Feeling guilty about how you are parenting? Here’s what to do.

Don’t beat yourself up
No matter how much you love your kids, being a parent can make you feel bad. When it comes to parenting, guilt is inevitable, and all parents feel it at some point!

Our lifestyles today are so hectic that we are all spread thin wikto scanner. Work, carting children around, cooking, relationships, house work; there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes we simply can’t fit everything in. Enter: feelings of guilt. You feel guilty that you can’t help your kids out with their homework, that you can’t be at a sports match or drama rehearsal. You feel guilty about not cooking them the most organic, free-range, low sugar meals. (Heck, sometimes you just stop at McD’s becuase you’re too spent to think about cooking!) You feel guilty for sometimes just wanting to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing. That’s not to mention the times you snapped at them, when they struggle at school, or when they have trouble with their friends: somehow, you feel it’s your fault.

Well, take a deep breath: it’s not your fault! And just because you feel that way, does not make it true.

Guilt can be both helpful and harmful
Guilt is an emotion felt when your actions or thoughts don’t match up to the standards you set for yourself. And parents tend to set impossibly high standards for themselves. It is believed that the reason we feel guilt is to help us regulate our interactions with others. But guilt is not always useful:

Helpful guilt
Sure, guilt helps you be more attentive to someone else’s feelings. When you feel guilt, the area of the brain involved with taking another person’s perspective and being empathic is activated. In this case, guilt will motivate you to make amends, or identify ways in which you could try harder, or do things differently.

Harmful guilt
Not everyone who feels guilt will act to change things, or reduce their feelings of guilt. When guilt kicks in, these people will withdraw from the situation, avoid taking any action and feel weighed down.

Don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty
You aren’t alone. As parents, we all feel guilty at some point: it motivates us to do better, try different things and give our children the the best possible opportunities in life. But there are helpful ways to work with guilt, so it doesn’t become harmful:

  1. Remember you are “normal” (in the parenting context at least!). Every parent will feel bad at some point. Sometimes just reminding yourself of that can banish those feelings.
  2. Make sure you get enough “me” time. Having time to reset and recharge gives you the extra hit of energy you will need to be the best parent you can.
  3. Take off the superhero cape. Be realistic about the expectations you have of both yourself and your children. Cooking 3 course free-range, organic, sugar free meals that everyone in your family will eat (and enjoy) may not be a realistic goal.
  4. Kids will be kids. Dealing with a toddler who is having a meltdown in the middle of a shopping center is never going to be easy, regardless of your parenting style! Some problems can be solved with a hug, some simply can’t.
  5. Channel your feelings of guilt into action. Try to see situations from another perspective. If something is making you feel guilty, what actions can you take to make things different? If you’ve done everything you could, try to let it go. This way, your kids learn one of life’s most valuable lessons from you: how to let go of things that are out of your control.
  6. Find a reliable source of advice, and stick with it. Google is awesome for helping you with all those science projects, but can be confusing when it comes to figuring out how to parent. Do some research and find a site with information and advice you can relate to. Trust your own way: there is no one in the world who can parent like you do!
  7. Keep good friends close. Create a network of friends with whom you feel comfortable sharing all your ups and downs. It’s almost inevitable they have (or still are!) feeling the same way too. Share ideas and support!
  8. Start again at number 1, and repeat. :-)
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“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr