave it my best and we were doing what was right for our family. But there was another part: a small voice, condemning me, saying I should’ve tried harder, done more, tried this or that or whatever else. The voice of mom guilt. If you’re a mom, I’m sure you know what I mean. Anxious thoughts filled my mind, “what if we don’t have as strong of a connection?” “what if she ends up with a poor immune system?” “What if she doesn’t have as high of an IQ as Eveleigh because I didn’t nurse her long enough?” …what if… what if…what if? I was even embarrassed to bottle feed her in public. She was so little. I worried other mom’s would judge me for not nursing my baby. The interesting thing is I never judged or condemned other moms for using formula (whether by choice or necessity), but I judged and condemned myself every day. It was easy to think that other people would judge me the way I was judging myself, and so I felt defensive, like I had to explain myself to other moms so they would “get it.”
If only I could see then that none of it was a reflection of myself as a mother or parent, and that the mom guilt wasn’t serving myself or my family at all. That it was just a parasite, slowly eating away at me, wreaking havoc on my heart.
But hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it?
I think mom guilt happens because we love our families so much that we want the best for them, we want to be the best for them. It’s not bad to want the best for our families, but the problem lies in how much pressure we put on ourselves to do everything “right” and be “perfect.” Whatever that even looks like. It’s a heavy weight to carry and often leaves us anxious, exhausted, and feeling like we can never quite measure up. The mom guilt creeps in and multiplies, leaving us feeling like we’ve failed our family and ourselves. This can lead to a downward spiral of shame and insecurity, which can be paralyzing. And the worst thing you can do when your thoughts are spiraling is to start comparing yourself to other moms, especially on pinterest or instagram, and yet it’s often the first place mom’s go to escape their feelings.
We need to recognize that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, our good days and bad days, and it’s important to give grace to ourselves and others. To not let our judgments, whether directed at ourselves or other moms, cloud our thinking and poison our hearts. To not let mom-guilt and the so-called mommy-wars steal our joy and connection as mothers.
I wanted to share three things that have helped me in the past when guilt/shame/insecurity start to creep in. I call them the three R’s.
- 1. RECOGNIZE – Before you can move past what you’re feeling you need to recognize and acknowledge it. Acknowledge where your guilt or insecurity is coming from. If you need help, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the source, or try talking to a therapist/counselor if that’s an option. Maybe it’s mom guilt over something in particular, but it could also be related to a deeper insecurity or wound you have. Whatever it is, first recognizing it and bringing it out of the darkness and into the light will help you move past it.
- 2. REMIND – Remind yourself of the truth, and break agreement with the lies that you are believing and the lie that you are not enough. Remind yourself that God has chosen you to raise your children, and that you have what it takes to raise them well. Remind yourself of your identity in HIM. Remind yourself of how loved and accepted you are, and let these truths encourage your soul. Living in community is also key here. Sometimes in our negative spiral we forget the truth or are unable to see it clearly. Allow your community and tribe to speak life and encouragement over you, to remind you of the truth when you can’t see it. It may feel tempting to live in isolation and ignore your feelings, but if you have the courage to be vulnerable and authentic with your tribe, they can help pull you out of the depths of despair in a very real way.
- 3. RELEASE – And lastly, release. Release the feelings, the insecurities, the shame, the guilt, or whatever else over to God. I like to close my eyes, and physically open my hands and imagine it actually releasing to Him. I imagine the weight lifting off of myself, and imagine myself walking freely & lightly with Him; I thank Him that He is faithful to help us carry the load. Keep surrendering it, each day. It’s not usually a “one-and-done” thing —but I assure you, it’s worth it!
I hope this offers you some encouragement today in whatever you may be facing! Know that you are loved and I am lifting up prayers for you.
Written with love,
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