When “Mom Guilt” is Real

Parenting is hard. Whether navigating toddler tantrums or teenager tempers, we need encouragement in the trenches.

But sometimes, instead of cultivating hope in Christ, we try to muster up encouragement by minimizing our sin. We look back on a day filled with wasted time, impatient words, selfish motives, and angry responses, and we say to ourselves: Don’t worry! No parent is perfect. You’re just doing the best you can!

It’s difficult to admit the depth of our failures. I want to be a good mom. I love my children and want them to feel loved. I also want to do my best to become a better mom, one who increasingly depends on the Spirit to imitate the love and patience of God.

But, the truth is, I don’t always do my best. None of us does. Sometimes I yell at my kids. I shame them for their bad behavior. I treat them like a nuisance. I don’t listen to them. I resent their neediness. I withhold forgiveness. I nurse bitterness. I scowl and slam doors. My motive behind discipline becomes punitive instead of redemptive.

Some days I’m simply a bad mom. In those times I don’t need the false assurance that I’m doing the best I can, because it’s not true. I need the hope that Jesus can cleanse me from my unrighteousness.

Call Sin What It Is

Deep down, we know our problem isn’t just our weakness; it’s our wickedness. And our hollow self-affirmations and excuses bring no hope to our weary bones. We must let go of this façade that we’re “just doing our best” and admit when we’re not. When we downplay sin, we deny the grace that comes with repentance.

Although identifying our sin might seem an unlikely way to find peace, Scripture insists it is: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

If we want true freedom—freedom that cleanses us from unrighteousness—we must honestly name our unrighteousness. When we’re being lazy in our parenting, we cannot call it “tiredness.” When we’re being harsh, we cannot call it “discipline.” When we’re being selfish, we cannot call it “self-care.”

God has called us to be better parents—not a “better” that’s better than the next mom, or a “better” shaped by social expectations, or even a “better” than yesterday, but a “better” that reflects his transforming grace. But we will never access—much less delight in—that grace until we trade hollow cheerleading for honest confession.

1. Confess to God

God knows how deep our sin goes—he has already poured out judgement on his Son because of it. He knows the sinister motives behind every harsh, manipulative, selfish thing we parents say and do. Cleaning up our outward behavior doesn’t mask our inward depravity. God is not interested in taming our sin—he’s here to crush it.

God has freed us from sin’s dominion, given us the help of his Spirit, and poured out grace to help us defeat temptation. For his blood-bought people, there is always a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). When our kids whine, disobey, and disrespect us, God gives us everything we need to overcome the rage that wells within our hearts.

If, however, we foolishly turn to sin instead of the Spirit—later feeling the weight of our failure—we can run to the throne of grace, where confession is always welcome. God is indeed “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9), and what a joy it is to experience the extravagance of his forgiveness.

2. Confess to Our Children

I don’t recall many details about the ways my parents sinned against me. What’s most blazoned in my mind is how they came back and apologized. Instead of blame-shifting or sweeping their sin under a rug, they showed that the Spirit was at work in them, convicting them and strengthening them to change.

Every time we confess our sins to our children, we demonstrate the transforming effect of the gospel we profess. When we seek their forgiveness—owning the gravity of our guilt rather than trying to minimize it—we show that, in Christ, we don’t need to hide our sin or walk in shame. We can confront ungodly words and actions in all their ugliness, because the cross covers us. Our failures don’t have to be a stumbling block to our kids’ faith; they can instead spotlight the stunningly good news of Jesus.

3. Confess to Brothers and Sisters

Sin thrives when we keep it in the dark. One of the blessings of fellowship with other believers is that it helps bring our sin into the light. After we confess to God and our children, confessing to trusted brothers and sisters in Christ is an act of humility he will bless.

I don’t like confessing details of my anger to women in my community group. I’d much rather be the stellar example of godly motherhood, imparting wisdom to all who listen. Even when I do confess sin, I’m tempted to subtly undermine its seriousness. It’s far easier to explain that I was having a hard day, and then quickly pivot to my kids’ guilt. Just like Adam and Eve, I point fingers.

When we’re tempted like this, we need to lay down our egos—the path to mercy is through slaying pride. Proverbs 28:13 reminds us, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Our Christian brothers and sisters can help us forsake sin, and when we embrace the sometimes-bitter act of public confession, we get to taste the sweetness of our Father’s mercy.

If angry, selfish, withdrawn, bitter, anxious, controlling parents have any hope of becoming patient, generous, kind, long-suffering parents who reflect the Savior’s sacrificial love, we need more than empty encouragements. We need to invite the Spirit’s conviction and correction to call our sin what it is and to confess it freely. Only then will we know the joy of forgiveness. This offers far greater hope and peace than pretending we’re doing our best.

Author’s note: this article was first published at The Gospel Coalition

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