Guilt can be loud.
Are they getting enough?
Am I doing enough?
Should I be doing more?
You should be playing more.
You should be planning more.
You should be having more fun.
Earlier this summer Guilt got very loud and had a lot to say to me.
The old me would have listened and accepted its critical words as truth. But the Hands Free me has learned the best way to silence Guilt is to pull back the veil of darkness and shed light on the matter. I do this by telling someone what Guilt is saying.
In this case, I told my mom.
“Don’t you remember?” she said emphatically. “Don’t you remember how I worked all day while you and your sister took care of yourselves during the summer?”
Yes. I remembered. I thought it was cool that my sister and I were in charge of ourselves. I thought it was uncool that we had daily lists consisting of activities that improved our home, minds, bodies, and personal savings accounts. But I did my duties anyway.
I remember how my sister and I would spend the morning getting our tasks completed so we could ride our bikes to the neighborhood pool in the afternoon. I remember how we’d put sunscreen on each other’s backs before we left the house. I remember how we’d carry our towels and goggles in a drawstring bag. There was no one there to remind us to collect our belongings when we left the pool—we just did it.
I remember cutting the vegetables for the dinner salad. That’s around the time my mom came home from work. I would listen to my parents talk about the families she worked with—families in crisis. It was her job to teach them how to properly care for their children. It was my job to make the salad, but I knew I wanted a job like hers someday—one that made a difference.
I remember feeling my mom’s presence whenever I stepped into the pantry to make my breakfast and lunch. She bought the things I liked and foods that were healthy for me. I felt my mom’s presence in the little smiley face notes that she left for my sister and me in random places throughout the house.
I remember Mom being gone, but not absent. I felt her presence even when she was at work.
And when my mom was home, she did something that made me take pause.
She said, “I love you,” right out of the blue.
Like while riding in the car—she’d call out, “I love you.” I’d see her eyes smiling at me in the rearview mirror.
Or like in the morning when I groggily poured milk on my cereal. “I love you,” she’d say as if my bedhead was a beautiful sight to behold.
Because our time together was limited, I think my mom said the words “I love you” when she felt them rather than when it was expected. Most people I knew reserved that three-word phrase for special occasions, departures, achievements, or bedtime—but not my mom. With her, “I love you” was spontaneous. She just put it out there. And because the phrase was never surrounded by any other words and never tied to conditions or expectations, it was accentuated, heard, and absorbed.
That’s probably what I remember most about my mom who was gone a lot, but not absent.
I remember the unprompted “I love you” that hung in the air, mine for the taking as I set off on my path of independence.
“Yes, I remember the summers when you had to work all day,” I told my now 74-year-old mom after admitting that guilt was getting the best of me.
“Sometimes I left before you were awake and didn’t get home until dinnertime or later,” she elaborated. “You and your sister learned to manage your time, make meals, and keep up a house. And you two turned out just fine, in my opinion,” she added as if ready to take on anyone who might disagree.
Shortly after my mom and I had this conversation, I came across an unforgettable article on overparenting and how it correlates with the current mental health crisis on college campuses. The results of the studies described in the article quickly put guilt in its place and reinforced my mom’s view. Children who perform daily life skills and have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves are more likely to become capable and self-reliant adults. A particularly poignant section of the article read:
“When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.” [source]
I read the article several times and with each read, guilt lessened and a much healthier perspective emerged. It helped me get where I am today. Take a look:
Summer vacation officially ended today for my children. It is their first day back at school and I’ll admit, I feel a little sad. Between keeping up with medical appointments, recovering from two surgeries, and preparing for a September book release, it was a far cry from the fun-loving summers we’ve had in the past. Guilt wants me to think about everything my children missed due to the temporary challenging situation I faced. But through my teary eyes, I see something Guilt doesn’t want me to see—things that probably wouldn’t have happened without the freedom and the opportunity for my children to do for themselves.
I see two children who carried out two full weeks of princess camp in our home for neighborhood girls … I see two kids who planned and managed a mini market with friends on a Saturday morning … I see kids who have gotten quite good at making beds … kids who created a Shutterfly album of our family vacation … kids who attempted and failed at French macaroons, but had fun trying … kids who finally caught on to hanging up wet towels after several unsuccessful years … kids who became expert laundry folders … kids who can order and pay for their food without adult assistance … kids who fix a delicious hot lunch and clean up afterwards … kids who can entertain themselves for hours with a little dish soap and a slip and slide…
When I look back on this summer I see something that looks an awful lot like the gifts I once was given: the gift of independence … the gift of learning from my mistakes … the gift of confidence … the gift of doing something with my own two hands.
This wasn’t the most activity-packed summer. There was no celebration for crossing off all the items on our Summer Bucket List. We had no bucket list. But that didn't mean we didn’t have gifts.
There were lots of gifts—ones that may not be apparent until my grown children are standing in their first apartment or place of employment and know exactly what to do without any help from me.
I’ve decided to call it the summer of I Love You.
I love you so much I will let you do for yourself.
I love you so much I will let you make a mess and clean it up.
I love you so much I will let you fail and try again without my commentary.
I love you so much I will not manage your time, but let you manage your own (with healthy boundaries and expectations in place).
I love you so much I will say, “I love you,” whenever I feel it. And because there’s less nagging, reminding, and instructing coming from my mouth, I hope to find myself saying it even more.
As I anticipate a happy and healthier new season ahead, one thing shall remain the same: The words “I love you” shall hang in the air so my children can grab it with their two capable and eager hands. May they hold it closely to their chests as they go forth on their path of independence.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I am so excited to tell you about one of the most necessary parenting books I’ve ever read. In light of the article mentioned in today’s post, there could not be a better time. I had the privilege of reading an early copy of Amy McCready’s new book, “The Me Me Me Epidemic: The Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids, in an Over-Entitled World.” Once I started reading it, I found myself telling everyone I knew about it. Not only does it present a solid case for moving our children toward greater independence, responsibility, and contentment, it tells us exactly HOW to do it. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of developing responsibility, resilience, and respectfulness in my children, but Amy’s book revealed opportunities I’d never even considered. And what’s even better, she provides the tools to implement these opportunities. Although my older daughter quickly realized I was learning a little too much from Amy’s book, I could see she secretly delighted in the raised bar on what I expected and believed she could do. I wish every parent could own a copy of this book. It has the power to create a generation of capable, independent thinkers who have a heart for others and an appreciation for the goodness in their lives. Amy’s book releases on August 11 and anyone who pre-orders it by August 10 receives free coaching with Amy on the topics of allowance & chores, consequences, and raising grateful & compassionate kids. Click here for all the details. You will be so glad you did!
* For a summer list that was similar to the one my mom gave my sister and me, please see “Saving Summer From the Screens.” The list described in this post was tremendously helpful to our family this summer.
Thanks for this! Guilt over what I’m not doing with my three-year-old while I have a three-month-old to care for has been eating me up lately. My older is having so much screen time it’s driving me crazy, and I keep thinking I’m ruining her chances of developing well at such a crucial time in her life when all these neurological connections are supposed to be made.
I have to remind myself that one person can only do so much. I know the “lots of screen time” thing is in direct conflict with the point of this blog, but that’s my example of parental guilt.
I will have to check out that book recommendation. It seems like a great resource directly in line with my own line of thinking.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing your story, Juana. Life with a 3 month old, a 3 year old, and one more child is truly challenging. I cannot imagine you have one minute of time to yourself, plus you are likely not getting enough sleep. Your older child may be having too much screen time, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Your children are safe. They are loved. You are doing the best you can right now. One thought that came to mind is if you might be able to have the older child and the three year old do things together–I am thinking play-dough or puzzles or Legos. Perhaps the older child can earn screen time by doing something with the younger sibling. You can praise him or her for “helping Mommy” this way. My kids loved to go outside and find interesting rocks. They would come inside and wash them, dry them, and then paint them. It would use several hours. They also loved to pull a chair up to the kitchen sink and “wash” dishes for me. Sometimes little action figures were involved. Yes, water got on the floor, but they were happy for 30-45 minutes and it really got their imagination going. Wishing you much love and peace today, dear one.
Thank you for this article. In mid June I had some health complications that lead to some emergency procedures and a hospital stay. It was a week before our school year ended. I had to have a quiet July with a lot of help. The whole time I had been carrying around this quilt of the summer that ‘wouldn’t be’ for my kids. Then I snapped out of this and thought how blessed I was to still be here and spend a different summer with my kids. We have stayed home , swam in our pool, laid on blankets in the shade, and spent a lot of quiet, quality time together. My kids learned a lot of tasks that previously I was doing. I have been looking at thier wee faces differently and thier sweet touch even feels different this summer. My kids have 5 weeks remaining of their summer break and I hope they return with wonderful memories. Thanks again for this article I have had a lot of tears this summer and it was nice to feel connected to your situation and to feel less alone 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
I am so grateful you shared this, Alicia. Thank you for being here.
Your words land so deeply in my heart sometimes it seems like you are peering into it. My summer has overwhelmed me as no other has in the ten years I’ve been staying at home with my twin boys. The guilt of not doing everything I see everyone else doing often cripples me with guilt.
Thank you for writing this for me – for us – you’re Mom is certainly right, you did turn out just fine. Thank you for reminding me how capable and decent my sons are, how strong their hearts are, how right their trajectory, how sweet their souls.
Never forget, Rachel, how profoundly you affect so many in this community you’ve created. Godspeed and peace to you and your lovely family.
Rachel Stafford says
The powerful combination of eloquence and affirmation in your words just fills both my eyes and my heart. Thank you for taking the time to share your own struggles. It makes me sad to think you could possibly think you are not enough, but I know Guilt all too well. You are one of the most lovingly connected fathers I have been blessed to know. I am so glad I reminded you of all the GOODNESS in your sons and in your hands that care for them and nurture them. Thank you for walking beside me. Guilt and doubt are both quieter today because of you.
Amy McCready says
How lucky your boys are to have a dad like you!
This touched my heart today thank you!I need to release the guilt of being a working mom and letting the kids do for themselves. I have two very capable and independent children who watch as many of their friends have moms at home who can do whatever whenever for them. We are learning to lean on each other so that no one is carrying the full load of the to do list. I love the conversation with your mom and the fact that she was gone a lot but not absent!!!
I am proud of our little family and grateful for the time when we get to let go of the world and spend our time together. Your words have brought a tears to my eyes and smile to my heart.
I hope you are feeling better! I missed your writings, but I’m so glad that you are taking care of yourself!
Thank you so much for writing about guilt. I am the Queen of Mommy Guilt. I hate the way it makes me feel and the drain it causes on my energy. I have a one year old daughter and 2 year old son. My husband and I both work full time. The kids are cared for by family when we are working….but it still rips my heart out when I leave them. Pile on the constant need for perfectionism that rushes through my veins…and you get one frazzled mommy. I am tired, stressed, and crazed on most days.
Your writings give me hope. And your readers and their comments help me feel like I am not alone on my journey. Thank you for telling all sides of the story (the good, the bad, the ugly) and for allowing us into your world. Sometimes just knowing that there is someone out there that understands and has the same feelings, is very healing.
I keep several of your quotes on my desk. I love “When turmoil over yesterday’s mistakes start to creep in, Remember what day it is.” and “I will choose love until it becomes who I am”.
Just… THANK YOU!
Jen D says
Thank you. I struggle with the guilt of having four kids (one is 5 months) and working full-time. I’m glad I get the gift to work from home. I’m glad I get the gift to start early and finish by 3 PM. The older three have really grown this summer. They also had their chore lists before their free time. We didn’t get to do nearly the amount of fun things I had envisioned. However, I think they enjoyed it. You reminded me that I was gone a lot but not absent.
Love this post today! Yes, you didn’t have the summer you’d dreamed, but the kids had fun and learned so much! I’m reading the book ‘Love and Logic’ (I’m actually reading the one for kids under 6) and it talks so much about natural consequences of children’s behaviors. You don’t get mad, you don’t nag, but consequences happen when stuff doesn’t get done (you have a wet swim suit if you don’t get it to the laundry room, you don’t have cold water if you don’t put your cup back in the refrig, etc.). It’s brilliant and has helped me get so upset when I’m not being listened to by my child. All the anger and frustrations are not where I need to spend my energy and learning these lessons (for the children) are so much easier at 6 vs. 26!! Thanks again for the awesome book recommendations and your beautiful posts!
Tracy L says
Thank you for this post. I struggle a lot with guilt even though I know it’s good for my girls to gain independence as they grow! This summer was my busiest yet with work and I felt so bad that I wasn’t more available for our youngest girl. However, if I am honest, she’d rather be with her friends than me at this stage of the game. She is not looking to hang out with me, just needs to be there when she needs me there. 🙂 It’s a process in parenting I think, learning to let go and let your kids fend for themselves a bit more.
I’m reading this with tears in my eyes. Guilt overshadows everything I do, parenting-wise. But this post reminds me of my grandmother, who took care of me growing up. She didn’t try to fill every minute with “fun”. She was there, she did the best she could, and I couldn’t have been more blessed because of it.
Tammy B says
This post really and truly defines me right now. I have been a stay-at-home mom since my oldest was 15 months (he’s now 20) and quite often feel that somehow I have failed to teach both my boys how to do all the things that they will need to do when they leave home. My husband and I had a conversation not too long ago about how things would have been different if I would have been a working parent. That independence and self-reliance would have come much sooner, that my boys would have had to learn how to do laundry, make dinners, etc.. My mom worked shift work as a nurse and my brothers and I learned pretty early how to clean, cook and look after ourselves and each other. Obviously, I can’t go back in time and change the things my kids have or haven’t learned, but I need to let go of the guilt as well. Thank you for this and I hope that you are feeling much better after your health struggles!
This is a great blog post. Mother’s guilt lurks constantly on my shoulder but everything you say here makes perfect sense & reminds me of my own childhood. Thank you.
Once again, just what I needed to hear. I feel like we would be fast friends if we met. : ) We live in a very competitive, high paced community – where kids are busy all the time, with school, activities, sports, and trying to get ahead and be number one. This doesn’t work for our son, or our family – so we have slowed way down – and we too, have had a pretty mellow, at home summer. Enjoying those simple things – you have helped me realize that we have actually had a wonderful summer filled with lots of great memories. It is hard not to feel that pull or guilt to do what everyone else is doing – but we haven’t and it feels so right….but it is also lonely. It is hard to find others that have the same philosophy – I mean really live it. Even though we are not in the same community, your support and the comments of those here make me feel not so alone, and validate what we are feeling. Thank you for your candor and for sharing all you do – it means so much to me.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, friend. I always enjoy your comments and feel like we are kindred hearts. Keep listening to YOUR heart and what is right for your family. You will not regret it.
I am with many others when I say, I love everything you write…but this, this is exactly what I needed to read.
I can hear your “I love you” to your children echo through your writing. Your girls are blessed to have such a wonderful Mother!!!
Hello lovely lady,
I hope this finds you well on the road to recovery after your recent operations. Been thinking of you.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Maddie. I am definitely starting to feel like myself again. I am so grateful for this loving community that has really been instrumental in my healing and outlook.
I wanted to thank you, you are an amazing writer and have an amazing talent! I read and follow quite a few blogs (more than I wish!) but you by far have the most touching stories and wonderful perspective. Thank you for sharing with us your little tidbits of wisdom. 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
Wow! What an incredible compliment! I find this so uplifting and encouraging today!!! THANK YOU for taking the time to say this! Means everything to me.
Laurie Stone says
Sounds like your kids had a great summer and learned to be self-sufficient and feel important. My mother also worked when I was a kid and I remember feeling satisfaction in making the house clean and pretty for when she came home. Those memories stuck with me as much as the carnivals and camps.
Katie lilly says
Long time reader of your blog. I read that same article and it had a profound effect on me. I recently took my three kids on a 7 month trip across the country in an RV, and I saw that article about a week before we returned. They learned so much about independence and responsibility on the trip and I worry about that as we step back into our real life once again.
Hi Rachel –
I am reading this from a hotel in India… after a few months with no work trips I am back on the scene. This trip is especially interesting for me because I’m adding on an extra night at the Taj Majal at a lovely resort with a private guide. I usually don’t get to do much for myself while traveling but my husband insisted, knowing how much I’ve always wanted to see it. so feeling a little guilty, and upset as my four year old cried when I left – she hadn’t done that too much recently but after spending more time with me this summer, I feel like she’s missing me more. On the other hand, she’s recently also started telling me she wants to be just like mommy and also was discussing how she wanted to use money from her piggy bank to buy a birthday present for our nanny’s daughter and other kids who don’t have toys. So I try to see this as doing something right, even when I feel the guilt or doubt that I am. Your writing has been so helpful to silence my harshest critic – myself 🙂 Glad you are feeling better and can’t wait for the new book.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing, Kathy. I love hearing my readers stories, struggles, and triumphs more than I could ever express. I hope you were able to enjoy your extra night. What a kind and supportive husband who knows how hard you work and knows you rarely take time for yourself. How wonderful that your daughter is exhibiting generosity and awareness of others’ needs at such a young age. Thank you for supporting me through these encouraging words and through the purchase of my new book. My family and I THANK YOU.
Thank you for these words. I needed to hear them today as our summer comes to an end and we spent much of the summer dealing with medical issues and the guilt was getting to me. I remember the days of parents working full time and the things we were responsible for and the fun imaginary world’s my brother and I would create. I want those days of freedom and imagination for my kids.
Thank you once again for your insight. This article has got me thinking. As your children were going back to school, in my country(Kenya) ours were closing for August holidays. I work full time(8hrs) and I leave my children home alone. My son 12 and my daughter 9. I have always feared that if I left them some responsibilities they might end up messing up but recently I have given my son the responsibility to warm their lunch and serve himself and his sister. I have also stopped folding laundry and they do it and put their clothes in their right places. The problem is they watch a lot of TV and this makes them not do the chores I leave them to do. I have to call to ask whether they have had lunch and most of the times the answer is no. I will have to give them more responsibilities so as to reduce the screen time. Recently I was away to another city for work training and though I felt guilty leaving them, I enjoyed having time to relax and just be me without thinking of making dinner or doing laundry. It was a break I really needed. I realised how I end up doing everything in the house and now that I can ask them to take some responsibility I feel more relaxed and I can think more clearly. You always touch on the matters that are so true its like you read our lives from afar. Am so glad you are feeling better.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing your life … your thoughts … your revelations, Winnie. It is so helpful and comforting to know we are all in this together despite living in totally different countries! Your presence is a blessing. I like what you are thinking about giving them more responsibility and not taking so much on yourself. It will be a gift all the way around.
Jess @ Along Came Cherry says
What an absolutely love post, thank you for sharing. I work from home and am also home educating the kids so I quite frequently feel guilty that I’m not doing enough. I don’t have a relationship with my own mum at all so always feel like I’m making things up as I go along. This post has really made me look at things differently though x
Wow this really hit home! I have been struggling with this for some time now with my little one…constantly thinking should I be doing more. I quite an office job a year ago for an amazing Work from home job. I also run my own separate business and have three step-sons so things get crazy. This opportunity allows me to be home in the mornings and home when she gets home from school but I constantly thought should I be doing more? My daughter is four and extremely independent but has a heart of gold and is amazing at reading social settings. This article is a great reassurance that whatever we are doing isn’t so bad. Thank you!
Thank you for this article. When we have guilt, it’s because we’re doing something we feel we’re not supposed to. For example, we feel like we’re not supposed to give our kids screen time, so we feel guilty when we do. We feel like we’re not supposed to work full time and be away from our kids, so we feel guilty when we actually do. I think changing the core beliefs is so important. Why do we feel we’re not supposed to be away from our kids? If it’s an issue of connection, there are so many other ways we can then move forward to connect that have nothing to do with time.
If we feel guilty for not doing enough, it’s because we feel like we’re supposed to do everything. Examining where that core belief comes from is so interesting. And once we investigate it, it becomes easier to do what we REALLY should and NOT feel guilty about it, rather than what we THINK we should and DO feel guilty about.
I love your “Summer of I Love You”. Often times we want to do more just because we want to show our kids more love. And there are a million ways to do that other than just by being in front of their faces all the time.
Thanks for your insight, authenticity and honesty! Moms need people like you!! I’m sharing your article 🙂
i needed this blog post….. June 8th, we were involved in a horrible car accident that has left me paralyzed ( hopefully not permanently) and in a wheelchair. Our carefree summer ended…. This sort of guilt has been one of many things I am carrying, feeling terrible about. What an encouraging read. Thank you!
Our accident ?
Rachel Stafford says
Oh precious Angela, your story brought me to tears! Thank God for brave little Lexi and the “good stranger”. I will be praying for your whole family. I pray for complete healing, both body and mind. You have been through so much. What a strong family you are. I pray you can let go of the guilt. It only robs you of today. Just keep loving them as you have so beautifully.
Tammi @Momma's Meals says
Guilt eats me alive however I believe as the days pass and the more experiences I have with my little ones the more I’m learning that it’s a wasted feeling. Thank you yet again for your honesty and touching words.
Thank you Rachel. I grew up in a home where ‘I love you’ was understood, but not said. I realized at a very young age that the words were missing. Today, when my 4 year old says “Mommy” and I ask “what?” it is often followed by “I love you.” Day or night and random as can be. I hope that my daughter will one day be able to reflect about my ‘presence’ the way you do about your mother.
Tracie Brown says
I just ordered Amy’s book and I can’t wait to get it! Thanks for the recommendation. I LOVE your blog. You always touch my heart.
[…] list but had lots of pool days, afternoons at home, and a few field trips. I love this post about replacing guilt with “gift.” I have definitely felt overwhelmed and that I’m not spending enough time with each […]
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[…] I always feel like I should be doing a better job. I read an interesting blog article recently by Hands Free Mama, “Replace ‘Guilt’ with ‘Gift’ & Watch it Become a Life-ChangerR…, where she discusses the guilt associated with not doing what you might consider to be enough […]
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