Mom Guilt and the Manger

The number of Christmas experiences you could give your children is virtually unlimited. Making cookies, crafting galore, reading seasonal books, eating holiday treats, chopping down the Christmas tree, making snow men, looking at Christmas lights, decorating gingerbread houses, opening advent calendars, attending Christmas plays/concerts/events, wearing matching Christmas pajamas…the list could go on and on, and I feel exhausted just typing out that relatively tiny portion of it. Sometimes, especially for those of us on social media, it seems like everyone is doing everything on that list. We can quickly get sucked into feeling mom guilt if we can’t or don’t, as though we are depriving our children of the true magic of the season.

I define mom guilt as a feeling of guilt that moms experience for things that are not actually sinful. Notice here that I am not referring to the guilt we feel after we sin against God. That is legitimate guilt, the kind that is meant to lead us to repentance, as 2 Cor. 7:10 reminds us: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” But mom guilt, that death-producing worldly grief over some transgression of our own expectations for ourselves, is at an all-time high for many of us around the holidays. I have succumbed many times. What about you?

The problem with mom guilt—aside from the fact that it makes us miserable and accomplishes nothing—is that it stems from an inner belief that we are our kids’ savior, here to make their life everything it could possibly be. Mom guilt reveals our conviction that we are able and obligated to ensure that our children are fulfilled and happy. Mom guilt is a staggering burden that can suffocate us if we let it.

But the good news for us is at the very heart of the Christmas season. We are not our kids’ savior. God sent his son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, live a sinless life, die a brutal death, and rise again to conquer sin and be the Savior for you and me, and for our children, too. We couldn’t save ourselves, no matter how many homemade stockings we knit or trips to see the lights we take. Only God incarnate could rescue us.

What freedom this is for the mom weighed down by guilt! It’s not our job to provide our children with the most magical Christmas of all. It’s not up to us to give them everything, or to feel guilty when we can’t or won’t. They can receive everything they truly need in Christ. If we feel crippled by mom guilt, we need to turn our minds and hearts toward the manger where we find Immanuel, God with us. As we behold him in his beauty and perfection, the foolishness of trying to be everything to our children becomes crystal clear. We could never be our children’s savior, and because of Jesus, we don’t have to even try.

Instead, we can opt out of the mom guilt and the frantic feeling that we need to do it all. Instead of trying to do everything, we can focus on doing just one thing: treasuring Jesus, the true Savior. We can behold him in all his glory, knowing that this babe came to save us from ourselves. We can enter his presence fully, because he tore the curtain separating us from God. We can lead our children to him, introducing them to the Word made flesh who really can save them from themselves.

So let go of the burden of homemade Advent calendars and matching Christmas pajamas (unless those traditions are enjoyable and edifying for you—then embrace them wholeheartedly!). Worship Christ the newborn king guilt-free because he has cleansed you from the sin that made you guilty. Enjoy the season because it is a reminder of your freedom from guilt, not bondage to it.

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