Dealing With Parental Guilt

When I was expecting my first child, I got plenty of advice that well-wishers hoped would help me prepare for raising a child. How to sleep-train an infant, how to make my baby play independently, improve their immunity, how to feed them, bathe them and how never to take my sleep for granted. However, one thing about motherhood, no one prepared me for, was the parental guilt I would constantly battle. 

What is Parental Guilt?

As a parent, if you haven’t heard the term, you’ve almost definitely experienced it, without knowing what it’s called. It’s the constant feeling that you’re not doing enough as a parent or feeling ill-equipped to do the right thing or anxious about raising your children right. Being a parent equals being entirely responsible for another human being. It’s the deep love and care you feel for your child that makes you want to give them everything and it’s the same emotions that make you feel like you aren’t  doing enough. Guilt can even stem from love. Working moms constantly battle the dilemma between spending more time with their children and working hard for their families or following their dreams. It doesn’t help to repeatedly hear “they grow so fast, you’ll miss their childhood, they need you more now”. While it all might be true, it’s also true that every mom already knows that and works hard to balance the role of a parent without losing their own story in the process. Parents don’t talk about parental guilt enough but they carry it around, burdening themselves, convinced that speaking about it will only add to the silent shame they are already experiencing. 

Is Parental Guilt on the rise?

With the rise of social media in recent years, it seems much easier to fall into the trap of parental guilt. Seeing Instagram stories filled with pictures of children engaged in artwork, moms planning activities and celebrations, dads making road trips with their young children, kids immersed in learning new sports and arts, picture-perfect holiday pictures, kid-friendly food ideas and momlife hashtags only make the feeling profound. Looking at these posts over and over again, make every parent feel like they aren’t doing enough, like others are doing more, have more, making it a herculean task to keep up with Joneses. 

Where does it stem from?

It’s hard to tell where parental guilt comes from. It can be peer pressure, social media, personal insecurities, childhood experiences or trauma or from being overly hard on oneself. I’d like to think it’s a part of the parent package. So rest assured, you’re not the only one who feels the way you do. I’ve often felt the most failure as a mom than all the roles I’ve played sometimes, despite the constant reassurance from family and friends about what a fantastic mother I am. It should be easy to take and believe those compliments but guilt is a funny thing, it can make you believe otherwise. Sometimes, even after parents are at peace with their parenting and lifestyle, it’s the contradictory and constant expectations and advice from society and people that can make them feel inadequate. On the one hand, you hear people say to limit screen time because of its hazards, on the other, that it is perfectly okay to give yourself some “me time” while your kids watch Television. That you should let children be children and not mind the mess but at the same time, you can feel those judgemental stares when people walk into your home that bears testimony to the chaos and clutter kids bring. Seems like you can’t do it right either way. 

Is Parental Guilt helpful?

Is mom guilt valid, does it serve any purpose, is it helpful in any way at all? I can’t think of guilt being productive in any way. Mostly feeling constant guilt can make you sad, anxious and even interfere with your ability to make decisions. It can decrease your self-esteem, making you lose confidence in your abilities, accomplishments and decisions and that never did anyone much good. It’s hard to be a perfect parent simply because there has never been one. 

How to battle Parental Guilt?

Understand where your guilt comes from: Is it from your own expectations, the high standards you set for yourself? From your own experience as a  child? Look at things from a different perspective. Are your expectations of what parenting should be realistic and doable? Are you being influenced by others ideas of what is ideal and necessary? 

Take off some of the pressure by setting your own standards that stem from a realistic and practical mindset. There is no one right way to do things, but doing what works for you and your family is what matters. 

Social media is not real: It’s easy to feel pressure looking at hundreds of perfectly dressed kids, well-kept homes, balanced lives, but remember, all what you see on social media is not real. Not many put up photos of the tantrums their kids had seconds after that photo was taken or talk about the insane work that went into setting up the house for a picture and just because they spent an evening having a charming meal in their backyard doesn’t mean they do it every day. Comparison can be a real evil especially because social media isn’t an accurate description of someone’s life. It’s only the carefully selected bits you see.

Surround yourself with people who support you:  Being surrounded by people who are constantly judging your parenting, questioning your decisions and your children can create a false sense of failure. Instead, spend more time with people who appreciate your efforts, believe in you and keep judgements out of the way. Find a friend, a family who is supportive and accepting. 

Happy parents, happy children: Moms and even dads often feel guilt for doing what makes them happy. Moms feel guilty for enjoying their workplace as a haven away from the chaos of kids, that they like their job and it makes them happy. Truth is if it makes you happy, it makes you a happier parent too. Leaving your child with a babysitter so you can get some me time, will also make you feel more energized to enjoy your children. Do what makes you happy and it will benefit your whole family. Most of all, you are showing your child that as an individual, you have needs too and that you invest in taking care of yourself. That’s the role model a child needs. 

Find a balance: There are many situations when you can experience mom guilt. Maybe your child has a lot of screen time or eats junk food every day or maybe you lose your cool often with your toddler. A bit of mom guilt can act as motivation and help you change some things for the better. Take a step back and view things objectively. No one can get it right every single time, not even most of the time maybe. Are your or your child’s habits interfering with their health? Is it dangerous and negatively impacting their wellbeing?. Find a balance and work around things in a way that work for your family. Too much screen time? Cur down or set limits. Eating fries for dinner every night? Find a healthier alternative to eat more regularly. 

Be kind to yourself: As parents, we are quick to react with compassion to our children. Eager to heal their hurt feelings and make it all better, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we can find it difficult and even unusual to be kind and forgiving. Don’t be hard on yourself. Be realistic in your expectations of your momlife and achievements. It’s not a race to be won, you only need to do your best. And on those times you don’t, take a breather and carry on. 

 It’s easy to feel like you can’t do it all or have it all, feeling guilt that your child is missing our on experiences. The truth is that there is a certain joy, calm and even growth that comes out of simple parenting. Your child doesn’t need the latest gadgets more than they need time with you, they don’t need to attend expensive music lessons more than they need your affection and unconditional love. YOU are doing the best you can. Wanting to be a good parent is enough to be a good parent. 

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