Parent guilt and how to overcome it
What is parental guilt?
Parent guilt can be described as your expectations of the parent you want to be and the feeling that you’re not meeting those expectations. This can come from internal pressures from ourselves, or external pressures from friends, families, work, and wider society.
Ways to overcome parental guilt
Take the pressure off of yourself
Are you unknowingly adding too much to your plate? you’re not alone. Research shows that 75% of parents feel pressured to be “perfect”. If there are a lot of external pressures then maybe look at what you can let go of to lighten the weight. I realized I was doing this when I had my son in two football clubs. I had a newborn baby and I was driving around everywhere multiple evenings a week to keep up with it. I felt enormous pressure to keep up and crippling guilt at the thought of not being able to. It wasn’t maintainable but I felt like if I didn’t do it, I was letting him down. It was only when I was forced to stop because the times changed that I realized my son didn’t mind. I was adding this guilt to myself!
Obviously, we want to do everything that we can for our children, we want to support them and be what they need. However, there is nothing more important than a happy family. Avoid comparing yourself to other parents. Think about the individual needs of you and your children. And craft your own ideal family balance. I know this is easier said than done, especially when research shows that 1 in 4 has had their parenting decisions questioned by others. Just know that everyone has their own struggles but not everyone shows them. Figure out your family values and let go of the unnecessary pressure.
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This can be difficult for parents to do, especially when you hardly get a quiet moment to yourself! however, it is so worth practicing mindfulness whenever you can. Research shows that mindfulness meditation reduces guilt. Try to be present when you are at work or any task which takes you away from your children, and try to be present when you are spending time interacting with your children. If you find your mind wandering to parent guilt-inducing thoughts that you should be somewhere else, then make a note to think about it at a convenient time. Then, gently bring your focus back to the present.
Giving yourself a set time when you journal about your thoughts, or focus on problems can help your days to be freer of guilt. This is especially true for parents who struggle with the balance of work and being with their children.
Remember that both you and your child are learning
We can sometimes feel like we need to know all of the answers for our children. We feel like we need to get it right all of the time to ensure they grow into physically and emotionally healthy people. In reality, our children benefit when we are honest and authentic. They benefit from seeing us try, make mistakes, be kind to ourselves, and try again. We are modeling how to do life! And we are showing them that there is strength in being our raw imperfect selves.
The same goes for our children, when they get it wrong it helps to remember that everyone is learning. And having this in mind may help us to react to our mistakes and our children’s mistakes more gently, which then leads to less guilt. When we get it wrong we need to forgive ourselves so we can make room for growth.
Think about the things you’re proud of
It can be easy to fall into the habit of mentally listing everything we’ve done wrong. But try to remember the things you’ve got right during the day when reflecting. Also, remember to celebrate in the moments when you get it right. Allow yourself the acknowledgment “Yes, I handled that so well, I’m so proud”. When we start to think of the positives, we can realize actually we’re not doing as badly as we think. Also, when we focus on the positives, we are encouraging ourselves to move in that direction. Our lives will become what we are focussing on.
Allow yourself to feel
Obviously, it is normal to feel some parent guilt when we’ve not parented in a way that aligns with who we want to be. These feelings are normal and they are healthy for us aspiring to become the best version of ourselves as a parent. So remember that there is no shame in feeling guilty. Don’t try to block it out because emotions are there to help us.
The only problem is when we begin to mentally beat ourselves up because of feelings of guilt, which leads to more negative feelings, which can then spiral. It’s important to remember that emotion is there to help us in our lives, not make our lives worse. Something that helps me is to use guilty feelings a bit like feedback on my day. I allow myself to feel it, to think, and then I move on to forward thinking.
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Make a plan
This is where forward-thinking comes in. Instead of allowing the parent guilt to overwhelm us, we can instead be constructive with it. What is my guilt trying to tell me? I find that writing this down on my phone or in a journal is most helpful. This is because it gets it out of your head and then you’re able to see clearly and work through it.
Do I need to have more self-compassion? If so then remember that no one gets it right 100% of the time, and make time for yourself. Feeling guilty longer than necessary will not help you or your child, however, self-kindness will help.
Do I need to change something in my life for the benefit of my family? for example, is there something that needs to be addressed or solved? writing this down or discussing this with a trusted friend or family can help ease feelings of guilt.
Do I need to repair something? Sometimes we can feel guilty about the way we handle a situation. The good news is that much strength can be found in the repairing of a parent-child relationship. Saying sorry to our children shows them that they are valued, and it teaches them to do the same in their friendships and relationships.
Do I need to change the way I handle a situation? maybe we have a feeling we want to make a bigger change, perhaps we have found a better way to do something, or we have gained insight. Try not to hold onto parent guilt about the past, and be proud of yourself for moving forward. Trying to parent today can be overwhelming because there is a lot of accessible research. Try to aim for good enough parenting, because trying to do everything all at once can have the opposite effect.
Do I need to change my perspective? Sometimes it really is just the way we are viewing a situation that is causing guilt. For example, some parents feel like they can not give their children as much as other parents can. However, know that it doesn’t take a lot of material things to be a good parent. There are many ways we can gift our children, for example going for an adventure together outside or playing a game.
So, be kind to yourself, and understand that guilt usually means you care. And a caring parent is a good parent.
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