My youngest son was diagnosed with asthma at six weeks old. When he was in preschool, constant sickness exacerbated his condition. We were vigilant with his breathing treatments. I did all I could to prevent him from being sick, but short of placing him in a protective bubble, I couldn’t keep him from catching one thing after another. The doctors ran tests and tried different medications. One medication they tried was specifically for asthma prevention.
A month or so went by, and my son grew more and more irritable. Sad. Almost depressed. We talked with him and prayed with him. We tried to figure out what was bothering him. He cried about everything. It hurt to see him so sad, but we couldn’t determine what was bothering him. He didn’t even know.
And then I remembered the new medication. I did some research and learned that depression was a potential side effect. I immediately called the doctor and discontinued it.
I still remember the mommy guilt I felt. My son was hurting, and I didn’t know how to help him. When I realized a medication was to blame, I felt guilty that I hadn’t read the side effects before I gave it to him. 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 that way. I’ve often felt like I’ve let my children down by not being the mom they needed me to be. I’ve felt angry at myself for missing things I should have caught. I’ve bemoaned my weaknesses and insufficiencies in not providing for or meeting my children’s needs at all times and in all places.
Mommy guilt. At some point in motherhood, we all will experience it. Your child may have an illness you were slow to detect. Your son might have a learning problem for years before you realize it. Your daughter might complain about other kids picking on her and you disregard it until she comes home in tears and afraid to go to school. Whatever the circumstances, we know that feeling of guilt when our children are hurt. We feel responsible. We can’t stop thinking of how bad the situation could have been. We vow to be more vigilant in the future.
Sometimes, if motherhood were a job, we would likely fire ourselves.
True Guilt vs. False Guilt
As moms, we tend to hold ourselves to a high standard. We demand and expect more of ourselves than we would of anyone else. We try to be all things to all people. We expect ourselves to know everything, be everything, and be capable of everything.
When it comes to our kids, we expect ourselves to know that they are sick before anyone else. We expect ourselves to never forget to take them to an appointment or overlook atypical behavior. We expect to always be on top of things and never miss that they’ve been secretive or that their best friend stopped hanging around or that their appetite is off. We expect ourselves to know immediately if they are behind their peers academically or are having trouble fitting in with other kids on the playground.
And when we do miss something, we berate ourselves. We’ve let our children down, and as a result, we deserve the worst mom of the year award. But the truth is, the guilt we feel isn’t true guilt. True guilt is the result of sin. When we sin and break God’s law, we are guilty. In fact, we are all guilty, because as James reminds us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).
However, when we miss something, that’s not sin. When we forget something or fail to prevent something, that’s not sin. When we are ignorant or lack knowledge about something, that is human frailty, not sin. When our child gets hurt and we couldn’t stop it from happening, that is a human limitation, not sin. When something happens that we don’t know about, that’s because our knowledge is limited to a specific time and place. That too is not sin, but a reflection of our humanity.
We are finite human beings; we are not God. We cannot know or foresee the future for our children. We cannot know everything about our children. We cannot control everything that happens. We cannot prevent things from happening. We are limited by our humanity.
It’s important that when we feel the weight of guilt on our heart, we determine whether it’s true guilt or false guilt. Did we sin and do we need to come to God and repent of that sin? Or are we simply human?
Acknowledging our human frailty and limitations is hard for us as moms. We try to be the best mom for our children—a noble aspiration. But the reality is, things will happen that we did not expect or anticipate. Our human weaknesses and limitations will interfere in some way. And that’s when we have to face the truth: we are not perfect.
All but one of the people God used in his plan of redemption were not perfect either. By the world’s standards, they had nothing to offer. Take Moses, for example. He had a stutter and was an unlikely candidate for leadership. But God used him to lead the Israelites out of slavery. David was a young shepherd boy, the youngest of his family, yet God chose him to be king. Mary was young, poor, and insignificant, yet God used her to be the mother of our Savior. The apostle Peter was an uneducated fisherman who often spoke without thinking first, yet God made him an important leader in the early Church.
Yes, we are imperfect as moms. Yes, we fail our children from time to time. But God has called us to this important task, and He will make us who we need to be for our children. How will He do that? Through Christ.
Our Perfect Savior
Our Savior is the second person of the Trinity. He 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. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Our Savior rules and governs all things. He is sovereign over all things. He knows all things. He is always fully present and never overlooks or misses anything. He is perfect, holy, and righteous. That’s why He was our substitute at the cross. He was the Lamb without blemish, the only one who could take on our sins.
He also knows all of His creation, from the least to the greatest, including the small sparrow (Luke 12:6). He cares for and about His creation, from sustaining the cattle on the hill (Jonah 4:11) to providing rain for the barren desert (see Job 38:26) to feeding the hungry raven (Job 38:41). If He cares for His creation, how much more does He care for us, who He made in His image? Our Lord knows all our cares and meets all our needs. He is loving, kind, and compassionate (Ps. 100:5). And He always does what is consistent with His character.
God has proven His faithfulness time and time again. His ultimate act of faithfulness was securing our redemption from sin at the cross. If He was faithful to save us from our sins, we can be certain He will be faithful to us in our motherhood.
When we feel guilty because of our failure to meet our children’s needs, we need to turn to Jesus. When we are imperfect and weak, we need to rest in Him. When we face the reality that we cannot control all things, we need to trust in Him. We need to remember who He is. Jesus Christ is everything we cannot be. He is our Redeemer who obeyed the law we couldn’t obey, resisted the temptations we couldn’t resist, and trusted God when we failed to. He is our strength in weakness, our sufficiency in our insufficiency, our wisdom in our ignorance. Jesus Christ is perfect for us.
For the mom who feels guilty, rest in who Jesus is for you today.
This post is a modified excerpt from Christina’s book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms.