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Mom Guilt: Everything I thought about parenting was wrong...and that’s ok!

By: Shaniqua Staples, Founder of RebirthHER

The Talk

When I told my 13-year-old that I decided to quit my first profession and I accepted a new job that allowed me to work from home, I thought it would be the best news ever. Instead, he hit me with, "Ummm ok, but you’ll still be working so you will still be busy..." Ouch! This hurt. The pain I felt was undeniable and there was nothing I could do about this because he was right; I was still busy.  After two unplanned kids and a failed marriage, I was determined to keep pushing and make sure my son had everything. I had essentially been on autopilot for 13 years.

I sat down to talk with him because I wanted to know where this comment came from. He told me, "You are the busiest person I know and I'm proud of you because you finished school and provided for us., but sometimes I just wanted you here with me”. How was I supposed to process this BOMB that he dropped on me? I did what any rational woman would do. I cried...hard! I had a full-blown breakdown in front of my 13-year-old. You should have seen the horror in his eyes as he tried to figure out how to either get me out of his room or exit the room himself.  He spent the next 30 minutes reassuring me that he wasn't mad at me and that he was a happy kid.

He told me that he was happy, then 6 months later he moved out to live with his dad. This did not scream happy child to me. When moved away, I looked in the mirror and stared mom guilt right in the face. When my son left, I went into a deep depression. I was confused and I blamed myself. I told myself that I wasn't an adequate mom because I robbed my children of time with their mother.  I was in a dark space mentally and emotionally that I needed to break free from.


Coping

I decided to do four things to help me cope with the guilt:

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(1) Pray. I had to have a long talk with God because I was not in a good head space. I was already praying on a regular basis but this time it was different.  I had to dig deeper because I was broken. I was hurt and not sure how to process these feelings. I studied the book of Psalms because I needed peace. I found peace through my prayers. My conversations with Him reminded me that I’m only human and no one expects me to be perfect.

(2) Journal. I needed to write my thoughts out because the plan I thought was right for my kids was all wrong. This was helpful until I had the courage to talk to someone else about what was going on. Which leads into my next point…

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(3) Confide. I didn’t want to talk to anyone else when this first happened because deep down I was ashamed that I was running this perfect mom race and the thought of people knowing I was failing was another issue within itself. If I could go back, I would have talked to my mother sooner. I talked to her after the fact and she told me how much she went through while raising me and my siblings. Sometimes hearing someone else's story can reassure us that everything will be ok and that we aren’t screwing up as bad as we think we are.

(4) Therapy. I needed to go back to therapy, I thought I was done with therapy after my divorce, but therapy can be a revolving door as new issues arise in your life.


The Recovery

After using those four coping skills for a year, I learned three important things:

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(1) I'm not a bad mother. I needed to hear this, so I wrote this on my bathroom mirror and made sure I saw it every day. It became my affirmation. Even though my kids loved me, and never said I was a bad mom, this is how I was feeling. I had to believe I wasn't a bad mom.  When I was younger, I needed to work two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. As I got older I did it because I needed to feel busy. Money was no longer an issue. The thought of being still was. I had to let go of this feeling of needing to be busy and embrace my kids; they were the busy feeling I needed.

(2) Slow Down. I was running this race all by myself. In all honesty, no one said I had to go to college and have two careers while taking care of my children all before the age of 30; this was what I told myself.  I realized that I needed to slow down. I was projecting so much of my traumatic childhood on my kids that I never took the take the time to fully enjoy their younger years. My kids loved me and wanted to spend that time with me but I was too focused on overcoming my own demons.

(3) Normalize Mom Guilt. My therapist taught me this one! She helped me normalize it and realize that I'm not perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect mom. Mom guilt happens if “yell at your progeny, or miss an opportunity to disciple and mold them. It happens when you’re the hovering, helicopter type, or the hands-off, free-range type” Mom guilt will exist no matter what I do, and the best thing I could do was to find balance. I took this and ran with it!

You’re always going to wonder if you’re doing things wrong, but that’s what it means to be a mom, to care so much about someone else that you just want to be as perfect as possible.
— Nya Rivera

Now What?

Studies show that dad’s also feel guilty about not being “present” enough with their kids, working too much, or not earning enough money for the family. Traditionally, the father was the provider and the mother the caregiver. It’s well accepted, now, that both providing and caring can be done by father and/or mother. When we think about #momguilt and feeling alone, we have to remember that caregiver guilt is real no matter who you are. Whether you’re a mom, dad, or grandparent, taking care of kids while trying to balance life is a challenge. We are enough.

Three years after having my first mom breakdown (with three kids, it won’t be my last!) I now have a mental tool kit that allows me to cope. I no longer run a race or get swallowed up by perfectionism; I enjoy every moment with my kids. Does the idea of working a second job just because cross my mind, yep but I would rather stay home with my baby and watch him grow. I am present at every practice and dance recital with my daughter and I’m watching her bloom. I book trips to see my son every six months and watch Youtube conspiracy theories with him all day (this is our thing).  I cook dinner with my daughter and allow her to create odd recipes. I listen to baby shark a million times a day while playing in the paint for hours, followed by a bath lol! I even give my dog more love! I still wonder if I'm doing enough, but I remind myself that it doesn't matter as long as I'm doing the best I can.

Until next time,

Shaniqua


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About the author:

Shaniqua Staples is the founder of RebirthHER, an organization that provides postpartum counseling for women of color. She has a Master of Social Work with a concentration in African American and Hispanic Families. She is a Licensed Social Worker in Texas where she resides with her fiancé, children, and fur baby. Her son still lives in MI, but visits every summer. Shaniqua enjoys scary movies, books on African American history, and studying the bible. She does spoken word for local venues and church youth events. She and her family also participate in the annual zombie run because zombies are her thing!