The Burden of Mama-Guilt

September 9, 2013 | 20 comments

So, if anyone’s handing out Mother of the Year awards, they can leave this woman off the list of nominees.

That’s what I was thinking about myself over the weekend.


Truth be told, I’d pretty much lost rights to that award a while back. Probably on the day when I found those dust bunnies kangaroos under the girls’ beds, or when I packed their school lunch bags with very expired yogurt (“It was soooo gross, Mom,” Anna shuddered).

Or, maybe it was the day where I couldn’t find the children, due to the chin-high weeds surrounding our swingset.

Then again, it could have been that series of days in August when I justified fewer baths, on account of them swimming in chlorine.

There’s more evidence: the unsigned permission slip, the forgotten promise to play Scrabble, the ruined shirt that I meant to put with the whites, instead of the brand-new brights.

Sometimes, whole weeks can feel like series of Mondays.

Even Saturdays can feel like Mondays. It went down like that this weekend. It started when Anna got her eye poked in a rough game of something-or-other in the family room.

Anna’s cry echoed up the stairs. I found her curled in a ball and cupping her hand over her eye.  Her big sister was rubbing her back. “Sorry, Mom…” Lydia had accidentally poked Anna.

I scooped Anna in my arms, rocking her on the last stair, promising her that it would be “all right, honey, you’ll-be-all-right, it’s-gonna-be-all-right. Come on now, you’ll be fine.”

You can say words that sound like promises, and somewhere in that moment, lose your last-bid chance at Mom of the Year. Because she wasn’t all right.

She wasn’t all right as the hours passed — when we ran a few errands, or when we headed to the mall a few hours later, or when we fed the cats, or picked tomatoes, or folded laundry. She wasn’t getting better at all, even though I kept telling her she would.

She was getting much worse, and it stuns me how I didn’t really notice how much worse, until she burrowed under the blanket at suppertime because the lamplight hurt her eye.

So, eight hours after the incident, we were back in the car, headed down our dusty country lane as the sun slipped below the fields. This time, we were headed for the ER, and I was wearing guilt on my sleeve.

The ER doctor put dye in her eye, and in the glow of a blacklight, the doctor found one thick scratch — a “corneal abrasion.”

The doctor sent us home with eye drops and instructions.  I also walked out of the ER with a heaping dose of guilt that hadn’t been prescribed, but I swallowed it anyway.

I squeezed Anna’s hand as we walked through the glass doors.

How did I miss it? How do I miss what’s in plain sight, under my nose, in the mirror, walking beside me, curled under the covers? How do I miss what’s really happening?

I helped Anna into the car, closed her door, and looked up at the first twinkling stars of a Saturday night, like the answers for my failures might spell themselves out in a constellation. But I knew it then: I don’t need a constellation as an answer for my self-condemnation. 

I do need this: grace to cover my guilt.

We all need this — grace for our Mondays and our every days.

God’s not asking us to beat ourselves up, or cut ourselves down, or replay old mistakes. He’s not asking us to look back with guilt, but to look forward with hope. Unlike yogurt, his love doesn’t expire. His grace is bigger than my dust-kangaroos. And His mercies are unending, coming every morning, just like He promised.

I started the car, breathing out guilt, breathing in grace.

Out, guilt.
In, grace.

On the way back home, Lydia cheered her sister with a photo-illustration of our Godson.

And Anna asked if she could wear her pink polka-dotted sunglasses to school, to shield her sore eye from the bright light. (And so, she’s wearing these shades to school today… )

After we get home Saturday night, I curled up next to Anna, rubbing my fingers through her hair, waiting for her steady breathing to tell me that she was sleeping restfully.

But before she drifted off, she murmured into the darkness.


“Yeah babe, I’m right here.”

“Mommy, you’re the best Mom in the whole wide world.”

Tears stung my eyes, and I felt my guilt disappearing on account of the tender words of a child.

Right then, I didn’t care what the Mother of the Year Committee decided. Because Christ is bigger than committees, and forgiveness is larger than faults, and the grace of my girl — in the crook of my arm — evicted the guilt in my heart.

I closed my eyes, and breathed my prayers:

Out, guilt.
In, grace. (And grace smells like strawberry shampoo.)

And together, we drifted off to sleep.


by | September 9, 2013 | 20 comments


  1. karmen

    Breathe out guilt breathe in grace….. Yes that. I think this needs hanging on my wall; the walls of my heart and my home.

  2. Karrilee Aggett

    Out, guilt. In, grace. So Much Yes, sweet Mama! Don’t we all just need this reminder on a Monday… and on every day through the week? Breathing in deep right alone with you! Praying for grace and healing and thanking God for those whispers unfolding across snuggles in the night!

  3. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh this touches me deeply, b/c what mother (or dad, for that matter?) has not been here, Jennifer? Let me encourage you: God is so incredibly forgiving (as you have noted, grace upon grace), and the amazing thing is that so are children. They have amazingly short memories as to their parents’ faux pas, and at some point, they also realize that we are only human, just like them (humans bear humans). But I would also encourage you along other lines, between guilt and false guilt. There is no way you could see a corneal scratch with your naked eye, and it’s normal to feel pain when you are poked. So you told Anna it would get better, b/c you thought the pain would diminish, as it customarily would have. But when Miss Anna’s pain didn’t subside, you did the right thing and took her to the ER immediately! I recall going to an ophalmologist for over a year, telling him I wasn’t seeing right. He (who had the means!) looked into my eyes with all his special, complex instruments and told me I was fine. And I could tell by his demeanor that he really didn’t want to be bothered with me. By the time I got to another specialist, he told me that my corneas were swollen and scratched beyond recognition. I would say that the first specialist really was guilty. And the second tended to me and helped me to heal. I say this too by way of encouragement that because you, a wonderful mother, got her baby to the ER at the right time, she is being helped to heal, and she WILL! Now if you want to talk “mother’s guilt,” let’s talk offline, and I can tell you what real guilt is! But on second thought, because of that grace you mention, which God dispenses lavishly, and a loving daughter who forgave generously, I’m not sure exactly what we’d talk about in the guilt department. You and I could both talk about our loving God, though. That would be worth a praise or two!!!

  4. rkrumpe94

    That momma guilt crept into my weekend too! It always amazes me how God is so loving and quick to forgive and our children come a close second to forgiving almost just as fast. I am so glad that stone labeled “guilt” got tossed out as quickly as it did for you. Grace is so good and lifegiving and a special covering to keep wrapped up in. Blessings, Rachael @ Inking the heart

  5. Diana Trautwein

    Just breathing in the beauty here, Jen. Oh, my, I’ve been where you were – over and over. My son-in-law still cannot quite believe that I keep food past the expiration date. And the not knowing your kid is more hurt/sick than you think? Times 10. So sorry for Anna’s pain and discomfort, but you know what? She is right – you are the best mom in the whole wide world. . . for Lydia and Anna. And you are completely covered by grace. And so am I. Praises be.

  6. Daniel Farrow

    Just breathe Sister! (1 John 3:19-24) Shalom!!! 😀

  7. floyd

    For all that we lack, they know we have their back… and our Father has our souls. In with the grace. Nice job, mom.

    • Lynn Morrissey

      Hey Floyd, I think that this is quotable: “For all that we lack, they know we have their back!” I thnk you should write about this! =]

  8. ro elliott

    Oh…yes all momma’s have done this…guilty as charged ….when my youngest was just starting her periods she complained one month that she did not feel good…her stomach hurt…oh honey sometimes that’s how it feels before you start…later…I feel nauseous ….later she did not want to eat…oh sometimes one month can be worse than others….here…take some Ibuprofen ….here put a heating pad on it…the next morning I went to check on her…I thought…I don’t think this is her period…oops it’s her appendix …and the time we got her to the ER…she was one sick puppy…they were amazed at the size of her erupting appendix….ummm…we did everything they say not to do if you think it’s appendicitis ….oh my….the guilt….but Gods grace does cover…and to be honest….she really enjoyed all the attention:)

  9. Caryn Christensen

    Okay my friend ~ the one whose blog ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes….I was nodding and thinking “poor baby” concerning Anna, and “poor Mama” towards you. And really thought my heart could take it all in…”Out guilt. In grace.” Until THIS…”Mommy, you’re the best mom in the whole wide world.”
    Yep. Tears. You’re an EXCELLENT mom Jennifer.
    Thanking Jesus with you, for 2nd and 3rd and umpteen chances, and for children who offer up grace ~ when we feel least deserving.

  10. debyholtschlag

    when Nichalas was in Jr. High, he wrestled. During practice one day, his arm was hurt, and I said the same things you did. After going to the doctors office 48 hours later, we learned his arm was broken in not one, but two places. Pretty bad breaks at that. Years of these types of mistakes try to overtake the Fruits of The Spirit daily. So thankful for not only our ABBA covering me with His grace and mercy, but also His forgiveness – as do our sons. (Also for how ABBA removed so many of my mistakes from their memories – now I need to allow Him to do the same with me). Blessings beyond counting for how He has/is always, always, bigger than my mistakes.

  11. marcia moston

    Echoes/resonates in moms’ hearts everywhere. Thank you.

  12. Megan Willome (@meganwillome)

    “How did I miss it? How do I miss what’s in plain sight, under my nose, in the mirror, walking beside me, curled under the covers? How do I miss what’s really happening?”–Yep.

    So sorry this happened. I feel your pain.

  13. Lea

    What a great post that all Moms, no matter their age, can relate to. If it weren’t for His grace, we would never survive Motherhood. Have a wonderful new week!

  14. Carey

    Ahhh….I could read this daily. Out Mommy guilt, in grace. Ahhhh….no room for the two of them! Only grace.

  15. Ashley Larkin

    How I needed this breath prayer tonight. Thank you dear mama of so many hearts.

  16. Elizabeth

    You rock, Mama, and this post will help so many who are plagued by the voice of the accuser

  17. Kim

    You touched a lot of heart chords with this, including mine, Jennifer. Blessings and healing to Anna and to Lydia and you, too. I’m so thankful for Christ’s grace – new every day. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.

  18. Monica Sharman

    Yikes, friend. Thank God for what He’s having you breathe.

    Do you know how many times I’ve replayed vivid memories from years ago, memories of what I’ve called my “loser-mother moments”? Somebody. Tell me to breathe right. (That’s what you’ve done.)

  19. Simply Darlene

    I fell out of the running for MOTY when my son was just a babe who could (finally) eat solid foods. Thinking it was a side of tomatoes, I fed him a spoon of spicy salsa… in a restaurant no less! Oh, the horrors.

    Thanks for keeping it real here, miss JDL.




  1. On guilt, loss and not alone | Draw Near - [...] last 24 hours, I’ve read three great pieces about guilt (of the mama variety – here and here –…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest