30 Seconds for Hope:
Countless moms wilt under the thought of “I’ve failed as a mom” when their child struggles. Have you faced that mom guilt? If so, consider this: You impact your child, but you’ll never have the last word about his or her mature choices. This means no one should ever declare you to be the ultimate reason for your child’s mess-ups. Even if you could have been an ideal mom, your child’s life could still go awry because kids have choices, too. A mother isn’t an all-powerful determiner of destiny. So have you been discouraged, thinking “I’ve failed as a mom?” Silence that thought with this reality: “I impact my child, but I’m not the end of their story.” Now that’s more like it. Why? Read on…
The full story:
It wasn’t pretty—my household, that is. Three children, under age five, clomping, stomping, and romping, filling our home with problems. One child habitually lied, another threw tantrums, and the third made messes. Yes, they were young, so this was to be expected. But I was young, so I extrapolated into the future and feared the worst. I’ve failed at changing these children… I’m failing as a mom. After all, it was my job to mold and direct them, wasn’t it? I should be able to change them, right? But it wasn’t working, at least not most days.
If you’re like me, that thought of I’m failing as a mom can hit you at any stage of motherhood. It hits the first-time mom when the reality of caring for an infant collides with a fantasy of picture-perfect mothering. It smacks the young mom when her second child won’t stop biting kids in preschool. It whacks the seasoned mom when a teen boy sneaks out the window to run with a bad crowd in the night. And it crushes the empty-nest mom when her college student trashes the worldview she’d passionately taught. In every case, the mom’s self-indictment is elicited by the mess-ups of the child. My child is a mess, so I’m a failure.
No mother is immune.
But I’ve failed as a mom? Really? When we believe that, it shows we’ve overestimated our own power. If you view your child’s dark path as all your fault, it shows you’ve been believing you are an all-powerful mother with absolute control over the destiny of that child, which is not true. A child’s story consists of so much more than the excellence of the mother. A mother is only one piece of the child’s formation.
So why do we put so much on ourselves? Before we can answer, we need to consider some realities.
First, you must understand that flawed parenting doesn’t doom your child for life. “Really?” you ask. Yes, really. Moms, we do impact our children, yet in the end, most healthy children will control their own destinies. Plus other people can enter their picture to influence them toward good. Story after story speaks of kids who came from deprived or crazy homes yet rose above their circumstances. Our mommy mess-ups aren’t the final word.
I’m a case in point. My mother (now deceased) suffered from mental illness, having been diagnosed with multiple issues, including mixed personality disorders and bi-polar tendencies. Throughout my life she visited numerous psychiatrists, stayed in psychiatric hospitals multiple times, and stocked her cabinet full of prescription and OTC meds. Because of her challenges, my mother was unable to be emotionally nurturing, so receiving understanding and comfort from her were non-existent gifts.
Yet her story was not the end of my story. My mother’s inadequacies definitely impacted me, but they did not define me. I learned to mentally contradict some false messages that were handed to me. I chose to forgive her failures and embrace gratitude for the good things she was able to offer—meals cooked, vacations planned, parties hosted, and a myriad of other gracious gifts. I went to other sources to receive comfort and understanding.
Likewise, your child can rise above your failures, so you don’t need to beat yourself up. If that child seeks opportunities to learn and grow, she can begin to overcome negative impacts—whether brought on by herself or by you.
Secondly, just as your inadequacies don’t determine your child’s destiny, your ideal mothering won’t either. Think about it. Even if you could be the perfect mom, your child might still choose a different path just by merit of being his own person. Let it soak in. Ultimately a mother doesn’t determine the way the child will go. The child does. Believe it or not, this is true at age two, and it’s especially true at twenty. You inspire, they decide…. You set a limit, they decide…. You plead, they decide…. You react, they decide…. The outcome always ends with “they decide.” Not “you decide.”
Even the most perfect parent in the world exists under this reality. Do you know a most perfect parent? I do. My Heavenly Father. The one who made us—and gave instructions about life’s best practices—operates within our freedom to choose. God is the ideal parent, yet people still choose to ignore him, doing their own thing. (See here and here for examples.) Even this all-powerful, perfect-in-every-way Father has trouble with His children. So why in the world do we moms believe if only I could be the ideal mother, Johnny wouldn’t have these problems? Not even God thinks that! Good heavens.
So how do you silence the voice of shame in your head? By focusing on reality. Teach yourself to think, “I’ve impacted my child, but I’m not the end of their story.” Accept the fact that your mothering will not be the final determiner of outcome because the child himself will choose how to respond to life. Therefore, you don’t need to obsess on a dead-end thought of I’ve failed as a mom.
So back to the question, “Why do we put so much on ourselves?” I think it’s related to our hopes for our children. We desperately want good things for them, so we do everything in our power to give them a good life. We teach wisdom on how to gain a great future. We warn them of pitfalls and caution them about dangers. In the process we easily (and mistakenly) believe that it’s all up to me, which results in despair when our efforts don’t return the results we had hoped.
Have you found yourself cringing at the stuff your child does? Has he taken a path you never imagined? Then please answer your shame by remembering that it’s not all on you, dear mama. God, the perfect parent, sees and knows your child and he is reaching out with his great hand, offering help whenever your child is ready to receive it. In the end, your failures (real or imagined) aren’t their story’s climax. God’s got this. And because of Him, you can pray for your child, take a big breath, focus on truth, and rise from any pit of shame.
Don’t believe the I’ve failed as a mom message in your head when your child has “failed.” You are not the ultimate cause of your child’s choices, so unshackle yourself from outcome-based despair.