On an ordinary afternoon, just home from preschool pick-up, I sat my daughters down at the table for lunch and unpacked their morning snack bags. I opened the first and noticed a small note.
I opened the narrow strip of paper and read the typed words, “Please include nutritious snack foods as your child’s snack. Candy is not allowed per school snack regulations.” Black letters on stark white paper, the words read as sharply as if spoken from a disapproving school principal.
As a natural people pleaser, my heart dropped. Did I break the snack rule? What will they think of me? Am I in trouble? Wait… what?
I was confused because my kids eat nutritious snacks. In fact, they eat snacks that I’ve never seen children enjoy as much as they do. Things like black olives, seaweed, and cucumber slices and hummus.
I thought for sure they shoved this note in the wrong snack bag. My pulse raced with shame when I noticed the empty candy wrapper left as evidence of my failure to follow preschool rules.
It felt like I’d been called to the principal’s office of parenting school.
Guilt rushed through my veins and my heart thumped—I was found out. I’m a terrible, non-nutritious-food feeding mother. My kids eat sugar!
Parenting is a flood of unexpected emotions, all the time. If it’s not the overwhelming feeling of incomparable love for a tiny human, it’s a disarming sense of inadequacy to get the job done right.
And we navigate it as best we can incognito, putting a fresh face of having it together so the rest of the world can rest unaware of all the ways we are screwing up our kids. Until they become aware, then we become undone with shame.
How Simple Living Helped Me Overcome Shame and Guilt
My initial reaction to the candy wrapper incident was typical—shame and guilt. Both of which are always too near the surface of parenting. However, though they often bubble up to the surface, these days I have a few tools which help me keep them in check; tools gained from living simply and intentionally.
1. Simple living slows the pace of life to manage my emotions.
Simple living slows life down enough to not get bogged down in the “should-haves” and “shouldn’t-haves”, the “dids” and “didn’ts”, and the rights and the wrongs.
I now have clarity of the bigger picture, that I am doing the best I can and that’s it’s enough. Parenting is a mixed bag of the good and beautiful, the flawed and uncertain, the lovely and the broken—and living at a pace to experience and grow through each is the best we can offer to our kids.
2. Simple living balances the scales.
My kids eat healthy foods, but they get pizza and chicken nuggets and Slurpees. They watch TV and know how to get to YouTube on my phone, but they read and color and pretend-play more.
I get impatient and I raise my voice more than I’d like, but I’m also there for every boo-boo and tear, I’m there to encourage and teach, and I’m there to sing and read and snuggle and play.
This clarity, earned by removing distraction and clutter (physical and mental), untangles my guilt and shame from my love and purpose as a mom.
Because I know that when I lose my patience, it’s not too far gone to recover. When I feel unfit as a mother because my kids ate cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in front of the TV, this is but a few in a sea of thousands of meals spent at the family dinner table with a healthful meal.
Simple living balances the scales of life by unleashing self-compassion with a real and raw vulnerability.
3. Simple living creates a path to live differently.
Simple living gives me space—the kind that sits between the mind and heart and soul—to reflect and understand that parenting is full of roads toward guilt and shame, but they aren’t the only roads to take.
Often, I find we are forging our own paths toward a different and deliberate life.
There are roads to courage, presence, purpose, love, and acceptance. There’s a road to enough, to gratitude, to white space and freedom.
It’s a slower path, with more sight-seeing and wandering, but it’s where I can be the mother my kid’s need and deserve—unhindered by what-if’s and not good enough’s. This simple, slow, and balanced life takes guilt off the map.
My purpose, I discovered, is not to live a typical parenthood experience riddled with guilt and shame.
I embrace the less traveled road—the slow and steady, sometimes broken and often times magical adventure of accepting who I am, giving all I can, and letting go of all the baggage. Even when I get notes from the principal sent home.