Every mother I know struggles with guilt, whether she has one kid or five, works or stays home, or is married or single. Guilt seems to just come naturally with the territory. Personally, I know a thing or two about it. I’m a full-time public-school teacher and part-time real estate agent who decided two years ago to develop a life-coaching business from the ground up. I’m also a wife and mother of two young boys with one on the way. I’m constantly balancing my family’s needs, my three careers and my own sanity in an attempt to figure out what my ideal life looks like. I don’t need to have these careers; my family does not rely on the income to survive. But I’m searching for the occupational pathway that ignites passion inside of me. For so long, I thought getting married, buying a house and having babies would solve that deep need inside of me to matter and do something significant to fulfill my purpose on this planet. I love my husband and children deeply, but I know it’s not enough for me; I still need something else.
In my pursuit of being everything to everybody, guilt is always present. Sometimes, I feel like nobody gets my best and wanting something for myself is selfish. In an effort to address my own guilt, I’ve developed six rules that allow me to combat these feelings when they creep up; while the guilt might never go away completely, it doesn’t get to make my decisions for me anymore.
1. I am a better wife and mother when I am happy.
There’s a reason you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first when the plane is going down before you can help anyone else. It goes without saying that if you are depressed, unmotivated and unsatisfied, you aren’t much fun to be around. Motherhood, whether you stay-at-home or work, is hard, and it’s really hard if you are feeling unfulfilled. Research routinely shows that happy mothers produce happier kids. So, wanting to feel satisfied isn’t selfish – it’s the best thing I could do for my family.
2. It’s okay if I need more than this, and it’s okay if I don’t.
Being a modern-day woman means we have all kinds of choices. I get to design the life I think it is best for me and my family. Others may and do make different choices to find their sense of true fulfillment and that’s okay. Decisions that come out of love for myself and for my family can never be wrong.
3. Capacity is a state of mind.
It’s amazing what you can get done when you stop thinking inside the box. When you have passion and purpose and prioritize what matters, you can create any schedule you want. I maximize my time before the kids are awake and after they go to bed. I’ve seriously cut back on my intake of pointless television and depressing news. I calendar my time meticulously and delegate when possible. And when I do it right, I get a lot done!
4. I’m not alone.
Every mother I know deals with guilt. One friend said to me, “I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be great at anything again. I’m just stretched too thin.” While I have hope that all of these women will find balance, I appreciate the fact that I am not alone.
5. One hour of focused attention is much better than three hours of distracted parenting.
When I’m with my kids, I try to make them feel like they are the only thing in my world. I get into the thick of it with them – building Legos or fighting “bad guys.” I make time to listen to them. It takes practice like anything else – I have to remind myself to be present and aware, and when I catch myself not doing it, I make a point to refocus and give them my full attention.
6. Above all else, I’m doing this for them.
I’m setting an example for my boys. I want them to see me create a life that satisfies me by setting big goals and working hard. I’m a work in progress, and I want them to know that’s okay. When they grow up, my deepest hope for them is that they feel empowered to create their lives in ways that feel authentic and fulfilling, and I want them to seek out partners who do the same.
Every night, I make them recite this phrase, “I love myself. I’m here for a reason. Everything is possible. And if I have love in my heart, and never give up, I can accomplish anything.” I want them to see that in action. I want them to know they can create something from the ground up and live their passions. They can do that and be a husband and father. Sacrifices aren’t mandatory and neither is guilt.