Guilt as a parent, starts with the very conception of our children and continues to grow with the child. The weight of the guilt can seep into every aspect of our lives and make us feel like we are in quicksand. This post is dedicated to any caretaker feeling the weight of the guilt we place on ourselves as parents, or the shame we feel because others question our decisions.
What is parent guilt? It is that voice that always seems to scream “look what you’ve done, you are a horrible parent and don’t deserve this responsibility!” That is your mind giving you fake news or a biased media report. Your well-meaning mind is not really covering the story as it happened. Facts were omitted and the story is showing its biased opinion against you while producing unneeded fear.
Maybe this is not the vision you had of yourself as a parent, and accepting your current reality is hard. For example, there will be days the laundry does not get done, you need to eat fast food, or the kids are getting too much screen time. Are these things really happening all the time or are you beating yourself up for the few times life gets hectic? The fact is, if you’re a parent then you have challenges!
Kids are constant
It is impossible to be perfect in every aspect of your life, but this is just what you expect from yourself. You want to be an understanding parent, a healthy role model, have thriving relationships, and grow friendships while also producing results at work. Kids constantly need things. Unless you have a flawless support system that can help, the pressure of it all can be very heavy.
As your children grow older, you may come out of the haze of sleep deprivation and dirty diapers, but the parent guilt never truly goes away. At each stage as the child changes and grows, there are different problems and frustrations that occur. You start to ask yourself if you work too much, or you feel guilty for getting bored at home with your children.
“The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you already are one.”―
In addition, children test you and some days your patience is very low. Consequently, you may feel bad if you snap at your child. If this happens, it’s an excellent time to let them know that you make mistakes also and that it’s okay if they’re not perfect — that you will try to calm down before you get angry.
You may ask yourself, why did I snap? What are the triggers that I need to be aware of? Is there a time of day you’re more vulnerable to be agitated by your children’s actions? If you find a trend, work on your reactions. If your children are old enough to understand, explain how their actions affect your response. Then set up guidelines with your children to manage their behavior.
As a parent, it is hard to try to do things for yourself because you fear neglecting your kids, but all parents need quality time to pursue the activities that make them happy. Happy parents help produce happy children. Furthermore, when you are away from your kids it’s okay to be happy that you are getting some time to yourself.
Give yourself credit for all the great things you do as a parent. The fact is you were tasked with the enormous responsibility of growing and nurturing another human. Therefore, it can be hard to keep sane and reduce guilt while you have so much going on.
Reasons we may feel guilt:
- Taking time for yourself or feeling like you are not there enough
- Being distracted while you are around your kids
- Being too involved with work or productivity around the house
- How well your kid eats and letting them eat too much junk food
- Giving them too much screen time
- Losing control of your emotions with your kids and snapping
- Wishing you were a better role model or listener
- Doubting how hard you should push your kids
The list could keep going. What is the guilt telling you? Where could you benefit from change and where can you just let go? How do you know if the guilt you are feeling is fake news or it is something that needs to change?
Start by finding the evidence against the guilt
You can’t do it all. This means sometimes fast food is for dinner. What aspect of the way you parent is producing the most guilt? Work on building a case for why this may or may not be a true problem. Are you being too hard on yourself or do things need to start shifting?
First, don’t set up the expectation that you will start doing everything completely differently overnight but instead acknowledge that small changes can produce big results. For example, if you worry most about how much time your kids spend in front of screens, start to write down how much they are spending on tablets, TV, or other devices.
Once you gather the evidence, then decide if it is something that you want to spend your energy to change. If your reasons for WHY you want to make a change are strong enough then you will typically be more motivated to start the momentum. Ask yourself, why is this the change that you want to work on?
Start by making small changes to move towards your goals. For instance, make every Thursday “screen free” day and play a family game at night. If having no screen time is unrealistic, then perhaps you could set a timeframe during the evening when they can use their devices.
Finally, recognize that making changes are extremely hard because it means enforcing rules, which can be hardest on the parents. Being consistent and remembering to continually enforce the change means interrupting the patterns we are used to. Setting reminders on your phone or tracking your progress daily can help you move forward with the change.
Quality over quantity
Quality time is more important than the number of hours you are home with your kids. Connection is what makes you feel involved as a parent. You could spend hours at home with the kids and never truly connect. Therefore, small amounts of focused attention are more powerful than large amounts of unfocused attention.
Even if you only have 10 minutes, use that time to make a true connection. When we are rushing around all the time in the busy throws of life, we often forget the basics of connecting with others.
To make your connections more meaningful, try the following ideas:
- Set up an individual “date” to connect with each kid. This could be as simple as going out to ice cream, going for a walk, or to a local park and engaging in what they are interested in.
- As they are playing, make comments to let them know you are paying attention to them. For example, if they are building blocks, say something like “wow that is a high tower” to get a conversation going.
- Make time for yourself BEFORE you make time for them. If you feel really stressed right after work or a long day it will be harder to be available for your kids unless you decompress. This could mean listening to a few of your favorite songs before getting out of the car or calling your best friend to let out your frustrations before you come into the house. Think about what you need before connecting with your kids will help keep you more grounded.
- Set aside a few minutes at bedtime or in the morning to snuggle and chat with your child. You may ask them what they are excited about for that day or just read a story with them and be in the moment of sharing space with them.
Make a list of why you are an amazing parent
Dig deeper and realize you are doing things right and give yourself credit for those things. We often discount all the good that we do every day. Take the time to sit down and make of list of parenting achievements and qualities. You are doing so much more than you give yourself credit for!
We all know that “perfect parent” out there that seems to never get frazzled and always gets the Pinterest cupcakes spot on. You may not be crafty or perfectly patient, but that does not mean you are not a great parent. We all have different gifts to give as parents. Some people are better with small kids and some are more comfortable with the teenage years.
To help with your expectations you may have to shift your perspective of what you thought parenting was all about. Maybe you are excellent at helping with homework or a great listener. Who cares if you can’t bake or hate playing games with your kids? Discovering why you are an awesome parent helps to sharpen your skills!
In conclusion, most of us could benefit by letting some of our guilt go because it can become wasted energy. If the guilt over something is reoccurring, then it may be a sign that you need to use your energy towards changing what you have control over in the situation. Continuing to feel the guilt can sabotage your emotional energy. In turn, you can feel immobilized in the present by something that has already occurred.
Letting go of guilt is easier said than done, so give yourself slack when these feelings occur. It may help to follow this guide to let guilt go:
- Write down what you feel guilty about.
- What parts of the situation did you have control over and what parts did you not have control over? Things that are out of your control can not be changed like the weather or others behavior.
- Is there anything you can do to make it better now that it’s over? If not, try to talk to someone about your feelings to help process and release them.
- Is there anything you could have done differently? If so, is it worth putting your time and energy toward change? (Remember to try to change one thing at a time until it becomes a habit.)
The bottom line is sometimes we need extra support and asking for help is okay. There is no “right” way to parent and most parents are doing the best they can. Parents have enough personal guilt, so let’s support each other and lift each other up.
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