Mom guilt. It begins long before the first contraction and follows us like a shadow through every season of mothering.
- We want to comfort our baby, and yet we can’t seem to stop them from fussing.
- We want to be home with our small children, but we secretly long for fulfillment beyond our front door.
- We want to be patient with our teenager, but we feel ourselves withdrawing from them instead of pressing in when their emotions get out of control.
- We want to support our young adult children, but we find ourselves saying critical things about the choices they’ve made.
- We want to enjoy our grandchildren, but we are often overwhelmed by their energy and needs. . . .
And so, motherhood thrusts us into a spin cycle of guilt. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to get this important role right, feeding an undercurrent of discouragement, disappointment, and despair.
But what if mom guilt were a gift instead of a curse? What if God would use it to build something beautiful in you and your family?
Rejecting Two Extremes
Modern mothers have made a sport out of declaring how imperfect we are. We snap a pic of our messy kitchens and add a #hotmess. We create and consume endless blog and social media posts about how it’s okay to be imperfect parents and that “flawed you” is exactly the parent your child needs. While the intent may be to loosen the suffocating grip perfectionism has on our lives, I’m not sure any of us are buying it. Somewhere deep down we know that the mistakes we make as mothers are a big deal. We can see the consequences in real time in the lives of our children.
Then the pendulum of our hearts swings in the opposite direction—to defeat. The harder we try, the more we seem to miss the mark of perfect parenting. So we check out. We scroll instead of pushing them on the swings. We shift into survival mode instead of intentional parenting. We let go of the dream of being the mom God has called and equipped us to be.
This is where God’s Word meets us in our real lives. What does the gospel say about our imperfect parenting?
How Total Depravity Totally Changes Things
Romans 3:10–12 (esv) tells the jarring truth about us:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Consider the same big ideas through the lens of parenting.
No mom is perfect, no, not one;
no mom intuitively knows how to raise godly children.
She keeps trying to figure it out on her own instead of turning to the One who
designed motherhood in the first place.
All have turned aside from God’s truth about their parenting;
they get together and give each other unhelpful or harmful advice.
No one succeeds in parenting without the Holy Spirit,
not even one.
You’re right, you know? You cannot achieve parenting perfection. The problem isn’t the parenting books you’ve read (or not read), the way you yourself were parented, the culture you’re parenting in, or the temperaments of the children God has chosen to give you. And swatting at superficial problems can never lead to deep or lasting solutions. But in looking the real issue in the eye—namely that you are a desperate sinner raising desperate sinners—you create an opportunity for God to infuse your parenting with real hope.
When We Forget the Need Is Urgent
The refrigerator in my kitchen holds a collection of small bottles filled with pink liquid. They are leftover antibiotics from times when one of my sons got sick with an ear infection or strep throat. They represent a cycle that occurs in the hearts (and refrigerators) of so many families.
When a child is very sick we rush them to the doctor with urgency, then drive immediately to the nearest pharmacy. Our desire to give our children medicine is pressing. We set alarms and make lists, diligently delivering those first few doses, desperate to see our sick child made well.
But then, over time, the meds do their work. Our child’s fever breaks. His ears stop aching. His smile returns. And we inevitably skip a dose, then perhaps a second. As he begins to run and play again, we forget how badly he needed the medicine. And opened bottles filled with partially used prescriptions begin to fill our refrigerator shelves.
Your shortcomings as a parent are evidences of how sick your heart is. Like a fever that points to an unseen infection—yelling at your kids or hurling sharp, hurtful words at them, or feeling resentful instead of grateful for the blessing they are in your life—those are just symptoms of the fact that apart from Christ, you will remain terminally ill with your own sin.
In this way “mom guilt” is a gift. It’s a siren that reawakens us to our need for a Savior. A reminder of how much we need the “medicine” of God’s Spirit and His Word.
Jesus has the cure we need. Jesus is the cure we need. In Him, we are not enslaved to sin nor are we destined to infect others. The old mom is crucified with Christ. Now He lives in you (Gal. 2:20).
This is the good news about the Good News! It’s true, you can never be a perfect parent. But you have a perfect Parent—a Heavenly Father who loves you and has sent His Spirit to help you. There is no longer any need for you to hang your head in constant shame about your imperfect parenting or to celebrate it like imperfection in itself is a virtue worthy of some kind of trophy. Instead, we tell our kids and we tell each other: “Mommy can’t love you perfectly. I can’t teach you perfectly. I can’t serve you perfectly. But my imperfections make me cry out to Jesus. He is the One who holds this family together.”
The answer to your parenting gaps is not guilt, it’s desperate clinging to the God who loves you. In asking Him to use your shortcomings to showcase His glory, your posture will change from defeat to righteous desperation, from regret to prayer, from self-focused mothering to building a family that keeps your eyes on Christ.
I Know It Now
When parenting exposes the true condition of my heart I often pray something like this: “Jesus, I need you. I just know it now.” If I could somehow parent perfectly I’d quickly default to self-admiration. I’d pat myself on the back for all the amazing ways I’ve shaped my kids. I’d convince myself that I deserve all the credit for the way they’ve turned out.
Every twenty-four-hour cycle of family life provides ample opportunities for this bubble to burst. And every imperfect moment is a golden opportunity to reach for the Perfect One.
- Are you weighed down by guilt today, momma? Let it trigger heartfelt prayers of repentance and dependence on God.
- Are you discouraged by your constant shortcomings as a mom? Embrace them. They are necessary reminders of the true state of your heart. Repent and ask for forgiveness from God first and then from your kids.
- Are you a mess? Don’t celebrate it. It’s not good news unless you “boast all the more gladly of [your] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [you]” (2 Cor. 12:9 esv).
The next time mom guilt hits (and it will), cry out to Jesus. “I need you! I just know it now.” Then ask Him for an infusion of His strength, His Truth, His power, and go push that smiling child on the swing.
Moms can feel guilty for so many things, but the solution isn’t to work harder and become a more perfect mom. And it’s not to give up and abandon your home. The solution is in the gospel. Learn more all this week on Revive Our Hearts with the series “Risen Motherhood, with Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler.”