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Plain old guilt

Something I often say: “I wish I could eradicate Mom Guilt for every single mom in the world.”

And I do wish that.

But honestly, all guilt – self-inflicted guilt over ridiculous, trivial, or unavoidable things – serves very little purpose but to distract us and steal our joy. It will probably never go away, but we can be better equipped to deal with it.

Our last few conversations here, as well as the most recent Refreshed Life Show, have been about boundaries. And a natural byproduct of setting up and living by boundaries is, you guessed it, GUILT over what we are not providing or doing for someone else.

Reminder, from the book I love and want to share with you:

The fact that someone wants something from you does not necessarily mean God wants you to provide it… {Geri Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Woman}

Yet, most of us would rather swallow large quantities of our own discomfort before causing inconvenience to anyone else. Because… a false sense of responsibility leads us to GUILT.

Allow me to emphasize by providing a partial list of things I have felt guilty for:

my happy marriage
my healthy kids
recovery from financial ruin
recovery from grief
healing from infertility
being overweight
taking up too much space (see above)
laughing too loudly
not crying enough
being a stay-at-home mom
being a part-time working mom
being a full-time working mom
not homeschooling
not cooking enough
spending too much money
not spending or giving enough money
being happy
being unhappy
being good at anything I happen to be good at
not being good enough at any/everything
not responding quickly enough
not being attentive enough
inviting so many people to something that my attention is spread much too thin
not inviting every single person I know to every single occasion and outing
the kid I didn’t stick up for in 4th grade
the kid my daughter wasn’t friends with in 4th grade
the kid my daughter didn’t speak to at the 5th grade dance
the birthday parties my kids don’t attend
the birthday parties my kids don’t have
staying up too late
sleeping too much
feeling tired
date nights
my team winning
my team losing
not having a guest room
the weather
having a dirty house
paying someone to help clean the house
asking for help with a flat tire
asking for help with anything
asking our kids to babysit our other kids
asking the grandparents to babysit
leaving my husband with the kids so I can go (hair appt/dinner with friends/whatever)
not being willing to babysit
not signing up to volunteer for something at church/the school/the world
having miscarriages
having miscarriages and therefore not relating to the grief of stillbirth or infant mortality
needing time to recover from miscarriages
needing family time
needing time alone with my husband
needing time alone
not checking in with people
checking in too much
taking too much time in the bathroom*

Do you see a pattern?

*I read this list out loud to my husband. He freaked. I told him this is just the “real” list. It’s not even the stupid list. This. Is. Why. I am working on me!

We can – and we often do – drive ourselves to the BRINK OF INSANITY with guilt over every decision, every occurrence, every person around us who might not be having a perfect experience.

Do you have a list? Does it look anything like mine? Is it filled with completely opposing items, indicating a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” condition? Has feeling guilty over any one of them made a positive difference?

Mental health experts will attest that guilt does have a useful place in guiding our moral compass. On this note, I’m not sure “eradicating guilt” is the answer. I mean, there are a few things on that list that, if done in haste or without proper consideration or communication, could have negative consequences that I would have actually been responsible for, and that is when guilt can be helpful – in guiding us to learn lessons, make amends, and do better next time.

But meanwhile, how can we deal with plain, old guilt?

1.Recognize that you are not pizza – and you cannot please everyone. Yeah. Hardy-har. This looks cute on a meme, but what it comes down to is: You must look at your capacity and your priorities, and yes, establish boundaries that you can live with. {for more on boundaries}

2. Communicate those boundaries to those closest to you {this probably involves also figuring out who you are closest to, as well as who is dependent on you for survival} and be prepared to protect them.

3. Adjust accordingly. If your boundaries cause you to feel down, discouraged, or guilty, make changes:

  • Maybe you want to work out 6 days a week, but life is crazy, and this causes you to miss your daughter’s game or your son’s presentation or the only available time to have dinner with your sister. Make your workout longer on a different day.Or take a nice, long walk with your sister.
  • Maybe you had to back out of throwing a birthday party for your bestie. Gather a few close friends and take her to a nice dinner instead.
  • Maybe choosing alone time over date night backfires, as you miss your husband on that beach walk or at that movie. Plan differently next time – go for your walk and then meet him for dinner.

4. Know yourself. Is it really guilt or is it something else, like fear of missing out, fear of being replaced, jealousy, or pride? Guilt is typically produced when you think you’re not living up to others’ expectations of you. Are you, in fact, not living up to your own expectations – and are they realistic?

Mamas (I’m looking at you now), wanting to take a shower by yourself, pursuing any passion other than your kid (even if you don’t deem it “useful”), having nights out with your husband, etc., etc., ETC. are NOT reasons to feel guilty.

You are a person. You are not defined by your roles, relationships, or actions. And treating yourself with the same care and consideration you give to others is not rude, selfish, or cause for guilty.

Let your identity be found in your Creator:
He thinks you’re a miracle and took all the guilt from you so you could live free from it.


If these topics are hitting home with you, I’d like to offer you a chance to read more – from a book that has greatly inspired me to work on my own emotional wellness. Sign up for Kell of a Story email updates and you will have a chance to win I Quit / The Emotionally Healthy Woman.

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