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When Mommy Guilt Threatens to Crush You

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My youngest son was diagnosed with asthma at 6 weeks old. When he was in preschool, constant sickness exacerbated his condition. We were vigilant with his breathing treatments, but, short of placing him in a protective bubble, I couldn’t stop him from catching one respiratory illness after another.

Eventually our doctor recommended a medication for asthma prevention. After a few weeks of daily treatment, my son grew more and more irritable. He cried about everything. We talked with him and prayed with him, but neither he nor we could determine what was wrong.

And then I remembered the new medication. A quick Google search revealed that depression was a potential side effect.

I still remember my feelings of guilt. My son was hurting, and I didn’t know how to help him. When I realized that a medication was to blame, I felt guilty that I hadn’t read the side effects before giving it to him. Even after I called the doctor and stopped giving my son the medicine, I felt guilty that it had taken me so long to figure out the source of his sadness. I felt guilty that he had suffered.

That’s not the only time I’ve felt guilty. I’ve felt angry at myself for missing things I should have caught. I’ve bemoaned the weaknesses and insufficiencies that have kept me from meeting my children’s needs at all times and in all places.

These feelings are called mommy guilt, and it’s something all mothers experience.

False Guilt vs. True Guilt

As moms, we tend to hold ourselves to a high standard. We expect ourselves to know everything and be capable of everything.

When it comes to our kids, we expect ourselves to know that they’re sick before anyone else does. We expect ourselves to never forget to take them to an appointment. We expect to never miss that they’ve been secretive or that their best friend stopped hanging around or that their appetite is off or that they’re having trouble fitting in with other kids on the playground.

And when we do miss something, we berate ourselves. We’ve let our child down—and we deserve the Worst Mom of the Year award.

But mommy guilt isn’t always true guilt. True guilt is the result of sin. When we sin and break God’s law, we’re guilty. In fact, we’re all guilty since, as James reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).

It’s important that when we feel the weight of guilt on our hearts, we determine whether what we’re feeling is true guilt or false guilt. Have we sinned, and do we need to come to God and repent of that sin? Or are we simply human?

However badly we might feel, missing something isn’t sin. Forgetting something or failing to prevent something isn’t sin. When our child gets hurt, and we couldn’t stop it from happening, that’s a human limitation, not sin. When something happens we don’t know about, that’s because our knowledge is limited to a specific time and place. Missed appointments and overlooked symptoms aren’t sin; they’re a reminder of our humanity.

We’re finite beings—we aren’t God. We can’t know everything about our children. We can’t control everything that happens. We can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Yes, acknowledging our human frailty is hard. Before God, we try to love and care for our children to the best of our ability. But we also have to face the truth: we are weak.

Thankfully, Jesus is not.

Gospel Grace

Jesus our Savior is God incarnate. He is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). Our Savior governs all things. He is sovereign over all things. He knows all things. He is always fully present, and he never overlooks or misses anything. Perfect and righteous, he alone was qualified to be our substitute, our Lamb without blemish—the only One who could take on our sins.

Jesus is the solution to the true guilt of our sin. When we’ve sinned against our children—when we’ve been negligent, impatient, angry, and unkind—we can turn to the great Savior who bore our great guilt all the way to the cross.

And yet Jesus is also the solution to our false guilt. When nutritious meals give way to drive-thru burgers and overlooked learning difficulties result in failing grades, we can look to him. When we reach the end of ourselves, we reach for him.

We will fail and forget, but Jesus never does. Take your mommy guilt to him.

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms (P&R, 2019).

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