Banish Unnecessary Guilt Once and For All

posted by Andrea | 12/20/2016
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crazy kids in the snow

Playing out in the snow… some of them are happier about it than others! 

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine explained how their family always does “the 4-gifts for Christmas” (something to wear, something to read, something they want, something they need) in an effort to simplify and minimize gifts. I’ve heard of this before and think it’s an awesome idea… but we don’t necessarily do our gifts this way right now.

In fact, even though I feel like I’ve kept our kids’ gifts fairly minimal, buying mostly secondhand items and using almost all gift cards or shop credit, I know they will get more than 4 gifts this year.

Although I’m usually not one to compare myself to others, I was feeling just a little bit guilty knowing I had more than 4 gifts for my kids. However, when I mentioned this to my friend, she confessed that they do indeed always give “the 4-gifts for Christmas”, but they also have stockings that are filled with lots of little gifts, they have a special “gift from Santa” on Christmas morning, and they all open new pajamas on Christmas Eve.

So… definitely more than just 4 gifts per person!

In that moment, I realized just how often we make assumptions based on only part of the story — and let ourselves feel guilty because we think others are so much better, wiser, simpler, cleaner, more frugal, more _______ than we are.

Obviously, making assumptions without knowing all the facts has the potential to make us look like idiots (I’m sure we all have at least one story!) and I certainly don’t appreciate others jumping to conclusions about my family or my life if they don’t know the full story (again, I’m sure we all have at least one story!)

So often we associate these assumptions with negative attitudes of others who are trying to find some “dirt” on us, start a nasty rumor, or make others think less of us.

However, have you ever considered WE might be the ones who are negatively affected by falsely assuming our friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and social media acquaintances are better or superior to us based on only half the story? 

Let me give you a few more examples from my own life…

#1 – Another one of my friends often mentions how they “don’t have TV”, and I always wondered how on earth she manages with no TV and 3 children who are very close in age.

Then last year, I realized what she actually meant when she said “we don’t have TV” was simply, “we don’t pay for cable”.  Not only do they have a TV (with an antenna to get basic channels) they also have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and a boatload of DVD’s!

So it looks like I’m not the only mom who uses the TV for a little peace and quiet!

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#2 – I have a mutual acquaintance who is very big on eating organic. She frequently mentions how her kids “always eat organic”; however, I know this “all organic mama” gets completely burnt out trying to make everything from scratch and ends up serving fast food several nights each month.

I’ve also seen her children eating “organic fruit snacks”, “organic potato chips” and even “organic candy” more than once, and I always wonder if organic fruit snacks and candy are really that much healthier or more nutritious than non-organic fruit snacks and candy.

Most of you know I’m definitely not opposed to some processed and convenience foods (and we love Culver’s) but it’s always reassuring to see that even the most die-hard, all-organic moms out there still need a break every now and then!

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#3 – A Facebook friend of mine regularly posts mini rants about moms at the park who just sit and talk with friends or talk on their phones instead of spending that quality time with their kids (gasp!)

I’ve always been slightly annoyed by these posts as they come across very negative, judgmental, and condescending… especially since I often invite friends over or meet friends at the park so we can chitchat while the kids play (really, is it THAT bad to let our kids play without 100% attention?)

It was only recently that I realized she has worked full-time as a teacher for the last 7+ years and currently puts her 2 young children in daycare 5 days a week during the school year.

Of course, I have nothing against using daycare — but I found it so interesting how I had started to question myself on the fact that I don’t give 100% attention to my kids when I’m talking with a friend (or even just when I’m making dinner or doing a few things around the house). I was letting her “part of the story” influence my thoughts about myself… when in reality, I spend ALL DAY, EVERY DAY with my kids, giving them tons of quality time, attention, love, affection, care, etc. while she goes to work every day.

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I don’t share these stories to make my friends look bad, but rather to point out the obvious fact that we rarely ever know the entire story.

We might hear about families with “no TVs” and feel guilty about how much TV our kids watch… but maybe that family has 2 computers, 2 iPads, 4 smartphones, and the latest gaming systems.

We might read about women who feed their families 100% organic, all-natural, homemade food every day, and feel bad that we made a frozen pizza or ordered takeout last night… but maybe those women get burnt out and need breaks too (just like we do).

We might see parents playing intently with their kids at the park and feel bad about mindlessly reading a book or scrolling through Facebook updates while sitting on a bench… but maybe those parents are away from their children all day while they work, and this is their only time of day to really spend any quality time with their kids. Meanwhile, we’re with our kids every waking moment of every day!

We might visit someone’s spotlessly clean house and feel guilty as we remember it’s been a month since we dusted anything… but maybe this person had been frantically racing around their house all morning in an effort to get it spotlessly clean before we arrived.

We might know others in our same peer group who seem to have so much energy. They volunteer for every committee, group, and organization — which makes us feel just a little bit guilty for saying ‘no’ to the latest request for our time… but maybe this person is actually extremely stressed out with all her to-dos and just doesn’t know how to say no. Or maybe he/she is trying to avoid a not-so-happy home life by being gone all the time.

I could give SO many examples  — but the point I want to make is simple:

Don’t let yourself feel guilty when you THINK others are doing better or more than you.

Just keep doing your own thing and move on with your life. (Yes, I know that’s not always easy to do — but we must keep trying!)

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It’s amazing to me how regularly we see, read, or hear subtle messages (sometimes not-so-subtle messages) from the internet, social media, advertising, and real-life interactions that make us feel like we aren’t doing a good enough job. We aren’t a good enough parent, spouse, friend, employee, Christian, housekeeper, etc. etc

We hear half the story, assume everyone is doing everything better than we are, and we let the guilt pile on.

Even as a very confident person who usually doesn’t get too worked up about what others think of me or what others are doing differently than me, I often catch myself thinking “you should be more like_____” when in reality, I’m not even all that sure what being like that person would look like.

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Unfortunately, I have no way to instantly boost your self-esteem or self-confidence. Instead, I’d simply like to encourage you to look for times when you compare yourself to others in any way. When you catch yourself falling into that trap, push the pause button and remember that you don’t know all the facts.

You’re only seeing part of their story (most likely the best part if it’s on social media).

Then keep doing your own thing and try to push any encroaching guilt aside!

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57 comments

  1. Heidi

    12/27/2016

    Thank you for this post Andrea. It resonates well with me and I am sure many others.

    2 summers ago my father was dying. I tossed my three youngest kids in the car (12 and 10 year old twins) and we drove from Wyoming to California. I arrived and apparently my father was waiting for me as he took his last breath of life moments after me walking in the door.

    As you can imagine this was a sad time for our family. We stayed for a couple of weeks and then drove back. Funds were tight and I could not afford a hotel room so I opted to drive straight through napping in the car as needed. I was TIRED.

    We got to some random city in Wyoming, almost home, and stopped at a McDonalds to grab something for breakfast and stretch our legs. I sat at the table with my kids and they all were looking at the Sunday comics that someone left behind while I checked my phone and texted my husband to let him know where we were. Out of nowhere some random lady went off on me for ignoring my kids and not enjoying their company. Little did she know I had been in a car with them for over 20 hours and we had a great trip of talking, singing, taking selfies, checking out the scenery at every rest stop we came across and plenty of quality time.

    The lesson…you never know what that persons situation is like at that moment. People need to stop judging.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is so sad, Heidi 🙁
    As I was reading, I thought you were going to say “and then out of nowhere, some random lady came and offered to pay our bill”.
    Granted, my children are a lot younger than 10 and 12, but even still, I cannot even imagine driving that far with 3 children, sleeping in the car, and carrying such a burden on my heart the whole time too.
    Sorry you had this happen to you.

    [Reply]

  2. JEANETTE

    12/26/2016

    ANOTHER excelllent post Andrea…so so true…thankyou and Merry Christmas

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  3. JJ

    12/22/2016

    So love this post! I have posted on Facebook before sharing behind the scene pics or stories to assure my friends that things aren’t picture perfect. I am more of an optimist and like to focus on what’s going on that we’re loving, but sometimes others need to know they’re not alone. No one has it all together. And that’s okay. Each family has needs, and you do a great job of assessing the needs and prioritizing to meet your family’s needs and goals. That’s commendable! My kids love their shows, and your blog helped me loose up. And they learn a lot from their shows. Especially Daniel Tiger! Haha! Merry Christmas!

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  4. April

    12/22/2016

    Thank you for this great reminder. I love how you “do your own thing” and yet are never judgmental. That is why I always take time to read your posts! Merry Christmas!

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  5. Natalie

    12/21/2016

    Thank you for such an encouraging post! I enjoyed it very much and will try to apply its wisdom any time a guilt feeling comes up (or any time I receive a comment about parenting my 2 teenagers! – extended families always seem to think they know better, mine does anyways). No matter what season (or country – I’m from Quebec), we all seem to go through some of the same issues. By the way, I have a TV too (and cable, lol).

    Best wishes for the holiday season and the new year. Looking forward to reading your posts in 2017.

    Natalie

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Natalie! And Merry Christmas to you too!
    I can only imagine how many people will be giving me advice during the teen years. That’s hard too, because they have their own agenda by then and their actions don’t always reflect how they were raised or how their parents have taught them. I know MANY rebellious teens from wonderful and loving families. They just need to get it out of their systems I guess, in the meantime, people always “blame” the family.

    [Reply]

  6. Kimberly

    12/21/2016

    How do I click “like”?! Struggling with this last night. Contentment so hard to find when I compare to others. Reminder to look away and look up during this Christmas season. Thanks, Andrea

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love how you said “look away and look up” that’s great. Thanks Kimberly!

    [Reply]

  7. Michelle

    12/20/2016

    Excellent advice!!! Great job writing an eye opening post, Andrea!

    My daughter frequently goes on rants wondering how others have so much more or do so much more than her and her husband. I have told her repeatedly that she doesn’t know the whole story of how they do what they do or have what they have. My advice to her is always the same…do the best you can and be confident, don’t concern yourself with others because you’re not living their life, and if you search within yourself and realize you can do better, then do it.

    Life’s too short to try to keep up with the Joneses.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, too short to keep up with the Joneses. Also, where did that phrase ever come from! I’m so glad my last name isn’t “Jones”! We have friends with that last name and I’m sure you can imagine how many little jokes are made 🙂

    [Reply]

    Michelle Reply:

    Awww…yes I can imagine! I’m sorry. It wasn’t meant to offend anyone. It’s a phrase I have heard many times in my life. I looked it up to see if I could see where it originated from. This is all I found.

    Keeping up with the Joneses is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.

    It could be a good thing to be named Jones though, it has everyone wishing they were you. 🙂 Argh! I can’t put a cute little smiley face here like you can!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    on no… I’m not offended at all. I think it’s funny (but I really AM glad my last name isn’t Jones!)

    [Reply]

  8. Mara

    12/20/2016

    Great post, ESPECIALLY hitting home for me this time of year!! It is a good reminder, well written yet again 🙂

    [Reply]

  9. Leanne

    12/20/2016

    I love your wisdom, Andrea… I wish I had not operated many of my early years of parenting based off of “guilt”…and trying to measure up to standards that many of us would not even have created for ourselves if the pressures of social media didn’t exist…. Keeping up with Joneses robs us of the true joy that is already sitting in many of our lives….waiting to be recognized and embraced….I think I will make this my new challenge for 2017… Live my life to the best of my ability and assume that everyone else is, too….
    and keep reading your blog, of course 😉
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to your beautiful family!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Leanne — that sounds like a great challenge for the New Year.
    Merry Christmas to you too!

    [Reply]

  10. Abbie

    12/20/2016

    I had a co-worker who told me she always made sure her children had a hot breakfast every day. I was impressive until she later mentioned her children had pop tarts for breakfast each day.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — that’s great! I suppose pop tarts are “hot” if you put them in the toaster 🙂

    [Reply]

  11. Debbie

    12/20/2016

    What a great post Andrea! Thank you for reminding us to do the best we can with what we have rather than comparing ourselves to a snippet of someone else’s life. I’m guilty in many ways and it’s one thing to admire and have a goal but it’s another when I start feeling defeated and worthless because of too much comparison.

    [Reply]

  12. Carla

    12/20/2016

    THANK YOU!!!!! This is exactly what I needed to hear (read) today. No, we don’t see everything in other people’s lives. We are often quick to assume or people themselves want us to assume a certain way when it comes to their lives…they want to portray themselves a certain way. I find myself doing this because I am scared of the comments, judging and sneers. That’s why it’s so important to care less of what other people think. I hope to someday get to this place!

    [Reply]

  13. Candis

    12/20/2016

    I have read your blog almost daily for several years however I am in the minority of our audience in that I am single with no children. Needless to say, not all your posts pertain to my life but your blog has tremendously helped improve the quality of life by becoming more organized and productive. This posts is by far one of the best posts for this year! I think everyone does the comparing or the I am not doing enough until you realize and I learned this from you – do what works for you and your situation even if it’s not the norm for everyone else. 🙂 Thank you for sharing on this topic.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — thanks so much Candis!
    Isn’t it funny that I often catch myself wondering if I should try to “be more appealing to others in different seasons of life”? But then I snap out of it and realize that I write better if I write from my own real-life perspective (which is a mom of 3 little kids).
    I’m SO glad to hear you still get the main messages from my posts even in a very different season of life! Your comment made my day!

    [Reply]

    Liz Reply:

    Also someone who doesn’t children (not in my life’s plan either) – I am always impressed how I continue to benefit from reading your blog even though there is so many differences in our lives.

    I started reading your blog before Nora was born because I wanted to be more organised. I think because you are authentic to you, your readers still get your message. At least I do 🙂

    [Reply]

    Marcia Reply:

    My only child passed away 36 years ago at age 2. I have no other children but enjoy reading about your family. Andrea you do an amazing job with your family. I look forward to reading your blog every day. I always find the articles so helpful. Would love to know how you survive the long cold weather there, we live in central texas

    [Reply]

    Liz Reply:

    My condolences Marcia.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m so sorry to hear this Marcia.
    Thank you for your kind words. I’m thrilled many of my posts resonate with you, even in a different season of life.
    As for the cold winters, we stay inside a lot 🙁 However, we did create a pretty fun indoor play space for the kids (I actually blogged about it last week!) Also, we have an activity at church one morning a week, Nora has school 2 mornings a week, and we often go to a free community playgroup 1 morning a week — so there are some fun indoor activities to “kill time” during the long cold winter days!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Liz — I appreciate this so much!

    [Reply]

  14. Leah

    12/20/2016

    So true! And, as you mentioned, it never helps to compare. Either you feel like you’re doing better than someone who’s probably trying to do their best or you feel guilty for whatever you think doesn’t measure up. Thanks for your thoughts!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, exactly! It goes both ways, and neither option produces good outcomes!

    [Reply]

  15. Mariangeles

    12/20/2016

    Great post 🙂 Just what I needed to read nowadays. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  16. Esther

    12/20/2016

    Excellent Post. I love it. Thanks for always trying to be uplifting. I was feeling guilty about how many gifts I had gotten my son knowing that some kids don’t get any and that he has so many things but at the same time I know we have given to those in need all year and this Christmas and that I love my son and have put a lot of thought into the gifts for him.
    I love your blog .
    Esther

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Gift-away. no judgement here 🙂

    [Reply]

  17. Alicia

    12/20/2016

    I used to let this sort of thing bother me several years ago, but the more children I have the more I realize we all are just doing the best we can. I was able to let a lot of that guilt go. Thank you for sharing, great reminder as always!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I do think it gets easier as we have more children… although I’m sure it doesn’t work that way for every family.

    [Reply]

  18. Grandma Ann

    12/20/2016

    Thanks Andrea for this post and keeping it real. As a mom of 3, grandmother of 14 and great grandma of 2 this is so true! Do what works for your family. Make your own traditions and memories. And from my own children, things I didn’t think were special memories, were that for our children. Also, from my day of raising children, let’s be kind to other families. There was always a small war between mom’s working outside the home and stay at home moms. Everyone’s situation and desires are different. I have been both and both jobs can be difficult. Mom’s have to stick together. The most important job in the world, of being a mom, needs support as it is a very hard, rewarding job!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for your comment Ann — great thoughts!

    [Reply]

  19. Chris

    12/20/2016

    Good post. I do think with the sharing of everything these days with social media, moms feel so much more pressure than, say for example, my mom. She probably didn’t even think about these things!! (I’m almost 50). Actually, sometimes too much information is shared and this is not a good thing! For example, I know someone who videoed their husband snoring and posted it on Facebook!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, I’ve stopped “following” so many people on Facebook because I don’t enjoy “oversharing” on personal facebook pages. A video of someone snoring would definitely be grounds for me to stop following them 🙂

    [Reply]

    Rhonda Reply:

    It’s sad but true – I’ve have to unfollow many Facebook friends, just so that I would continue to enjoy them as “real” friends!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    exactly! We have a few relatives who we’ve “unfollowed” because I was starting to dread seeing them in real life. Now, I have no idea what they post on social media and I can enjoy them more in real life 🙂

    [Reply]

  20. Rose

    12/20/2016

    Wonderful post! Sooo true!

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  21. Beulah

    12/20/2016

    Great message with real life experiences. We all know that comparison is meaningless and people usually wont be frank when comes to sharing their experiences. Yet, we fall in the same pit of comparison and guilt. Its a goof reminder in t end of year to get back on track and get away from unnecessary guilt.

    [Reply]

  22. Mary

    12/20/2016

    Thank you for a very timely reminder! Ive been blessed by praying that God would order my steps….so when I feel overwhelmed by all I have to do I know just ‘doing the next thing’ is enough….My sister has pages of your quotes written in her planner…:)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — I didn’t even know I had pages worth of quotable statements! 🙂

    [Reply]

  23. Laura

    12/20/2016

    My children eat cereal (sugary-kind from the box) for dinner on nights that I am too tired to cook.

    My children are old enough to do their own laundry and don’t.

    The homework fairy sometimes comes to help complete homework for the child who is too tired and frustrated to work on the task any more.

    “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be” – Abraham Lincoln

    I’m just going to listen to honest Abe and be happy (not guilty).

    Great post, BTW!

    [Reply]

    Alicia Reply:

    I love this! I follow this same thinking!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I wish my children would eat cereal. It would make my morning life so much easier! Every couple of weeks, I give them cereal to “try” again, but still no luck. One day, they will love it and I won’t have to make pancakes and eggs every day!
    Also, great quote!

    [Reply]

  24. Jules

    12/20/2016

    Well stated and so true. This post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Comparison is the thief of joy” so often whatever we are doing would be good enough or even the perfect choice if only we didn’t know what others did 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    so true!

    [Reply]

    Maria Reply:

    Not only” ….thief of joy”, but also energy wasted on worrying on needless guilt, etc. better spent on being grateful and living your life your way.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! exactly!

    [Reply]

  25. Deni

    12/20/2016

    Well said, Andrea, I couldn’t have said it better. This is why I always come back to your blog every morning, it’s my favorite. Merry Christmas to the Dekker family!

    P.S. Please keep that tree, it is beautiful 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Deni! Merry Christmas to you too!

    Oh and yes, we’ll keep the tree 🙂

    [Reply]

  26. Linda

    12/20/2016

    Well said.

    [Reply]

  27. Heather

    12/20/2016

    Thank you for this. I really needed this today. I feel like I am so far behind on where I expect myself to be in Christmas preparations. I put way more pressure on myself than anyone expects out of me. A lot of that stems from the fact that I grew up in a home with a stay-at-home mom. I have always been a working mom and I commute and hour each way on top of it. I feel that since I can’t be there with my kids all the time that I have to try to give them the same Christmas experiences and memories that my mom gave me. Many times I forget that what may be important to me isn’t necessarily important to my husband and boys. They don’t care if there are dead bugs in the chandelier globes, but they do care that we sit around the table for a family Christmas dinner. They really don’t want to spend a day making cookies with mom…they just want to eat some, and the neighbor’s cookies are good enough. My husband and I made a choice to live on a farm and send our kids to a Christian school. Those choices come with the sacrifice of me working full time. I may not be able to be home with my kids when I want to, but they would hate me even more if we had to move to the city.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I can almost guarantee your kids won’t miss any “traditions” you are worried about. I was just talking with a friend yesterday and she was stressed about doing stockings. I said “just don’t do them” and she looked at me like I was insane. I said, “we did stockings last year but I’m not doing them this year because I didn’t feel like it.” and it was like a lightbulb went on for her. She promptly decided to skip stockings this year and was instantly relieved of all that stress.
    Your kids will have a wonderful Christmas experience even if you are a little (or a lot) behind on a few things 🙂
    Merry Christmas!

    [Reply]

  28. Joy Logan

    12/20/2016

    Thank you Andrea! This was refreshing and I so needed this!

    [Reply]