I had tried to do everything right.
This week, I sent my youngest child to camp. And I was nervous. It wasn’t his first time at camp. He’s very responsible and independent. And he is 15 years old. What’s to be nervous about, right?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. My son has cystic fibrosis and related form of diabetes. The last time he went to camp — back in the fourth grade — he came home sick and severely dehydrated.
But when an opportunity to go to a great camp came up this Summer, my husband convinced me to let him go. “He’s 15. He’ll be in college in a few years. It’ll be okay.”
After making sure he had all his medications and equipment, we sent him on his way.
But not 10 minutes later, I realized that I hadn’t made sure he had water in his backpack for the 8- hour bus ride. Seriously? After the whole dehydrated incident? How could I not think of that?!
My husband talked me down. “They will stop, you know. He can buy water then.”
I still held my breath, half expecting a phone call from an emergency room worker in the middle of Georgia. And it would be all my fault.
I breathed a sigh of relief when he arrived safely. Until the nurse called me the next morning to tell me that my son’s diabetes pen was on its last dose.
Now, the guilt crushed in like a tidal wave. I sent him to another state for a week of camp without enough insulin! How could I not have checked that? What kind of mother does that? What was I thinking?
We got him more insulin. All is well. And he’s no doubt having a blast. Whew.
I don’t know of a mom alive who doesn’t struggle with guilt. When a child is struggling. When we lose our temper. When we give in when we should have stood firm. When we forget something important.
We obsess over what we should or shouldn’t have done. We often blame ourselves for our kids’ behavior. If we’d only done things differently, they wouldn’t be acting this way!
Guilt plays with our minds and emotions. So what’s the cure? I’ve found a few remedies that are helping me let go of mom guilt:
Realize that it’s not all up to you.
Moms are pretty powerful. There’s no doubt we’re important. But everything that happens in our kids’ lives, good and bad, is not necessarily the result of something we did or didn’t do.
In my son’s case, as I began to look at the situation rationally, I realized that he is 15. Although he needs my supervision with his medication routine, he knows he needs water. I should have checked the medication, but he could have let me know that the diabetes pen was running low, too. We both bore some responsibility.
When it comes to our kids’ behavior, it’s our job to discipline, instruct and guide, but we can’t control everything they think and do. If they know right from wrong, they are responsible for their own choices. Everything they do — either bad or good — is not a direct result of something we did or didn’t do. Really.
Remember that even if you failed, you’re not a failure.
When we make mistakes with our kids, we should feel remorse. I’ve apologized to my kids for my failings many times over the years. That’s healthy and strengthens our relationship. What’s not healthy is when we begin to think that because we sometimes fail, that we are a failure.
The mom self-talk in our heads can easily take that ugly turn: I messed up again. I can’t believe I did that. I am such a screw-up. I can never get it right.
See how quickly we can make it about us instead of about the mistake?
Mistakes don’t make us failures. They make us human. They only cure is to apologize when necessary and start fresh.
We get stuck in the past, instead of on moving forward.
One of my regrets as a mom is doing too much enabling and not enough equipping with my kids. My people-pleasing nature and controlling tendencies led to me doing many things for my kids that they should have been doing for themselves.
When they began to hit the preteen years, I saw the fruit of that. It wasn’t pretty. I could either focus on my mistakes and feel terrible about myself or I could do something about it.
I began to gradually take small steps to give them more responsibility. Will they have some lasting effects? Maybe. Will they have to learn some things the hard way? Probably. But maybe that would have happened anyway.
The bottom line is that I can’t do anything about the past. But I can do something about today. That’s a lot more productive.
Will we ever be completely cured of mom guilt? Not likely. But we can choose to not make it a chronic condition.
Everybody’s healthier that way.