Parental guilt is very real. It starts off innocently enough, with questions like, “How much is the baby eating / sleeping?” which then progresses to, “I’m trying to make sure they eat/sleep enough,” and then goes on to “I’ve royally messed up, my child is doomed, and I’m a terrible parent for not having read enough / tried harder / thought faster / been smarter / researched more, etc.”
You laugh, but with the amount of information that’s out there, this is an almost inevitable conclusion. (Psst, if you’ve managed to escape this phenomenon then skip this post, too. No need for you to catch what’s contagious).
The problem is that almost every parent is already doing their darned best. I have yet to meet a parent who is flippant towards the needs of their child. As their child develops out of the sentient potato stage (i.e. eating sleeping pooping), you’d think that this would be prime time for the parent to chill, but no. There’s more to worry about. “Is my house toddler-proofed? Is this beef liver organic? Am I providing enough opportunities to build gross motor control? I know Baby Einstein was discredited but maybe I should be speaking Swahili to my child to stimulate brain development.”
So happy I was, then, to read of this mother share about a healthy attitude towards guilt. In all honesty, I was predisposed to laugh at Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. (Apparently there’s a movie coming out with Anne Hathaway!) The French are weirdly idolized in both Eastern Asian and North American cultures. Yet I couldn’t resist the lure of the subtitle. As always: maybe there’s something I could improve in my parenting.
Turns out there is and there isn’t. That is, I agreed and disagreed with Druckerman’s various points, which was refreshing for me. Two years into being a mother and I’m starting to know what I value in the parent-child relationship. But I still struggle with guilt, knowing that on one hand, I ought to give myself a break, and on the other hand, thinking that if I forgive myself too easily that I will ruin my daughter’s life forever.
So back to guilt. On it, Druckerman notes:
French mothers absolutely recognize the temptation to feel guilty. They feel as overstretched and inadequate as [we] do… And like us, they often aren’t living up to their own standards…
The difference is that French mothers don’t valorize this guilt. To the contrary, they consider it unhealthy and unpleasant, and they try to banish it (p. 146).Druckerman, P. (2012). Bringing up bébé: One American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting. The Penguin Press.
What was good for me was to realize that guilt, as with all other negative emotions, needs conscious “banishing.” Though I think I would have come to this conclusion eventually (maybe), reading it in someone else’s words made it clear much quicker. Where I disagreed with Druckerman was when she went on to say that parents could, after all, simply tell themselves that they were good enough. Just. Like. That.
Not that I disagree with the sentiment, mind you. Like I said above, every parent is doing their darnedest and there’s no quibbling about that. But for myself, at least, I find it futile to try and tell myself I’m good enough without any other proof or backup. Instead, I rely on what God says in His Word:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.2 Corinthians 12: 9 (NIV)
That is, when I offer up my worries about my child to God in prayer, then I am doing enough. When I ask for patience throughout the day, then I am doing enough. When I reflect on how much I am doing and rearrange based on the priorities God has placed in my life, then I am doing enough. Without God, I cannot take care of everything well. With God, I can do my best and rest in the knowledge that He is taking care of everything else.
This isn’t an opinion that’s natural to the human condition, I think. I would love to assure myself that all I am is enough for the task set before me, but I can’t lie to myself that way. When I lose my temper (inevitable at some point on most days), I am reminded of how weak I am. The strangeness of being a Christian is that it demands me to recognize my own inadequacy and then set it aside to embrace reliance on Christ. This surrender doesn’t tell me to stop working hard, but it allows me to stop worrying about everything else outside of my control. This surrender doesn’t permit lax parenting, but it does show me that God loves my child more than I do, and that is one of the greatest comforts, knowing that someone more capable and more powerful also cares about this tiny human.
To return to guilt: I have realized that it has no place in my life. Though it is natural, though small measures seem beneficial for their motivation, it is destructive and unnecessary, but more than that, it contradicts what Christ is doing in my life. So long as I parent with Christ in mind, there is no need for guilt.