Mommy guilt is obviously no fun. But if you’re a single/divorced mom, it’s an absolute killer.
Being a parent in this increasingly insane world is hard, in general. But raising kids alone, no matter the circumstance, is unnatural and relentlessly difficult. I’ve yet to meet a mom who doesn’t have guilt after divorce. Doesn’t matter if they’re the one who left, or vice versa. Doesn’t matter how or why you’re a single mom. The kids suffer. They live two different lives, in two separate houses, and according to my effectively blunt former therapist, “every child of divorce has some form of trauma.”
Aaaaand here comes the divorced mom guilt. Do these menacing thoughts sound familiar?
“Do the kids blame themselves for us not being married? Do they blame me?”
“Do the kids ever feel really settled?” Will they ever be happy again?”
“Do they wish I didn’t re-marry?”
“Did I start a new relationship too soon?
Then we start down the fear-infused, illogical “what if” rabbit hole…
“What if we’d just stuck it out for the kids’ sake?”
“What if I was a better wife…maybe we would’ve stayed married, and the kids would be happier?”
Single moms can be tempted by different menacing “what if’s”… “what if I’d married that ‘nice Christian guy?” (even though ya didn’t love him). At least my son would have a “normal family.”
This same ‘what if’ curse can plague all moms, really. Because we’re all human, and I’ve yet to see a manual on perfect mothering. Some of us regret going back to work so quickly after having our babies. We wish we were less naïve/busy/[insert guilt of choice] during those “little years.” We wish we could’ve been more informed and proactive, protecting them better during those formative middle school years. We wish we’d noticed those unhealthy tendencies, and gotten them help sooner. It goes on and on. We wish we’d spent more time, were less distracted, were less selfish, aaaaand where’s my glass of pinot.
I used to think it was just own my egregious mistakes and misgivings leading to these relentless condemning whispers. But the older I get, the more I’m convinced… it’s a mom thing.
Mothers have it hardest. Our XX chromosomes are to blame. Our brains have a natural tendency to worry and obsess about what we could have done better, constantly replaying mistakes and negative memories in our minds until it’s almost unbearable. Our emotions are completely wrapped up in our kids. I don’t remember the last time my husband lost his shitake mushrooms when hit with a Facebook time hop memory of the kids. I think I bawl monthly at these digital tear-jerkers… HOW is this only five years ago, honey?!… SNIFF!” I don’t think I’ve ever caught my husband curled up on the kids’ beds, sniffing their pillows and counting the seconds ’til they’re home. I realize there are exceptions to every theory and rule. But really. Moms just feel. All. The. Feelings.
So, it makes sense that the guilt hits us harder after divorce, and at times, can feel like mental torture.
But lately I’ve been trying to focus less on what I had/lost, and what can now become. Every time my mind is randomly assaulted with attacking thoughts, I take them captive and replace those worries/fears with recent memories of something good. Something positive that’s happening because I am a good mom. I might’ve missed a few school emails and drove to the wrong sports field (away games are the dyslexic’s mom’s enemy) but there are so many wins we need to acknowledge, daily. It can be something as simple as your normally stoic 15-year-old saying “I love you,” back for once, or your 10-year-old saying thanks for the snack after well, 10 years of never saying thanks for the snack.
Even if your kids are college age or out of the house already, it’s not too late to go for a better relationship (and trust, as a mom of a 22 year-old, the mothering never stops!). It’s not too late to apologize for past mistakes, if you need to, and it’s never too late to make new and better memories. And it may feel impossible, but it really is never too late to try and invigorate or restore your relationship with your teenager. Stay-at-home moms (been there!) tomorrow is a great time to begin being fully present with your toddlers, or whatever it is you wish you had been/done/realized in years past.
I don’t care how overwhelming the regret/guilt is…the chief lie we need to come against is that it’s too late. That we’ve screwed it up beyond repair and we don’t even deserve a fresh start. That our kids won’t care or listen if we start doing things differently now. Believing this insidiousness is the best way to keep us stagnant in this current version of ourselves at a time (sweet Lord such a time) in life when our kids really, really need us. Not the remorseful, defeated, joy-less versions of us. They need the hopeful, determined, present versions of us that knows that God is gracious, and life is journey. With His help, God can make all things new. Hear that, guilt? All things. It starts with adopting new patterns of thinking, believing and declaring that our circumstances do not define our kids’ well-being and our ability to parent them well.
Once we have that down, action helps us move in different paths forward. Make a list of how you want to parent differently. What are your goals? For Christian moms, we want to ensure our kids develop a real, sustainable, relationship with God. What can we begin doing that’ll support that goal? Who cares that you’ve never prayed or read the Bible with your kids consistently…if there in the house still, it’s not too late to start.
Lots of us want more quality time, which can feel impossible with teenagers. Start creating screen time rules that should have been there, but you were too chicken, or exhausted (they’ll respect us for it later) and mandate actual family time. If you’re a single mommy, try not to call/text/date when you have the kids. They notice, and care when our attention is divided. Even if we don’t see the desired result or feel like we’re finally they’ll feel the effect of our caring, and our efforts.
We really can experience freedom from mom guilt when we stop looking back, and start moving forward more. Easy to say, but hard to enact, I know. Motherhood is so complicated and life can feel mercilessly out of our control. We’ve made mistakes. We did lots of things wrong, consciously, and subconsciously, for all kinds of reasons.
But God is big enough to cover our mistakes. Whether we fully believe it or not, He just is. There’s no wrong he can’t correct, or wound he can’t heal, and He’s already forgiven us for anything we think we need to hold onto, or punish ourselves, with. And we need to do the same. If you struggle with these feelings, consider meditating on whether you’ve ever truly forgiven yourself for any regrets/failures you’ve been holding on to. It may feel emotional and scary, but do it for your kids’ sake. Because they need the whole, healed versions of us, and there’s so much more good to create. And it’ll only happen in the forward. Xo
For more on divorced parenting, check out my post, Divorced Moms: 4 Ways to Cope When Missing Your Kids.