When Mothers Feel Guilt

Help for Mothers who
Don’t Feel Motherly Love

For mothers who feel guilty failures
over finding motherhood a burden, not a joy

Part of this Webpage in Russian


Mother Guilt


Motherly Love?

Christian Help for Mothers

About this Webpage

I am continually amazed by how many good parents feel guilty failures. My guess is that they set for themselves such high standards as to be humanly unachievable. This speaks volumes for their devotion but it is tragic to see them feeling so defeated. I hope this webpage helps correct this.

Mothers suffering from postpartum depression (postnatal depression) know little of the so called “joys of motherhood.” Thankfully, their dilemma is sufficiently understood by the general public for them to have most people’s sympathy. But what about mothers who feel freaks and failures as they stagger on for decades without finding any joy in motherhood?

“Ruth Doormat” bares her heart in the hope that her confessions will bring comfort to the many mothers and grandmothers who, like her, have wrestled with guilt over never being blessed with warm feelings toward their children and grandchildren that they believe they should have.

Grantley Morris
Founder of Net-Burst.Net

We’ve all heard of postnatal depression, but I don’t even know of a term for the lack of warm, gooey, “motherly” feelings I’ve suffered for all the decades since first giving birth. It has haunted me, riddling me with guilt, and I’ve finally discovered that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

“Does the mother/baby bond exist for everyone?” asks a webpage I’m reading. I cringe as I stare at the screen. I keep reading – reluctantly. “How many of you buy into the theory that every woman giving birth feels an immediate and overwhelming love and affection, a sense of selflessness as all other emotions fade into insignificance beside the mother/baby bond?”

With that my mind goes back many, many years. I was certainly one of those who had bought into that theory. I married in the days before the Pill, and so took it for granted that within the first year I would become a mother. And that’s how it happened. In fact, I had four children in five years and ended up with six children.

I had taken it for granted that with the birth of my first child I would suddenly, miraculously be endowed with a full-blown maternal instinct and love. I would dote on my children. Indeed my life would henceforth revolve around my children. And I would regard anything I did for them, including changing diapers and wiping up vomit, a “labor of love,” instead of an irksome chore. I expected to be so enraptured that I would have no interests outside the home. I wouldn’t need to. I would find motherhood totally fulfilling!

It didn’t happen.

The failure of reality to match my expectations sent me reeling on a collision course with the devastating conclusion that I wasn’t normal – that as a mother I was a failure.

Sometimes I think that women – especially Christian women – can accept with far more understanding the confession “I am involved in an adulterous relationship” than they can the confession “I’m not sure I love my children.” A woman who says this is regarded as deformed as someone with three arms.

But what am I to believe when thinking about my kids – and grandkids – doesn’t make me feel all warm and sunny inside? Is there anyone out there who can relate to the misery and torment I have gone through year after year?

When I was in hospital with my second child, I heard a mother saying that she missed her other children so much that she couldn’t wait to get home. But I wasn’t missing my first child. She was in excellent hands, being cared for by her grandmother and her father. And my second pregnancy had had its difficulties. I wasn’t eager to get home. I just wanted to rest.

So once again guilt punched me hard. Once again I could only conclude I wasn’t “normal”.

I hadn’t considered how my own childhood had failed to prepare me for motherhood. I was the youngest in my immediate family, and I had no younger cousins. So there was never the excitement of going to see Aunt Sue’s brand new baby. Before marrying I had never nursed or played with a young baby. And I had never known what it is to be the object of maternal love. Not being the boy they yearned for, my parents had rejected me emotionally from the very moment of my birth.

As a child, my favorite pastime was reading. I had never played with dolls; brushing their hair, dressing them in different clothes every five minutes, giving them tea parties, “nursing” them when they were “sick”, or taking them for walks in a doll’s pram. Yet somehow I still believed that the very second I gave birth, motherly feelings would materialize out of thin air and embrace me. Nor did I realize back then that we humans are not animals for whom mothering is an instinct. It is a set of skills that have to be learned, and my own mother had been a poor role model.

    * She didn’t know how to express love and affection.

    * She only showed an interest in me when I was doing well at school.

    * She kept putting me down, discouraging my every ambition and telling me I was so plain no one would ever want to marry me.

I had certainly read up on motherhood before my first baby was born. And I did the right thing and took my baby to the Baby Clinic every week for the first year. I knew I was young and inexperienced and I was always willing to listen to the experts. But those same experts took it for granted that I felt warm fuzzies whenever I thought of my children or did anything for them. And all my life I have failed to experience the motherly emotions expected by society.

The Growing Problem

As my children grew, specific problems began to appear. Enuresis or – to put it more bluntly – chronic bed-wetting, caused a major row between my husband and myself. He insisted that all I had to do when the child woke up wet was to belt her and she would stop doing it. I couldn’t agree, but I felt guilty because I couldn’t help getting so angry with her because of the amount of washing she generated, night after night after night.

And of course one of the favorite discussions amongst mothers was potty training. They would boast of how their babies were out of diapers by the time they were two. When it became obvious that I couldn’t make the same boast, I heard on the grape vine that it was because I was too lazy to show my child where the toilet was.

So once again I was a failure.

When one of my children was ten, she contracted an illness that left her rather weak. The school doctor asked, “Have you any relatives you can send her to? She needs a holiday away from you as soon as possible!”

I was devastated!

Then there was the time I discovered that one of my children had not only been playing truant but she had been caught shoplifting. I was stunned. Where did I go wrong? I had brought my children up on Christian principles. But I hadn’t allowed for peer pressure. She wanted to be accepted by her friends.

How that hurt! The opinions of her friends meant more to her than mine. What kind of mother was I anyway?

Barbara Johnson’s book Where Does A Mother Go To Resign? wasn’t around when my children were growing up. But I can certainly relate to the title.

I took care of my children in all the normal ways mothers do. But I couldn’t rid myself of the on-going burden of guilt that I didn’t feel as though I loved them. I didn’t feel the way a mother was supposed to.

    * I didn’t cry when my eldest started school.

    * I didn’t cry when my youngest started school.

    * I didn’t cry when my eldest left home shortly after she had finished high school to share an apartment with her girl friend.

I did cry a few weeks later when she unexpectedly left the apartment to move interstate, but my tears were not for the obvious reasons. She had run off with a married man old enough to be her father. I was devastated and appalled! At first I cried out to God, “Where did I go wrong?” Then I started blaming God. “It’s all your fault!” I stormed, “If you had made me normal – if you had given me the ‘motherhood gene’ I am obviously missing – then I could have brought my daughter up properly and this would never have happened!”

For a couple of years I kept my sorrow and anguish bottled up inside me. How could I share with anyone how this child had disgraced our family name? I stewed in my own misery, and my self-image as a mother shriveled even more. I became convinced that I was the only one who had made a mess of bringing up my children.

Then one day I happened to mention my distress to another mother. To my amazement, I discovered that this mother was going through something similar. So there were other mothers like me!!!

Added to my concern over my daughter, was anxiety over one of my sons. When he was a young teenager we had a mega misunderstanding over something I had said. I had expressed it clumsily but he would never accept my explanation of what I really meant. He thrust his knife of rejection into me even further by telling me that he wished my sister-in-law was his mother, and by stating that as soon as he was an adult he would change his name by deed poll because he no longer considered himself part of our family.

Mother’s Day!

For so long Mother’s Day was a nightmare for me.

First there were the “appropriate” Mother’s Day cards my kids would give me. Most of them were about “the sweetness of a mother’s love,” and as I wasn’t convinced I loved my children, it twisted the knife in my hurt and despair over ever being a “normal” mother.

Then at church I’d be reminded of my Christian friends whose adult children are all serving the Lord, whereas my children put up a wall as soon as we mention God, Bible, or church and their lives are messed up because of wrong choices, broken marriages, addictions, and other failed relationships. Again the question haunts me, “Where did I go wrong?”

Next was the Mother’s Day sermon, almost invariably based on Proverbs 31.

Sigh . . .

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.

    I felt valueless.

Her husband has full confidence in her . . .

    My husband treated me as though I were an idiot.

She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

    I hated sewing.

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

    I did what I had to – I had no choice.

She makes coverings for her bed . . .

    I bought mine.

She makes linen garments and sells them . . .

    Not me.

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

    At least I tried to teach the kids about God.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

    There were times I buried myself in fiction books as a form of escape from how I felt about myself.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her . . .

    IF ONLY!!! I was never given any encouragement by my husband or by my children, except on Mother’s Day when they said and did the “appropriate” thing.

And most perplexing of all: whatever I did for my husband, children and grandchildren, I did because it was my duty to – not because I felt overwhelmed with loving feelings for them. If those feelings could have been bought, I would gladly have paid for them.

But no matter how hard I tried, the feelings refused to surface, so I continued to see myself as a total failure as a mother and a grandmother. I didn’t dote on the opportunity to mind my grandchildren. I was abnormal – or should I say subnormal?

Once he convinces that I am a pathetic mother, Satan can introduce other negative thoughts like, “Since I’m not sure if I love my children, God can’t possibly love me.”

Many a time Satan has been so convincing I’ve been too ashamed to talk to God about it. That way I was depriving myself of the very help I need.

    1 John 2:1 But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Since Jesus is our Defense Attorney, he is there to stick up for us, and defend us from Satan’s accusations. When Satan is hell-bent on sending us on a guilt trip, he is obviously not going to remind us of the things we have done right in our mothering. But Jesus knows the full story.

It took me a long time to take this to heart.

Toward an Answer

During recent years my attitude to the way my mother nurtured me, and the way I nurtured my own children, has been slowly changing.

Sometime ago I emailed Grantley, founder of Net-Burst.Net, saying, “I am wondering if this is a situation where I need to let myself grieve – not for what I’ve lost, but for what I have never had; a proper relationship with my own mother.”

He replied, “There is also the grief and guilt of feeling you have failed as a mother. I think this is the greatest of all. You need to seek the Lord until you know (i.e. are inwardly convinced) that you are forgiven in this area, and then forgive yourself. I think this is an area in which you have encased your heart in iron to try to protect yourself from further hurt. It is indeed a heavy burden to bear – extremely heavy – but as you lay it at Jesus’ feet, he will bear that burden for you. Deep healing and liberty await you.”

On a previous occasion he had written:

“If, after God has forgiven us, we won’t forgive ourselves, we are implying we have a higher sense of justice than the Holy One. Anyone having the impertinence to make such an accusation is on dangerous ground. We are also implying that Jesus is inadequate – that he didn’t suffer enough for our sins, or that his sinlessness cannot swallow up our sinfulness. There is no shame in a forgiven person feeling guilty. That is simply the Deceiver at work. For a forgiven person to believe he or she is guilty, however, is a concern.”

At that time it gradually became obvious to me that the Lord had decided to do something about my attitude to my mother, and myself. And as I look back over the events of those days, I now realize that I experienced the gentleness and the tenderness of the Great Physician as he has probed deeply into my life about this issue.

This process started when a church friend asked me to do the Bible reading for our Communion Service on Mother’s Day.

I was immediately on the defensive. “Which Scripture?” I asked.

If it had been Proverbs 31 I would have thrown it at him! However, the readings were from the Gospels.

Later I had a peculiar dream in which I was visiting a lady from my church who I regard as being very godly. She said, “Your mother is here.” To my surprise, I was immediately filled with fear, despite the fact that my mother had been dead for several years!

Because Mother’s Day was approaching, I’d been getting a lot of emails of the sweet, sugary kind. As soon as I saw the word “mother” I would delete it. I knew that I was constantly aware of my own failures as a mother. But being afraid of my own mother? It didn’t make sense!

During this time I was corresponding with a kind friend who also struggled with her own perception of herself as a mother. And somehow the topic of mothering simply wouldn’t go away. She said, “I’m so pleased that you have accepted the Bible reading for the Communion service. I know how difficult that was for you on this particular day.” And she prayed for me, “Put in her a love for her mother that she thought was impossible to have. . . . Flood her with forgiveness toward herself as a mother . . .”

My instant reaction? “I DON’T WANT TO LOVE MY MOTHER!!!”

Obviously I had to do something about this. So I prayed:

My Loving Father,

You always make time for the poor and needy. I am very poor and needy at the moment. Lord, I know you can’t heal those deep wounds caused by my mother until I really forgive her from the bottom of my heart. Obviously I haven’t. I have no excuse for not forgiving her. I know what your word says about forgiveness.

Lord, I need breaking – but I can’t do it for myself. I am determined that Satan will not have the victory in this. So I come to the only safe haven I have – Calvary. I hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And I ask you to forgive me, and to help me forgive her. This is the best I can do at the moment.”


While I was struggling with this, I realized that I had to do more than forgive my mother, I had to thank God for her! That was even harder! And then the Lord made me realize that there was a part of my friend’s prayer for me that I had avoided: “Flood her with forgiveness toward herself as a mother.”

Suddenly everything fell into place!

Buried so deep that I didn’t even know it was there, were great bitterness and resentment toward God. No, not because of my mother – but because of my failings as a mother. I was bitter because, although God had given me a mother’s body, (I had borne children), I perceived him as not having given me a mother’s heart.

Grantley, who knew I was still struggling with having loving thoughts toward my mother, said, “Love is a warm, beautiful feeling. Don’t you want that rather than cold, ugly bitterness? Did she feed you? Did you go around naked? Did she spend hundreds of dollars on you that she could have spent on herself? How many times did you end up in hospital because of her beatings? Did she kick you out onto the streets?”

I guess by those standards, she was not a bad mother.

I started to let myself think over the positive things that my mother had done for me. I came to realize that by considering my mother’s own less than ideal upbringing and her torturously difficult marriage, it was easier for me to understand why she treated me as she did. Then, as I thought of my own upbringing, and my own marriage, I began to realize why I became the kind of mother that I did.

Years ago I wrote the following poem:

This is the question that haunts me,
The living question that taunts me.
I’m grown up now, and I can understand
Why you felt that life had dealt you a poor hand.
Have I forgiven you yet?

But the child in me still cries out for you,
Still wants to feel your care and concern,
And know why you withheld your love from me,
Love for which I so desperately yearn.
Have I forgiven you yet?

That child in me still longs to know:
“What was wrong with me
That you spurned me so?”
My only virtue; being clever at school;
In all else, made to feel a fool!
Have I forgiven you yet?

You took pleasure in playing tricks with my mind.
“It is easy to send people mad,” you said
You belittled my every aim and desire.
“You’ll be no good at that; do this instead!”
Have I forgiven you yet?

But the thing that hurt most, all down through the years,
The thing that still makes my eyes fill with tears:
“It’s your fault,” you said, “That my marriage died.
If you’d been a boy, it would have survived!”
Have I forgiven you yet?

To tell you the truth, I don’t really know.
God knows just how much I want it to be so.
But the wounds are so deep, the scars are so tender.
Sometimes I have hope (although it is slender)
That I will forgive you yet.

Since Christ died for me; and also for you,
Perhaps one day it will yet become true
That I will be able to say, (through many a tear),
“Yes, I do forgive you – my Mother dear!”

I prayed that God would help me remember my mother with love and understanding and compassion. Then this solemn thought occurred to me:

    Mark 11:25-26 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

I asked God to forgive me for blaming him.

But because that truth about myself was hidden from me for years, I daren’t blithely say, “Of course I forgive my mother – and myself.” Instead, I relied on Romans 12:2:

     . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” trusting the Lord to renew my mind – and my heart.

I now know I have forgiven my mother. But it has been a much harder battle to forgive myself. Especially over one particular issue: I used to discipline my children by belting them in a way that sometimes left unsightly and painful welts on them. For years I could not forgive myself for that. Even now I can’t undo the harm I did them but, as undeserving as I am, God has forgiven me. If the exalted Judge whose standards are impeccable forgives me, who am I to refuse to forgive myself?

Some time ago, God began to speak to me about my attitude to that particular son of mine – an attitude that was anything but godly. The Lord showed me that I had been withholding love from that son, because he had hurt me so much. Once again. my sense of failure as a mother was threatening to overwhelm me.

“How can God love me if I can’t love my own child?”

I prayed, “Lord! I feel as though I am drowning in my own sin!”

He replied, “You can’t be! I have washed all your sins away.”

A friend said to me, “Grandkids need grandmothers to provide a certain type of love that parents cannot provide.”

I replied, “Talking about loving kids/grandkids brings out the worst in me. If you asked me to swear on the Bible that I love my own kids/grandkids, the best I could say is, ‘I hope so.’ I do not experience warm fuzzies where they are concerned. And the only time I am conscious of missing them is if I see a ‘look-alike’ down the street.”

I long to be sure that I have finally dealt with this issue. And I believe that time is getting closer.

I am encouraged by this Scripture:

    Psalm 139:13-14 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

That applies just as much to my kids as it does to me. Therefore God chose me to be their mother.

When I consider that my parents didn’t know how to make me feel loved and valued, and my husband didn’t know how to make me feel loved and valued, and that for many years I worked full time as well as caring for my husband and children, I am beginning to see things in a better light: None of my children shun me. All of them are pleased to introduce me to their friends. All keep in contact. I feel closer to some of them than others for various reasons, but we are a far more closely-knit family than a lot of others.

Because I perceive myself as being unloving, especially toward that son who has caused me a lot of heart ache, I have asked the Lord to take the little capacity to love that I have, and multiply it, as he did the loaves and fishes, so that my children and grandchildren may be fed. I may not be a conventional mother or grandmother, but I no longer believe I am a bad one. I didn’t have much love to give, because I hadn’t received much love. But I gave what I could, and cared for them – in every sense – the best I could.

For years I have let Satan lay the boot into me about my failures as a mother. Yet I have had some successes too. My daughters, for example, are far better mothers than I was.

And so as I gaze again at those words on the screen, “Does the mother/baby bond exist for everyone?” I quietly answer, “Not always – and sometimes it is not always obvious that it does exist.” Some of us have experienced poor mothering. Some of us have been intimidated by society’s expectations of motherhood. Indeed, even though I am not American, I think of that oft-quoted saying, “as American as motherhood and apple-pie.” But I am very encouraged by this:

    Titus 2:4  . . .train the younger women to love their husbands and children . . .

So I can learn to love my children.

And as I think of the Bible’s “Love Chapter,” I realize that genuine love – God’s kind of love – is love in action. It is not a matter of feeling but of doing.

    1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I have forgiven my mother and have “forgiven” God.

And yes, I have forgiven myself. I no longer feel guilty because finally I plucked up courage to ask, “Lord what do YOU think about my mothering?”

And slowly I began to see myself in a new light. Mothering is all about nurturing and despite any failings, I had nurtured them:

    * Physically: I had fed and clothed them, bathed their sore knees, given them lifts.

    * Socially: each of them had had a “best friend” who was always welcome in our home.

    * Mentally: helping with them homework and playing games like Monopoly and Scrabble with them.

    * Emotionally: encouraging them to develop to their full potential, applauding them when they succeeded academically, but not expressing disapproval when they failed. I made sure I never said to them the kind of negative things my mother had said to me. I tried to keep my arguments with their father private, and I encouraged them to respect him.

    * Financially: as I was able, I gave them pocket money and taught them about budgeting.

    * Spiritually: singing hymns to them, teaching them little prayers, reading them Bible studies stories and taking them to church and encouraging them to go to Sunday School. They knew my faith was important to me and that my opposition to lying and stealing was based on the Bible. And when as adults, some of them chose lifestyles that made my heart bleed, I expressed my distress and concern, but I made it clear that our door would always be open to them.

At present, only one of them is serving the Lord, but I have claimed Isaiah 54:13 “All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.”

And when, instead of focusing on my failings, I meditated on all the positive things I had done for my children, I seemed to hear my Lord saying, as he had said about another troubled, guilt ridden woman 2,000 years ago, “Let her alone. . . . She has done what she could.”

So in the future I will tell Satan to leave me alone. I, too, have done what I could.


I began this webpages several years ago, wondering how I would know when to finish it. And wondering what kind of ending it would have.

Some time ago I was invited to my eldest grandchild’s 18th birthday, to be celebrated at a local hall.. Naturally our whole family had gathered. And so I had a fair idea of who would be at her party. But as I walked into the hall, I suddenly stopped still in my tracks. Because the first person I saw was my own former pastor, from the city where I used to live. He meant a great deal to me but had nothing whatever to do with my granddaughter. They had never even met! What was he doing at my granddaughter’s 18th?

I discovered it wasn’t a luncheon for her; her turn would come later in the day. It was a surprise 70th Birthday Party for me! And all my children and grandchildren were there! Even though the ones who had so secretively organized this party weren’t Christians, they had invited my former pastor and his wife, and other friends from my former church. And also my friends from my current church and the inter-church Bible study group I belong to!

I thought of all that must have been involved in arranging this for me - all the phone calls and the catering and the travel. Gas prices were sky high at the time and it was the middle of winter and yet one daughter had driven about 650 miles. Another daughter had driven about 450 miles. My sons had traveled almost 100 miles each. All of them had made the effort to be involved in paying a tribute to their mother. To ME!!!! I cried tears of thankfulness to my God, that he cared enough about me to put this thought in their hearts. And my children cared enough about me to do it.

No longer do I feel a failure! As far as I am concerned, that unexpected party was my Graduation Ceremony. I had finally passed Motherhood 101!

A word of comfort

Some mothers are battling an enormous load of guilt for serious things they have done to their children that they now deeply regret but have no way of undoing. Things like:

    * Having an abortion;

    * Neglecting their children, and thus having them taken from them by the State;

    * In a fit of rage making their child permanently disabled.

For them the journey toward wholeness is the same as what I found:

    * Confess your sins to God.

    * Believe that Christ died for the sins of the world (i.e. everyone) 1 John 1:9 is meant as much for you as for anyone else: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

    * And forgive yourself.

Don’t forget the links below.

If my story has touched a chord in your heart or you have had a similar struggle to mine, I’d love to encourage and support you. Just email me at ruthdoormat@net-burst.net.

Valuable Links

The webpage mentioned above that I was reading is http://www.ivenus.com/careers/features/WW-FullLength1-Wk24.asp I did not personally find it very helpful.

© 2009, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.

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