“At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and still worried I’m not doing it right or even good enough,” said my stepmom friend, Cindy. “I struggle with guilt constantly and don’t know how to change that.”
It’s easy to assume feelings of guilt surrounding our stepparenting journey. We struggle to accept we’re imperfect. We insist we must do everything right or our stepchildren will never love or accept us.
Perhaps society dictates perfection, particularly for stepmoms. We don’t have to accept that attitude. Striving for perfection sets us up to experience guilt—a powerful emotion.
As long as you choose to feel guilty for the things you’ve done wrong, God cannot use the things you’ve done right for His glory.
In his book, Boundaries with Teens, Dr. John Townsend offers some wise words on guilt-centered parenting: “Guilt is a feeling of self-condemnation over doing something that hurts your child. However, guilt is not a helpful emotion. Guilt is more about the parent because guilt centers on the parent’s failures and badness rather than on the teen’s difficulty and hurt. Guilt does nothing to help the teen’s situation.”
Townsend goes on to say that we should learn to experience remorse instead. “Remorse, the healthy alternative to guilt, centers on the other person,” he says. “It is solution oriented. When you feel remorse toward your teen, you free yourself to be sad about what you have done and to repair the effects.”
Sometimes, we don’t get it right.
We let our sinful nature take over. We don’t work hard enough to love our stepchildren and overlook their annoying tendencies. We highlight their mistakes instead of praising their successes. And then we feel bad for our behavior.
We can face our feelings of guilt and accept that we will sometimes let our stepchildren down. But we shouldn’t stop there. If we do something that hurts our stepchild, we can change our focus from guilt to remorse—an attitude of how our behavior affected them. Then we can take action to make it right. Perhaps we need to offer an apology. Maybe we need to claim God’s help to change our behavior next time. We likely need to accept God’s grace and His mercy to move past our guilt.
We won’t always get it right as a stepparent.
But we don’t need to get stuck wallowing in guilt.
God wants to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
But we must do our part also. Let go of your guilt, experience remorse, ask for forgiveness, and then accept God’s grace to start again.
Check out my new book, Stepparenting With Grace, to read more about how to overcome hard stepparent emotions.