Most parents experience guilt.
You may feel you should be doing things differently or that you could be doing better. You might believe you’re not coping or doing the right thing for your child. Let’s explore parental guilt in more detail and offer some ways to help you deal with it and not hold you back in any way.
What is Parental Guilt?
Guilt can be a useful emotion in certain circumstances. For example, if we’ve done something morally wrong, it’s right that we should feel guilty about choosing to act badly. However, parental guilt, is the guilt we get when we feel like we’re not being a good enough parent. It doesn’t usually result from doing something wrong, rather not being able to be a superhero parent all the time.
Our notion of an idealistic superhero parent will have been formed over the years passed down from previous generations and from our own childhood experience of being parented, our community, TV & films, social media etc and have formed our views of what and who an ideal parent is and how they behave. We’re comparing our everyday experiences to a very idealised version that is probably not attainable.
Parental guilt can become overpowering if not kept in check. It can have negative consequences both for your own self-esteem and your relationship with your children.
What triggers parental guilt?
There are any number of reasons why we might feel parental guilt. Most commonly it’s based on the feeling of not being enough and not meeting our own (and others) expectations of parenting.
Here are a few common triggers we hear regularly:
- Being a working parent – parents can feel guilty for working, enjoying their job and spending time away from their children.
- Children acting out in public – parents can feel embarrassed about their child misbehaving in public. They can be worried about other people judging them and disturbing other people.
- Children’s diet – parents can feel guilty because they feel like they’re not giving their child the necessary nutrition, perhaps as a result of fussy eating or budget.
- Too much screen time – although screen time may not be the ‘best’ way for your child to spend their free time, screen time has become an essential resource for busy parents.
- Too many raised voices/heated arguments – parents can worry that they’re damaging their relationship with their children/negatively impacting their children by shouting at them.
- Inability to provide extra material objects for children – in a world that’s very consumer-focused, parents can feel inadequate if they’re unable to provide their children with the latest trends, extra-curricular opportunities, or holidays.
- Feel like all the tasks of parenting are overwhelming – parents feel like they have to be able to do it all and be a superhero in all areas of their life, personal, professional and family.
The parental guilt rises within us when we judge ourselves against an unreasonable set of standards or expectations.
Here are some ways to deal with parental guilt:
Would you judge another parent if they weren’t able to spend time with their children because they have to provide them, or if they weren’t eating a perfectly balanced diet, or if they threw a tantrum at an inappropriate time and a parent lost their temper a bit?
You would likely feel empathy and compassion for them and see that they were doing their best for their children.
When you notice the feelings of parental guilt beginning to surface, a useful way to re-frame your thoughts would be to consider the advice you would give to a friend in the same situation. Would you make harsh judgements – or – would you consider that they are doing the best that they can and offer support and empathy?
Check your beliefs about parenting
As a parent/carer we are on a journey of discovery and understanding that may challenge our deep-rooted beliefs. Here are some healthy beliefs about parenting:
- Parenting is difficult and there is no such thing as a perfect parent
- Children are their own people and they cannot always be controlled
- It’s not always our job to keep our children happy
- Balance providing financially for children with being emotionally present
- Self-care is important – parents have their own needs as well.
How do these measure up against your current beliefs? Try focusing on one of the above for a period of time and see what difference it makes to your feelings of guilt.
Be kind to yourself
Generally, the happier you are, the happier your children will be.
Let go of the guilt by investing in being kind to yourself. Take a bath, listen to your favourite music, read a book, catch up with friends, meditate – take time for yourself each and every day doing something that makes you feel good and without any guilty feelings. It’s your time – know that you deserve it and it will have a positive ripple on the rest of your day and the people around you.
Introduce healthy behaviours
Healthy behaviours to curb feelings of guilt include journaling, regularly expressing gratitude and sharing your experiences with a partner and/or supportive friends. If you don’t have time for these activities on a regular basis think about how you can fit them in such as reducing time spent scrolling social media, jotting down 3 things you’re grateful for at the end of each day, having regular conversations about parenting with your partner or a close friend.
It’s important for your own wellbeing to curb your parental guilt and the behaviour that accompanies it, not only for your own mental health but also for the impact it has on your children.
If you feel guilty about your parenting style, you could accidently transfer this guilt onto your children. Be a role model for your children showing that you’re not perfect but doing the best job you can with the resources and circumstances you have.
If parental guilt is getting the better of you, seek professional help. Our Career-Mums Working Parents Coaching Programme can help you gain balance between your home life and working life, feel less overwhelmed and help you develop a positive approach to everyday life as a working parent.
For more support and resources to help you to thrive as a working parent or a parent on a career break visit www.career-mums.co.uk