Lisa Leonard Designs

the guilt game

April 24th | an everyday moment

Sometimes the guilt can be overwhelming. There is so much to do–keep the house clean {or at least decent}, make dinner, wash and fold the laundry, bathes, doctor appointments, homework and on and on. There are moments I feel myself start to buckle under the pressure. It’s pressure I put on myself, of course, to try to be perfect and hold it all together and make sure everyone’s needs are being met all the time.

A few months ago things started to become a bit clearer for me. I had been feeling guilty because I hadn’t taken David to the doctor for a flu shot. I told myself, “If he gets the flu, you are going to feel awful.” I berated myself saying, “If you were a good mom, you would take care of this right away.” In the midst of busyness and the ‘not being able to get it all done’ the guilt was eating me up.

In the midst of struggling with feelings of guilt over not getting David a flu shot, we headed to LA to see his pulmonologist {respiratory specialist} and we planned a quick trip to Disneyland to ride a few of our favorite rides.  At the doctor’s office, she asked me if David had received a flu shot and I sheepishly admitted, “No, he hasn’t.” She asked, “Would you like us to give him one today?” Hallelujah, right? My prayers were answered. “Yes!” I replied, “That would be fantastic!” Now I could move past the guilt and save that energy for more important things. I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders. David would be protected from any nasty viruses and I was a good mother. Phew.

Until we arrived at Disneyland a couple hours later. I could tell David was feeling icky. He usually has a mild reaction to the flu shot–just kind of mellow and achy. The guilt kicked in again, “If only I had planned better, he would be happy and energetic right now.” Usually David loves all the colors, people, and sites at Disneyland. But he clearly wasn’t enjoying himself and it was all my fault.

Then I had a light bulb moment.

Guilt doesn’t play fair.

When I hadn’t taken David for a flu shot I felt guilty. But then after he got the flu shot I felt guilty. Guilt was hitting me from both sides and no matter what I did, I couldn’t win. Guilt wasn’t helping me, it was hurting me.

Since then I’ve been trying to let go of guilt. When that little voice tells me, “You’re not good enough,” I tell it, “You’re right. I’m not perfect. I’m just going to do the best I can.” And when guilt whispers, “You’re a bad mom, you’re a failure,” I remind myself that my boys are happy and thriving and growing every day.

So guilt, I’m not playing your game anymore. I’m admitting right here, right now, that I’m imperfect. And that’s okay.

Where are you feeling guilty? Can you let yourself stop playing the guilt game?

61 Responses

  1. Argh, I haven’t learned to not play the guilt game yet, about anything.

    When I’m at work I feel guilty about taking time away from small one. When I’m home I feel guilty if I’m not cleaning, cooking, working…

    I’m trying to learn how to be ‘in the moment’ more.

    • Lisa Leonard says:

      Isn’t it easy to be objective about other people’s guilt? I want to hug you and say don’t worry–she’ll be just fine! {And she will} but we all have our own process to work through. Thanks for sharing! xo

  2. I never knew what guilt was until I became a Mom, and then it hit me like a bag of bricks. It is so hard to do everything for them, support your spouse, keep up with your job, the house etc. And in there someplace find some time to be “you”…this is where the guilt comes in the strongest for me. You are right…we can somehow find a way to feel guilty about everything, so it is better to just let it go, and say “I’m enough” and be content with that. Thanks for the reminder! :)

    • jimmie lee says:

      Oooo! I love this, Mandy. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am learning how to balance everything w/o feeling guilty and still taking time for me.
      Yes “I am enough” Love!

  3. Katie says:

    I have the stay-at-home mom guilt. Why? who knows. Maybe because people make comments from time-to-time and I analyze them. Then there is the guild for not having everything at home perfect. Because I stay home it should be right? uhhh. At least my pretty LLD necklaces make me feel better…;)

  4. Paige says:

    Amazing and heartfelt post. As a mom, who works full-time outside the house, I feel it ALL the TIME. Career. Marriage. Home. Baby. And on, and on. Thank you Lisa for the honesty. Screw you Guilt!

  5. Learning this as a mom is sooooooo good for us! When I am not making myself feel guilty I am even able to focus on my kids & be a better mom! On the flip side i have learned the same thing about others in my life. To never ever judge others because they are ALSO just doing the best they can do too! We have no idea what guilt they are trying to rid themselves of. Happy Tuesday!

  6. LOVD says:

    I’m slowly weening myself off the guilt game with every aging year. Now that I’m 40, a lightbulb just comes on that says STOP! Guilt is exhausting and I need all the energy I can get. Guilt is consuming, and I need to be present for my family and friends, not guilt. And you’re right, guilt doesn’t play fair – but when does evil ever play fair? Time to move on and grow away from guilt and plant seeds of contentment. It’s the only seed that bears fruit.

  7. This resonated with me in lots of areas of my life. Guilt is definitely overwhelming especially when you feel like you’ll be hit by either side- for sure! This is a great reminder for us to sit and think about ways we can shed it and what we need to focus on <3

  8. Natalia says:

    Great post, Lisa, isn’t it true?? Great point of view, we can start to think differently!

  9. Melissa says:

    Oh Lisa this made me cry! I feel the exact way almost daily. I haven’t learn to stop playing the game yet, hoping some day. I work full-time, two active kids, husband, dog, house, bills… the list goes on and on. Thank you for sharing though, sometimes women need to feel we are not alone. And by you putting it out there it helps! :)

  10. I think we all feel it as women, when we want to do everything, make everything better, and be the best parents, wife, worker, sister, daughter, etc etc etc. We put these expectations on ourselves that I often think noone else even considers….why do we do this??? I’m still trying to stop being perfect, and not feel guilty for letting some things go that just aren’t as important to me. But it’s not easy, I find myself back in the blame game when the house is messy and people drop by. Or the office is messy and littered with fabric and sketches and I leave it to go outside for a walk on a beautiful day. I’m learning, but it’s a tough process. But I am determined to do it for my own sanity!!!

    So — don’t be so hard on yourself — we an all only do the best we can, and we must leave the rest to the man upstairs to handle.

  11. Emilee says:

    Mommy guilt is an awful thing, and it’s true what you said that guilt doesn’t play fair! It’s a daily acknowledgement that we will fail at times, but that God’s grace is sufficient. We can “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16), and “He gently leads those that have young.”(Isaiah 40:11). So thankful that we don’t have to do this alone, that as moms we can relate to and support each other.

  12. Debby says:

    I learned long ago that guilty is not a feeling, it is an attitude. A feeling cannot be controlled (it is an uninvited spontaneous awareness) but an attitude of guilt can be controlled. Once we understand where it comes from (satan) and who can take it away (Jesus) – we will move forward accepting our limitations this side of eternity. Have a cup of tea; prioritize your day. Toss out that which causes the stress…..there is always tomorrow. Deb (age 64 & still learning)

  13. klucky says:

    This is exactly how I feel! I could maybe get over the guilt but I have a husband whose pretty intent on “I need to be perfect,” or he’ll make me feel more guilty then I could ever make myself feel.

  14. Linda J. says:

    My Grandmother taught me an awesome skill. It’s “The List”. Every night before I go to bed I make a list of things I’d like to-do the next day. There are rules with The List.
    1. It can only have 10 items and two must be ‘eat lunch’ and ‘go to the bathroom’.
    2. Flexibility is key. I refuse to feel guilty, I am flexible.
    3.The list is only a guideline (except #’s 1&2)If I can get to everything during the day, great. If something happens that requires changing priorities the list gets flipped to tomorrow (Scarlet O’Hara, anyone?)
    4.If a hospitalization or family emergency occurs, the list is put on hold (the refrigerator) until I can get back to it.
    5. If you are getting totally overwhelmed and something has been on the list more than a week, ask for help or delegate (I love to do this when it’s time to scrub the tub ;-D)
    6. And the last thing? No list on Sunday! It’s a day of rest and rejuvenation (I do have a short Sunday list…Church, dinner, nap,family time, lesson prep for NEXT sunday)

    I can’t feel guilty. It isn’t on The List ;-D

  15. Lisa, as a mom of four – three of whom are grown, don’t let guilt get the best of you. Here is a wonderful bit of wisdom a family therapist shared with me years and years ago:

    “Guilt is a self-imposed gimic that serves only to avoid joy.”

    Priceless words to remember!

  16. kasey says:

    Very timely! You don’t know how much I needed this.. I have 13 children 9 that live at home right now, and feeling exactly this way. Gonna let go of guilt. I’m not perfect : )

  17. Colleen P. says:

    LOL-my favorite line out of all the posts “I can’t feel guilty, it isn’t on The List.” What a great outlook on life!

  18. Jenn says:

    Guilt has been a part of my life as long as I can remember! I grew up with a brother with cerebral palsy so everything could and couldnt do was for him,but that never bnother me. It was the if I wanted to do something for myself with a friend that the guilt would set in i was leaving my mom at home to do all the work. I tried the best I could at cleaning cooking and more or taking care of “T” but when your 15 0r 16 guilt turns into resentment because i was doing all this and getting no thank you from him. After leaving my home and starting a family of my own I realized I could not let the guilt consume me of not helping my mother everytime she needed me with her son. Then when I turned 21 she had another baby another beautiful baby boy. He is 8 now. tThey think he has asperger’s test are still being ran. I try to be there as much as I can for her but I now have a husband a son myself and that is where the guilt sets in yet again. My son is wonderful happy and healthy. I want to be there for my brothers but I feel that if I tried just a little the guilt would pull me in and I would overlook my husband and son. That is why I told myself one night that these two boys are MINE they are the ones that come first. I will try to help in any possible way but will not put my husband or my son in the way of getting hurt. It is hard to say no to my mom and dad when they ask but I also know that is guilts way of trying to make it back into my life.

    On a lighter note….love love love your dress that you wore to the beach would tell me where you got it?

    • CE says:

      Jenn – your comment has really touched me. I am the mother of a boy with CP – and have two older daughters. I hope they never feel guilt about having not done enough for him, or for our family. I make a true effort to let him be the brother, and not an obligation. I’m sure you have done more than you can ever imagine for your brother.

    • Emily says:

      Jenn, I have a son with CP and a younger son who is fine. I pray that the younger boy never feels resentment towards the older because his needs are greater. My boys are 4 and 2 now and LOVE each other…my husband and I talk all the time about trying to do the right thing. I think if you can ask yourself if you did the right thing, that’s good enough. No reason to feel guilty about helping/not helping. You do what you can – and never overlook your husband or son. Take good care.

  19. Maria M. says:

    Thank you for this post Lisa….it brought tears to my eyes and hits really close to home for me. Thank you for helping me release it (guilt) today and just be the best that I can be :) xo

  20. Southern Gal says:

    Mom guilt is the worst kind of guilt. I know.

  21. misty says:

    This was so beautfiul. I think every mom can certainly relate. I know I can. If its not one thing I feel guilty about, its another, and as soon as that is over, I find something else to feel guilty about. I am up for the challenge, thanks for the reminder!!!
    xoxo, M isty

  22. tiffany day says:

    Oh Lisa – did you read my journal? :))

    Guilt is horrible – such wasted time an energy isn’t it?
    Its similar, to me, to condemnation – in Christ there is no condenmation – so we shouldn’t feel guilty about such things as you mention above and other things.

    I am imperfect too – and you know that’s ok too! I still get up everyday, make lunches and get the kids of too school, get to work and get home and make dinner and if we end the day with a hug and kiss and prayers – then that is ALL i can hope for!

    BIG hug to you!
    xoTiffany

  23. Jacquely says:

    Guilt and motherhood go hand in hand and when I am overwhelmed by it I remind myself that if I was the perfect mother my children would never need God because I would be able to do all and be all for them. When I fail them I apologize and remind them that I am a broken human being that will always be less than what they truly need.

  24. This post really hits home with me right now. My twin sons are 5 and were born at 27 weeks. While there are not severe disabilities they have some extra needs such as PT, OT, leg braces and one not only needs to wear his glasses but an eye patch right now add to that the stretches and exercises that the therapists give us and I am feeling like a HUGE failure. Oh yeah and did I mention that my 3rd AND LAST preemie daughter who is 21 months is meeting with a hearing impairment therapist and she gives us exercises to work on also. Anyways, I just don’t always keep up and I need to learn that that is O.K.

    This week I have been focused on using less packaged and more whole foods. Due to that focus I haven’t been as good at making sure they wear their braces for the appropriate amount of hours nor the eye patch and the various exercises and stretches haven’t been done. ALL of this to say, I need to let go. Thanks for the post!

  25. Donna says:

    Lisa,
    Such a beautiful blog post! I think SO many of us can relate to it….I certainly can.
    I have followed your blog for some time now and I enjoy it so very much. Thanks for all your inspiration and for not being perfect!

  26. Lisa says:

    We all experience those guilt thoughts. My goodness do I ever! I’m grateful for grace and for a loving God who always thinks I measure up even when I don’t. (I could sure use some help in some catch up housecleaning, though).

  27. Valerie says:

    Right now I feel guilty for catching up on blog(lovin’). Instead I should do some much needed ironing, putting those last thing on ebay, sorting through my magazines and Stop. Thinking. Of. Chocolate!
    Due to my husband working away from us from Monday to thursday all those little must-do everyday things are solemnly on my shoulders and I never feel like being able to catch up…

    Yet I hear you and I thank you for your little mantra which I will try to incorporate in my everyday life.

  28. Michelle P says:

    Oh Lisa…..does this ever hit home!! I recently hired a cleaning service because I can’t keep up with my house, family, hobbies & life (guilt: bad wife/mother). So now my house is clean which should make me feel better right?!? But all I can think now is all the money that could be used somewhere else. Guilt from all sides. So know that feeling.
    Like you I’ve decided NOT to play. I’m ok just as I am….totally imperfect. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone.

  29. Sam says:

    Man-o-man do I love these honest, real life blog posts designed to encourage and strengthen us though sharing experiences and dealing with life in all it’s messy glory. If there’s anything that gives guilt more power over us its keeping it to ourselves. So well done Lisa for bringing this into the light. God bless you and your family.

  30. CE says:

    I have gotten to the point that I get up every day and do the best I can. Some days, it’s enough. Some days, it may not be. I don’t let anyone else judge that. No one else has had to walk in my shoes. I have done the best I can, each day, and that will have to be good enough.

  31. Gwen says:

    Fantastic post! I wish you the best in this endeavor to let go. We spend a lifetime dealing with guilt that robs us of energy and joy. Letting it go is not easy, it is a daily struggle for me and so many times it really kicks me in the pants. Its so important to keep trying to over come it though. You’ll feel so much better without hanging over you like a lead balloon, your family will see the difference in you too.

  32. Heather says:

    You are speaking my language. I just had this conversation last week with my husband because I was feeling overwhelmed with guilt. The thoughts of never getting it all done were overwhelming. If I was cleaning I felt bad that I wasn’t playing with my kids, if I was playing with my kids I felt bad that I wasn’t cleaning, etc. My sweet husband reminded me that there has only ever been one perfect person to walk this earth and I am not Him. I strive to live my life like He wants, but I won’t achieve the perfection I so deeply long for until I meet Him face to face. It’s been liberating for me to begin to understand that I to realize that my husband doesn’t expect perfection of me either.

  33. Jenn says:

    All I have to say is THANK YOU for sharing…

    :)

  34. Angie P says:

    Oh, Lisa, I am right.there.with.you. My husband and I both changed jobs this year which meant that we had move our daughters to different schools and I don’t know if I will ever recover from the guilt of it all. You are absolutely right, guilt does not play fair.

  35. Kelli says:

    I feel guilty all. the. time as a mama. Mostly it’s way down deep. There just is not enough of me to go around, no matter how hard I try. It must afflict us all.

    I am so glad you liked my quote today. It is one I just treasure. The picture with it is black and white and of a mom from the 1950’s, snuggling her onesie-ed baby on some grass. I love it.

    I hope we can all sort of hold hands and collectively take a leap away from guilt today!

  36. Amandaq says:

    Lacking the endurance and or organization to do the things we talk about doing, dream about doing, or promise in a moment of guilt that we will do.

    I do see though, when I allow myself, that it is in the moments that I don’t perfectly fill, they find magic on their own or we do something that ends up being its own kind of magic.

  37. Louise says:

    Did you hear me speaking to my sister today??? :)
    My mom had a stroke two years ago and can’t speak and is in a wheel chair, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer at xmas and is on his last week of radation…I feel guilty when I am not visiting, guilty when I am there and would rather be home with my kids, guilty for asking my husband to give up one day of his weekend to be with my family. I was there yesterday but since I am not there today — I FEEL GUILTY! Feel guilty for not appreciating that it could be worse.

    Thanks for putting it out there Lisa

  38. Lorena says:

    Guilt trips are frequently taken here too. I have two kids a 6 year old and a 2 year old whom I still breastfeed at bedtime. I am at the age when I should’ve had my first mammogram, but because I am breastfeeding I need to wait until I stop (I am perfectly ok with waiting, I am lucky not to have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer). Today I went for my Gyn annual exam and the nurse practitoner came in the room and announced “You are such a good mom” she probably noticed the puzzled look on my face because she followed with ” You are still breastfeeding and you stay home with the kids”…. nice thing to say right…. well it sounded to me like she really meant “you should be done breastfeeding by now, get that mammogram done and by the way you should have a job “. I kept thinking about her comments feeling uneasy on the drive home until I told myself : “Stop, she knows nothing about you, she doesn’t even know that just a couple of years ago I was doing the same job she is doing now and at the time I was feeling guilty for working long hours and not being home with my oldest son”. I am a good mom but not because I breastfeed or stay home with the kids. I was still a good mom while I worked and of course I still would be a good mom even if I didn’t breastfeed. So stop it with the guilt trip! …ok there..now going to play with the toddler instead of reading this blog, because that’s what good moms do, right?

  39. Lisa says:

    Amen. Ironically I blogged about this a bit today.

  40. Claudia says:

    Well, you are in good company it seems, we all have experienced it. The guilt part is attached to feeling like we’re being judged and gosh sakes don’t slip up! Please….Let it all go. You are wonderfully made…. Remember?

  41. Phyllis says:

    Been there. Done that. Not buying the t-shirt. Not going back. The truth is we are all doing the best we can, and I always believe the very fact we CARE enough to feel so much guilt speaks volumes about how well we are actually doing. There is a song I love by Casting Crowns called “The Voice of Truth” – do you know it? If not, find a version on YouTube and listen to the words. The guilt is a lie.

    Thank you for being so transparent.

  42. Oh way to go for admitting it–and hopefully re-reading this post everytime it starts to creep back up on you! I’ve only read your blog, true enough, but you come across as a very loving and intentional mom. Which is what your kids are going to keep with them way more than how prompt their flu shots were!

    I start feeling guilty about not pursuing my own art projects with more dedication. I start to get overwhelmed about how little I’m painting and how little I’m reading, and I’ll start to feel guilty, like I’ve given up. Usually at that point my partner will remind me that I work full time, and the fact that I still paint at least once a week and read daily means I’m doing a great job. Having someone else remind me that I’m doing a good job can help pull me out of my guilt slump. Now if only I could remind myself sometimes!

  43. Lisa says:

    I had a good cry during and after reading this today. I feel guilty about everything. I never feel like I’m doing a good enough job. You made me realize that I’m not alone. Thank you for making me feel better. I think you’re wonderful! :)

  44. Julie says:

    Good read. Guilt comes at any age, from many angles. Just this week, a friend with whom I just reconnected, berated me for not spending time with her, or calling her, or emailing her “enough”. I work 8, 10, 12 hours a day, have 2 children in college that I visit at times, one special needs daughter at home, cooking, cleaning, visiting parents, etc, sometimes we just have to let go. And the older I get, the better I get at that.

  45. Kelly H-Y says:

    Good grief … it’s like you’re in my head! Thank you for this post … and all the comments that followed … which confirmed for me that I’m not alone!

  46. Yuliya says:

    Dear Lisa! Thank you for this post!

  47. Linda says:

    This post was so helpful, thank you!

  48. Jo says:

    Beautiful post – just what I needed to hear right now!
    Thank you!

  49. Rachel says:

    wow…thank you…well said…
    imperfection is actually just perfect!

  50. you are preaching to the choir! I have so much guilt about EVERYTHING all the time and it is so hard to not let it eat at me and ruin perfectly good days! you are an amazing mom and person and EVERYONE lets things slip sometimes! xoxo hugs!

  51. Lynnette B says:

    Lisa – Reading your words made my eyes well-up. I work full-time and my son is 2 1/2 years-old. There are days when I feel like the worst “Mama” because there are chores to do, errands to be run, etc. After reading your post, I took a moment and realized that my son is happy, he always has good food to eat and clean clothes to wear and we have fun when we are home, or out and about. So the house doesn’t get dusted this week, there’s always next week, right…?! Thank you, Lisa!

  52. Lisa says:

    Wow, wow, wow. Guilt. I am the master. But in the end, we do the best we can, and have to live with the Grace of God. It’s all about our human-ness.
    Don’t waste your precious days, hours, kid-time, beating yourself up about guilt.
    I can’t tell you how old I was when I realized that my parents were “human” and doing the best they could. Well, I can tell you,I was probably in my 40’s when it dawned on me. How sad is that?
    Let go of that stuff. Love God. Love your kids. Love your family. The rest is fluff.

  53. Nikkilooch says:

    Oh, this post speaks to my heart. I have this cycle where I feel guilty about not working hard enough, not doing enough. Then that same guilt tells me my work isn’t good enough anyway so why bother? So I end up letting the guilt win and not even trying. I’ve been fighting against this and slowly am making progress. Thanks for this candid post. It’s been a great encouragement to me. I’m imperfect, but I’m going to do my best.

  54. I even feel guilty for feeling guilty. I feel guilty for feeling like a bad mom sometimes. Thank you for talking about this subject and helping me to realize that it is not only normal, bu OKAY to be imperfect.

  55. kristi says:

    lisa,
    great post. letting guilt win is so easy, but so destructive. having the courage to stand up to guilt and say NO, not today is a beautiful and freeing thing!
    that picture of you and david is AMAZING!!
    lots of love – xoxo

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