Giving myself permission to live guilt-free provides my kids with an empowered role model.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I planned to work part-time while raising her, that way I could continue to do the work that I loved while being a mom. But nothing could have prepared me for how much attention she needed or how much I loved her. Once she entered my life it was like a switch went off and I forgot about everything I was working toward in my career, and everything I cared about and dreamed of for myself.
Unaware of what was really happening, I went into full-time mother mode. I had lost myself and I didn’t even know it yet. I didn’t realize I had lost myself until I got divorced. I had spent almost every waking moment with my kids. Then, all of the sudden, the man who worked 12 hours a day wanted my kids half of the time.
All of the sudden, the kids weren’t with me anymore. All of a sudden, I had no idea who I was. And with a blink of an eye… my identity was gone. To say I was sad would be an understatement. I was devastated. Eventually after the dust settled, I started to hear this voice in my head telling me “you’re a bad mom,” and ever more concerning: I believed that voice. I revealed my little secret to friends who told me I was crazy to think I was a terrible mother. They assured me I was one of the best moms they knew. But how could that be true? My idea of a good mother was one who was physically present for her kids all the time — and I wasn’t. This one little-but-also-huge fact made it blatantly obvious to me that I was a bad mom. But I couldn’t live with the guilt anymore; something needed to change and that something was my perspective.
“Where did that thought come from?” I asked myself. “Where did I get this concept that a good mom is with her kids all the time?” I realized that belief wasn’t even true! For instance, my kids weren’t with me when they went to school. Then it occurred to me where I developed the concept of “bad mom,” my own childhood pain had created that definition for me. When I was a teenager I was devastated when my mother found a boyfriend and began paying more attention to him than to me. I felt so abandoned and hurt at that time in my life that I must’ve, somewhere deep inside, made a commitment to myself that I’d never do that to anyone that I loved. And here I was, doing the same thing, creating the same pains. It had to stop. It had to stop for me and I had to stop it for my kids. Because now it’s clear to me: we have the capacity to carry pains down from generation to generation when they’re unresolved. And I did NOT want my kids to carry the same destructive patterns into their adult lives that I had and their grandmother had. It was time to take action.
First, I forgave my mom. Although my mom’s separation from my dad and my divorce were under different circumstances, we were now in a similar position. She left my dad and got involved in a new relationship just like I had done. Carrying the pain of this separation and its result around from my childhood was only hurting one person : me. I wanted to end the pain and I knew forgiveness was the first step.
Second, I identified the feeling I felt. Guilt. Massive amounts of guilt. And I needed to reconcile it. Guilt is an emotion we experience when we perceive that we have done something wrong. However, getting divorced wasn’t wrong; in fact, aside from the “bad mom” thoughts, I was really happy! On so many levels the divorce was great! Great for me but what about my kids? And that’s where the problem was. I felt guilty because I perceived that my choice my hurt them and worse, I was happy about it. How could I be happy and feel guilt at the same time? I got out a sheet of paper and wrote down all the ways the divorce was a bad thing for them; for instance, they need to live in two houses and they couldn’t be with me all the time. Then I made a list of equal length with the positive benefits directly related to the negative list. I wrote down things like, “they get a break from me” and “they get to have fun with their dad without me nagging him,” which are valid positive benefits to the divorce. Then my mind expanded into the possibilities. For instance, now they get to really get to know their dad. They get to do fun things that he likes to do but I don’t. They get to travel more because we both want to take them to fun places. I looked at my list and felt pretty amazed. Maybe being divorced was good? Maybe my kids got to experience a different side of life than they would have if we stayed together? Why would I continue to make myself feel guilty when there where all of these positive aspects?
Then another thought occurred to me. I deserve to be happy. And so do my kids. But I can’t MAKE them happy — no one can make another person happy. Happiness is an inside job. And so giving myself permission to be happy, allowing myself to be in love and living guilt-free actually provides my kids with a positive role model to show them how to live an empowered life. And that wasn’t something that my mother could do for me as a kid. Now, I can break the chains from these patterns and leave the guilt behind for good for myself and for my family.