I asked a vulnerable question on Facebook and was surprised by how honest the answers were — and how many answers came in so quickly.
Each time my phone buzzed, I double-tapped and swiped left to read the newest post notification.
“I feel guilty when I nap while my daughter naps instead of cleaning the house.”
“I feel guilty when I make my kids cry after using my angry mom voice.”
“I feel guilty when I daydream about being anywhere else but here.”
I knew exactly the feeling they each were describing. I have had those same thoughts. Through their comments I was reassured that for all of us, motherhood is hard. Like, really hard. And we are all doing our best to get through the end of the day — even the year. My phone buzzed again.
“I feel guilty when I missed my daughter’s birthday because I had to work late into the night.”
“I feel guilty when I have to depend on others to care for my children so I can go to night school.”
The guilt we feel because we are trying to be so much to so many is heavy enough to bury us alive. I personally know what it feels like to be buried in motherhood. Each new guilty thought — and they are constant — is like another shovel full of dirt being thrown down on top of us. It hits heavy on our heart. Some days we struggle to even breathe.
What Guilt Is
Psychologist Edward Kubany describes guilt as “a negative-feeling state which is triggered by the belief that one should have thought, felt or acted differently.” Did you catch that? Guilt is triggered by the belief — not always the reality — that we should have done something differently.
Guilt is a negative thought with a possible purpose. These negative thoughts can tear us down. To the women I mentor, I refer to this as “mom guilt,” but dads feel it too. It’s important to remember that guilt can also help us right a wrong or improve as a person. So, how do we tell the difference?
How do we know when the guilt we feel is guiding us to make a necessary change versus when our guilt is clouding our self-esteem?
True Guilt vs. False Guilt
False guilt is fear of social judgment and the disapproval of others. This is external guilt, or guilt we feel from an external source. For example, I feel guilty when my husband has to iron his own dress shirts because an external expectation has led me to believe this should be a wife’s job. Unfortunately for my husband, that’s not how it works in our home these days and I’m OK with that.
True guilt is fear derived from acting against our values. This is internal guilt and is often a clue we need to make some adjustments. To be very honest, I feel guilty because I never look forward to dinnertime. I hate making a dinner that takes long, makes a mess, and is received by picky eaters. But then I feel guilty about my attitude at dinner because I actually believe dinner time and eating together as a family is extremely important.
Ditch It or Fix It
It’s clear we all suffer from the heavy weight of guilt. False guilt we can let go, or “ditch.” And true guilt we often need to “fix.” Here are three questions you can ask yourself to determine if you should “ditch it” or “fix it”:
1. Does my guilt come from an external expectation?
Why are you feeling guilty? Is it because your Christmas neighbor gifts aren’t clever enough? Because your kids stayed in their pajamas until 2 p.m.? Because you work outside the home, and for generations before you mothers stayed home with the kids? In all of these cases, the guilt is coming from external expectations of what life should be like.
If you answered yes to question No. 1, ditch your guilt.
If you answered no, move to question No. 2.
2. Is the negative thought you have true?
Using the previous example, maybe you feel guilt about working outside the home not because of judgment you get from your family or neighbors, but because you are afraid this makes you a bad parent. Is the negative thought you have true? (Does working outside the home actually mean you are a bad parent?)
If you answered no to question No. 2, ditch your guilt.
If you answered yes, move to question No. 3.
3. What can I do to fix it?
If you have determined the guilt you feel is indeed your own guilt, not projected on you from others; and if you can see that the negative thought or belief you have is true, then it is time to notice one or two changes you can make to improve.
I feel guilty because I hate dinner time. It’s true. And I feel this guilt because my family deserves better. Thankfully I can fix this with a few new menu items, better preparation and a trip to the grocery store.
Need to DITCH that guilt? Let's help you out...
This article originally published as Nicole’s regular column on KSL.com
Stock image from freedigitalphotos.net.