Advice for Moms

Moms, Guilt and Lies

Me Ra Koh

Moms, guilt and lies are a powerful combination that begin to swirl confusion in the home as if a tornado is coming through.  I will never forget a tornado moment of stress that caused a honest conversation to happen between me and my kids on the way to the airport.

I remember Brian and the kids all packed in the car.  They were ready to drive me to the airport.  I was flustered getting out the door.  Not because I forgot to pack something.  My suitcase had been packed for the last ten days.  Not because we were running late, we were actually ahead of schedule.  Why was I flustered?  One simple word.  Guilt.

Before that summer started, before my dad’s horrible car accident of almost losing his life when a teenage girl texting hit him, I pictured something very different for our summer than what had happened. I pictured long, lazy afternoons at the pool, sticky popsicle fingers, another round of sprinklers, another slice of watermelon, a Saturday of meandering through garage sales, a camping trip along the river bed and bike rides—lots of bike rides.

But life doesn’t always go the way we planned.  The first six weeks of summer were spent in the hospital with my dad.  He had lost his left leg in the accident and crushed almost every other bone from his hips down.  It was a tough, tough time for our family, and it continues to be an intense struggle for him.  But, I also had amazing conversations with him that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Within days of that six week period ending, I started traveling for work.  Ten days of travel with two nights at home in between cities.  A beautiful wedding in Colorado, an important speaking engagement in LA, and then starting to make regular trips to NY as Nate Berkus’s photo expert.  Somewhere in between the LA and NY trips, guilt reared it’s ugly head which brings us back to the car ride to the airport.

I felt so guilty about leaving the kids again that all my behavior was highlighted with stress.  Flustered packing, snappy responses to Brian, stressed, work conversation in the car, it was turning into a whirlwind of anxiety.  Brian asked me to try and calm down so that I didn’t leave him and the kids with so much stress.  I wanted to cry the moment he said that.

I think that part of me felt like he didn’t get it or understand.  How could he ask me for something, when I was giving all I had?  You know that whole path of logic—it’s basically titled “woe is me”.  But underneath all the woe is me stuff, I realized my outward stress was about something much more.  I realized I was acting out all this stress because I was hoping the kids could see how much more I wanted to be with them.  I was under the impression that my stressed behavior was actually giving to them, showing them how much I love them and want to stay.  Oh man, I knew there was only one way to find out if this was true.  Turn around and ask the kids.

We stopped for gas, and I strategically waited for Brian to get out of the car.  Wasn’t ready to own up to all this in front of him, not yet.  “Pascaline, when you see your mom stressed like this, do you feel loved by me or more stressed?”  There was no hesitation for Pascaline OR Blaze.  “I feel more stressed mom.  It’s really hard to see you this overwhelmed.”  And then she went on to speak such innocent wisdom that left me speechless.

“Mama, I know you have to travel a lot for works sometimes, but I just want to see you happy.  If your happy, than I feel happy for you.  If your happy and excited to go on this trip and do all these fun things, I’m happy and excited too.  But when your stressed, and you say you don’t want to go, my stomach starts to hurt because I don’t know how to help.  I feel really helpless.”

Oh my goodness.  I sat there in total astonishment.  It was so clear.  The kids are happy if I’m happy. The kids are excited if I’m excited.  Even though my Pascaline was a strong willed, intelligent nine year old, she still looked to me to know what was okay and not okay in this world.  If I’m good, she’s good.  How did I miss it?  Again?!

Blaze said he feels sad when I’m stressed, and he doesn’t like saying goodbye to me at the airport when he’s already sad.  And that was all I needed to hear.  Brian got back in the car, and I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I asked both the kids and Brian to forgive me.  I told them that I was actually really excited about this next trip, but I didn’t want them to think I was ever excited to leave them.

Pascaline chuckled and said, “Mama, I know you love your work, but I know you L-O-V-E me way more!  You don’t have to worry about us thinking something crazy like that!  We just like it when your happy.”

From that minute, I put a smile on my face.  I told them what my trip was about, what opportunities were waiting, how excited I was to go, what an adventure it would be.  And they listened wide eyed.  When we got to the airport, I hugged and kissed them.  And instead of apologizing for having to travel so much the last ten days, I pushed all that away and told them how excited I was to go swimming when I got back.  I kissed and squeezed and kissed and hugged them until it was time to go.  And Brian whispered ‘thank you’, as I walked through the double doors into the airport, waving one last time.

Our kids are happy, if we are happy.  Is it really that simple?  From that day, I made a promise to myself.  Even when I’m beat down and tired and dread getting on another plane, I’m going to smile and tell the kids how happy I am to try this new adventure, but even more so, how much happier I am to come home to them.

This is what amazes me.  I have multiple sources that I go to when I need affirmation on whether or not I’m making the right choices or pursuing the right things.  Sometimes I go overboard and look like a woman with twenty five headlamps on her head, pointed in different directions.  But the kids…the kids have one headlamp.

It’s a single light that shines in into the darkness of all tomorrow’s unknowns.  And I have never realized how fixated their light is on mom and dad.  If mom and dad are good, they know they can relax and feel safe in the world.  It’s not about the hours I’m working or the trips I’ve needed to make.  It’s about the peace and joy I have when I’m with them.  If their little search light finds that on me, they are good.

You may have a crazy schedule right now or a mellow one. Ask yourself today, “When was the last time I did something for me?”  If it’s been longer than a week, roll up your sleeves.  This isn’t just about you, but the whole family.  What can you commit to doing today that will bring you joy, peace or rest?  Maybe it’s a day to yourself, time set aside to work on your photography, a walk with just you and the dog (minus the neighborhood kids riding their bikes behind you), go see a movie alone (a favorite of mine)…whatever it is…make it happen.

I have a feeling that it will not only fill you up, but the whole family, especially when those little headlamps illuminate you.


Me Ra



  1. Linda says:

    Love it!! Happy Monday Me Ra 🙂

  2. Natalie Johnson says:

    What an insight into the different perspectives each person, including children, have when it comes to stress. Thanks for reminding us our kids are affected by not only what we say but the energy we put out. I don’t think you missed too much the first 6 weeks of summer here since the sun is just coming out. Hopefully we will get a great September to make up for June. Enjoy your trip:)

  3. Lee says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled across your website. I came for the photography tips, and stayed for the incredible heart-to-heart posts. This one really spoke to me. I have the problem of never leaving, because I am never following my passions. And I am not happy for it. I recently made the decision to change that, and I will remember how important it is for my kids to see my joy and excitement for life. If I don’t want my kids living the way I do, why do I let myself live this way?

    Thanks for sharing yourself with all of us!

  4. Karen G says:

    What a wonderful post. I sure needed to hear the wisdom of your daughter too. Why is this wisdom so easy to push aside? Thanks for sharing this.
    Peace to you.

  5. Dawn Beirnes says:

    this post was so awesome! I really needed to read something like this today. Thanks you so much. Kids can say the most intelligent, smart, and TRUE things! Sometimes us adults just need a “smack down” from our kids every now and then.

  6. Me Ra says:

    So glad this post is resonating with so many of you! I thought it was so crazy that in the midst of me wanting my kids to see “the stress” so they would feel more loved, I totally MISSED that they were seeing my dislike for my work. But I love the work I get to do! It’s as if I was sabotaging the whole thing thinking I was doing the right thing. Oh, so thankful for the blunt honesty of kids. That “smack down”…where would we be without those! 🙂

  7. Beth says:

    This post could not have come at a more perfect time for me. Thank you once again, Me Ra.

  8. “a walk with just you and the dog (minus the neighborhood kids riding their bikes behind you)” This made me Chuckle…have you been spying on me? I think I’m going to try the movie (all by myself) real soon. Those little illuminators have been shining bright and I want to bask in their beauty instead of sometimes feeling like I want to hide from their glare. Happy Monday MeRa… Love you dearly! xxoxoxox

  9. Linda S. says:

    Another really great post. (:

  10. Me Ra says:

    Ha! I love it Kimberlyn!

    Yes, do try the movie by yourself! It’s amazing to sit in the dark, turn off the Blackberry, and even go in the middle of the day when no one else is there, and just rest your brain. In fact, the more stressed you are, the better it is to go! 🙂 And c’mon, Eat, Pray, Love is out! What more reason do we need ladies! Do you know that book inspired us to go abroad. We had tried to go to Bali b/c of that book, but our seasons were off so we went to Thailand instead. Crazy how books bring change to your life. 😉

  11. Daisy Reyes says:

    MeRah, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing this. This is just the speech I needed today as I head back full-time to teaching third grade and have to leave my little ones daily. Today, my four-year-old had an emotional breakdown as we arrived at the sitters. There was no warning. And I think it just may be because of the guilt I feel leaving them. I have no choice. I have to work. And I need to figure out HOW I can be happy in my job–leaving my little ones when that’s the last thing I want to do. My being happy as a teacher will help them in the transitions that come with that.


  12. liza says:

    Pascaline’s words brought, yet, once again tears to my eyes. You are doing a superb job as a mother Merah. I admire that so much of you. You’re an exemplary role model. In fact, I’m counting down the days with some anticipation until my nest will be semi-empty this fall. All three of the wonder kids will be in school. I haven’t had uninterrupted me time in nearly 10 years. The possibilities are endless.

  13. shawna says:

    this is so true. my daughter who just turned two stops me several times a day when my voice gets stressed or i just look grumpy and she says, “are you okay, mama?”. she absorbs every emotion i feel, and when i leave for a photoshoot, even if i’m sad to leave my girls, SHE is happy to watch me go when i am happy to go.

    me ra. someone shared this poem with me last week and it made me think of your last paragraph and your comment. it’s a beautiful poem about loving being alone:

  14. leila says:

    I read this on the way to work. I don’t have kids so I can’t feel the mommy guilt you do but I was just overwhelmed by the clarity and honesty of feelings your children expressed. Who knew that they were simply happier when you are. Who knew that your stress becomes their stress. The words they spoke were so pure and open and loving. It made me cry, which isn’t a good thing to do when you’re driving. What a beautiful post and what an ah ha morning for you to experience.

  15. Shelley Hohe says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. This really spoke right to my heart. This past summer our family has been planning a big move and we also had a terrible accident in our family as well this summer. I feel like a crazy mom most of the time and i do see that our 10 year old twins get more crazy when i am the one that starts the “crazy” roller coaster. I feel as though i have neglected our kids all summer long…i feel so bad! One of my favorite quotes i read in “Our Daily Bread” is….”A parents life is a childs guidebook” so like you said if we stress they stress, if we are happy they are happy. I just need to continue to remember this!!!

  16. Mika says:

    Beautiful post Me Ra.

    I am really going to try to keep this post in my head when I start playing the martyr.

    I really appreciated seeing the child’s perspective! I think you helped a lot of us second guess how we will approach stressful situations now. Thank you Me Ra and your lovely family for sharing 😉

  17. Been struggling with this issue myself this summer – resonating so much with me that the tears that well up when truth hits are right here, right now.

    Thanks so much for posting this – such a help in pinpointing and clarifying what so many of us go through.

    You rock.

  18. Darling, take it from one who loves you and who also struggles with “mommy guilt”, your kids will benefit from having a smart, dynamic, hard-working mom. One who is always doing something interesting and one who is helping change the world for the better…..way better! There is no way to lessen the guilt….it comes with the territory, but rest assured, your kids will be fine. They will have someone beautiful, kind, accomplished to look up to and they will follow your lead on how to behave, so head up, deep breath and one day at a time.

    Hopefully there will be time for sprinklers and canoe rides. When those moments come, take a picture and commit them to memory….you are going to need them later, when they grow up, are launched and you are left behind, full of new projects.

    Go sister, we are all looking up to you!

  19. tammy ludlow says:

    whoops…. I commented on your FB that I saw your kids today at the “pool” without first reading your blog ~ ugh. BTW…. they looked so happy as they were sitting eating their fudge cycles and playing with other kids. Your blog has really ministered to me as I too had one of those weeks and took it out on James when all I was really doing was crying out for their attention ~ lol. We are so hard to please at times!

    You amaze me and I think you seem to have a great balance.


  20. beautiful post, Me Ra! i’m not a mom yet, but having been a kid i can totally relate to Pascaline’s response =) thank you so much for sharing…i always look forward to reading your posts!

  21. Monica says:

    Let me get my tissues. Oh, gosh… Thank you Pascaline and Blaze for helping me see the errors of my ways. Me Ra – this post is priceless because we all share this experience in one way or another and seeing myself through the eyes of my children will surely stop me in my tracks next time I display guilty and stressed behavior. Wisdom so simple and yet so elusive.

  22. Tim says:

    Perfect… Simply perfect…… And a great way to drive the nail home!

  23. Rhonda Kane says:

    Ooooo I think I need a movie by myself too. I haven’t done that since college.
    I’ve just been trying to get 1 hour to read and journal. That is soooo good for me.

  24. Me Ra says:

    I just wanted to thank you ALL for your blog comments on this post. I was blown away at how this struck such a deep chord with so many–I think I got a new update from Twitter every hour yesterday of a mommy blogger or dad forwarding this link, and dads encouraging other dads to read it! wow, what a honor.

    I’m going to think about how to keep this conversation going, but love you for all your feedback. It’s such a gift to be a part of this awesome community.


  25. just wanted to say…I love this post.

  26. Jenni says:

    This was a good word for me. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Amanda says:

    Wow….this is just what I needed to hear…Thanks Me Ra!

  28. Karen says:

    Just read this post today. I really needed to hear this right at this moment. Puts many things into prospective for me.
    Thank you for sharing! XO

  29. Jennifer Armstrong says:

    thank. you. and wow, Pascaline.

    thanks for writing this Me Ra!

  30. Jody says:

    Oooh this is so good! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  31. carmen says:

    Thank you for sharing, I needed so much to hear it. Pascaline is so wise! I love you and miss you. You make me happy.

  32. Me Ra says:

    oh, you make me happy sweet Carmen. Love you and always missing you too!

  33. Deirdre says:

    This article really hit a nerve with me! We’ve had huge changes in our life this summer, many stemming from the illness of one of my daughters. I have been very stressed and trying to calm myself down for my sake, but I never thought about things the way you said them here. I realize I do expect that my family will understand that my stress and anxiety show how much I love them. Now that I can see that, I can also see what a fallacy that is and that I need to move beyond it. Thank you for this!

  34. Jody says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing Me Ra. This one really hit home for me. It brought tears to my eyes! The wisdom of children is often so simple and yet so endearing! Thank you!

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