Dear Rachel,

I always feel like I’m doing parenting wrong! I beat myself up all the time. Is there any escape from mother guilt and feeling lousy? And I know that when I feel lousy I act even worse to my family. Help!

Dear Awesome Mom,

I feel your pain! I’ve definitely been there myself, and that vicious circle is so unproductive and certainly doesn’t get you what you really desire, which is a peaceful, loving and kind home.

So, here are a few suggestions to help you climb out of that pit and parent with more success:

1) First, feel the emotion in your body. If it’s sadness or grief, it is heavy in your chest or heart, or if you feel frustrated or annoyed, notice if your jaw is clenched or if your chest is tight. Remove yourself from the scene (your kids) and have a private few moments to release that energy. Imagine G‑d taking that energy and recycling it into light, but it’s removed from you and your home.

2) Use the guilt to decide on positive changes. How can you right the wrong? Guilt can be used for good if it moves us forward into getting the help and information we need to make changes.

The Rebbe writes: “Feeling dissatisfied with oneself is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve oneself, which is accomplished via a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state, and turning to a higher level.” (From a letter by the Rebbe, dated 16 Adar 5712)

Emotions convey messages to us. Mother guilt can actually be productive; it prompts you to take an honest look at how you are handling your parenting and to make changes.

Ask yourself:

What was my motivation for that behavior? What was the trigger that caused me to react as I did? What can I do to meet my needs in a more productive way?

If you do any of the things that you consider “bad-parenting,” allow yourself to say only once: “Oh, no! I messed up again!”

And then that’s it.

On many occasions, the Rebbe taught us the important message of: The past is over; don’t get lost in regret. There are many letters and teachings with this theme such as this: “I advise you from now on to stop weighing and dwelling on things that are of no practical value, and especially the kinds of thoughts that only lead to despondency; rather place ever-increasing efforts on the performance of Torah and mitzvos … ” (Letter of the Rebbe, dated Erev Shavuos, 5716).

Don’t allow your inner critic to have a heyday. Don’t allow it to get carried away, while you lay on the floor in a puddle of shame. Living in shame and regret for the past does not move you forward, nor does it heal the wounds of others you may have hurt with your mistakes.

Negative habits can be broken and switched up for good ones. Determined action is the key. Make apologies, change your energy and show up differently.

3) Implement positive action. As the driver of your home, take hold of the wheel and ask yourself how can you fix it?

a) Can you take a parenting course that provides support and mentorship?

b) Can you get more help? Getting a mother’s helper or babysitter will give you another set of hands.

c) Are you doing enough self-care throughout your busy day? Exercise, connecting with friends, learning Torah, davening, simple creativity and even five-minute nature breaks can make a difference.

4) Do a self-compassion break, and try not to be so hard on yourself. Put a hand on your heart andsay:

“I’m hurting” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed” or whatever the feeling is.

“Other parents have made mistakes, too.”

“May I give myself comfort and kindness, may I give others comfort and kindness and make amends.”

5) Celebrate yourself for your amazing victories! What are you getting right? G‑d sees all your efforts, and it’s great if you can, too. Did you feed your kids? Did you hug them and say, “I love you”? Did you get them off to school so they could learn? Did you laugh with them and read with them? All these are wins!

Take moments throughout the day to be grateful for each and every positive thing that you did. Let those be illuminated in your mind and heart.

Since Chanukah comes from the root word chinuch, which means “education,” let’s take a lesson from the Chanukah candles:

  1. On the first night, we light one candle, and slowly work our way up to kindling all eight. When we look at life and especially parenting, there are so many goals, steps and expectations that lie ahead of us. And yet, we would overwhelm ourselves if we actually thought that we could accomplish all those things in one step. Just like we know that each day another candle will be lit, have the belief that you will get things done—that you will follow through on your “To Do” list, your goals, your dreams, your desires. One action at a time.
  2. Each menorah can look different from the other; some are silver, others are made from glass or tin in different shapes and sizes. Be sure to grow in your parenting using your own unique style. The key is to respect your way and go at the individual pace that you can handle.
  3. As the amount of light from the candles continues to grow, so do you. You are never in the same place as you were before. Though at times it may feel like you have lost your footing, you have not. Keep going!

Each of us has so much light to offer ourselves, our children and the world. Just like the glow of the Chanukah lights increases day to day, so can yours. Step by step, day by day.