Mothers Day Gift: No Guilt

Suzette Standring
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Can you overcome your upbringing when raising your own kids? Josephine Martinez, came from the Philippines and was a stay-at-home mom all her life. She gave me an enduring sense of God’s goodness, which is ironic since she suffered from severe religious guilt. Fortunately, she didn’t raise us in the same way.

Excessive self-blame is unhealthy and she never broke free. Since she rarely spoke about it, it took me years to discover she felt most things were serious sins, for example, just being mad. Anger is a normal human reaction, but not in my mother’s inner world.  She constantly stuffed down so-called negative feelings. She never raised her voice, or sassed back at my dad, or screamed at us kids. There was only silence and many pained looks. Yet when we misbehaved, she never threatened us with eternal suffering or spoke of sin. It’s strange in hindsight.

Unlike my gentle mother, I was outspoken and she never reined that in. As I grew older in the late 1960’s, I’d challenge her beliefs.  “Who sez?” I’d ask.  Back in the Philippines my mother was schooled in a convent run by Belgium nuns, and she’d say, “Well, the sisters told us that.”  At age 14, I’d airily wave my hand in dismissal.

Looking back, she seemed relieved.  Once, after a debate (or more likely, a monologue from me), my mother said, “Well, it’s good that you don’t feel guilty.  I don’t want you to be like me.”  Be like her?  But she was so kind and loving. Her statement puzzled me.

Now I understand. Guilt plagued her soul.  At some point, she probably knew better, but sometimes the heart doesn’t catch up with the head for a long time, if ever. 

What she could control, in a life that gave her very little to control, was how she conveyed a divine presence to us, and God was her guy.  He was accepting, loving, powerful, and ready with blessings.  Somehow she knew the difference between God’s essential nature, and toxic teachings by others who used guilt to control her as a child.  Her own kids would escape the scourge of that spiritual damage.

I imagine my mother was distressed when I left religion in my early twenties, disillusioned with hypocrisy and control issues.  Yet she never criticized me. When I started to fall away from Sunday worship, the only thing she said was, “God gives you so many blessings every day, and you can’t spend one hour to say thank you?” She always spoke of God as a  kindly and powerful friend in the room. That relationship never failed her; one worth buying a real church kneeler so she could start a prayer conversation at five every morning.

At the time, I was leery of religion, but I was certain of my mother’s goodness.

At heart, I’m still a “Who Sez” kind of gal, but I found my way back to faith because I had the confidence to question, no guilt or fear involved.  Thanks for the great gift, mom.

This column ran nationally on May 5, 2020 through GateHouse Media/More Content Now, and in The Patriot Ledger.