The numbers are in: over half of parents report that they feel guilty for being stretched between work lives and caring for their children. While that research targets the unique challenges of pandemic lockdowns, parents don’t need research to tell us that guilt saturates our lives. Parenting guilt is real.
Living with parenting guilt can be emotionally crippling, yet parents are afraid to let go of it. “If I don’t feel guilty, does it mean I don’t care about my kids?” they wonder.
If that sounds familiar, this article is for you. Keep reading to tackle parenting guilt once and for all. We’ll get to the positive parenting solutions that can help you let go of your guilt in a healthy way.
Guilt is Good, Right?
Let’s get one thing straight.
Guilt comes from unfulfilled responsibility. Parents: we have the most responsible jobs in the world.
We have little people under our care. Everything about their lives is up to us.
We decide what they eat, when they sleep, what they get to do, what music they listen to, what activities are available to them, and so much more. Parenting involves making thousands of daily decisions on behalf of other people, and in most cases, we have no idea what the “right” decision is.
And even when they’re driving us nuts, our kids are so darn important to us that we know they deserve the best we’ve got to offer. That includes the best healthy, homemade meals, the best help with school, the best positive discipline — the best parents.
We have the world’s most responsible job, with lots of room for error. That’s a recipe for guilt.
And the Best Parent Award Goes to Nobody
The thing is, no parent can be the best parent all the time.
Even parents who seem to have it all together, like they got a secret Doctoral Degree in Parenting when the rest of us were still learning how to fasten diapers, fall short at times. The perfect parent just doesn’t exist.
That’s why we hang on to parenting guilt so hard: it’s an expression of love for our kids.
We want the best for them, and we don’t always live up to our own expectations. So we make up for it by feeling guilty. That just shows how much we love them, right? Nope!
Guilt Isn’t Helping Anyone
When I found myself in parenting classes for the first time, I was armed to the teeth with excuses for my bad parenting practices. A deployed husband, four kids under the age of four, triplets, a business to run, and a recent move? Who wouldn’t be yelling a little more than they should be?
The instructor changed my perspective with three little words: “Is it working?”
The truth is that it wasn’t. My yelling wasn’t getting me the results I needed. It was just another complicating factor in a tough situation.
In my book, I explain why parenting guilt is a wasted emotion.
Don’t believe me? Start by asking yourself one question:
Is my guilt helping anyone?
Did beating myself up make me a better parent today? Did it help me give my kids what they need? Did it help me be a happier, calmer, more confident parent?
Every parent wants the best for their kids. But hanging on to guilt usually makes it harder for us to give them our best.
So what’s the better way?
Name It, Don’t Claim It
Too often, it seems like there’s a secret fight club pact among parents: the first rule of parenting guilt is that we don’t talk about parenting guilt.
The first step to getting over parenting guilt is to name it when it’s happening. When you get that sinking feeling in your stomach that kicks off the downward spiral of guilt, take a deep breath and name why you’re feeling guilty.
Is it because you overreacted and yelled at a kid? That’s fair. Name it and stash it away for later — we’ll deal with it in a minute.
Or, are you feeling guilty because of something that wasn’t your fault?
This issue comes up frequently in parent mentoring. As parents, we often feel guilty whenever a child is upset. However, taking on guilt for problems beyond our control doesn’t help anything.
If a kid is having a bad day or doesn’t want to listen to the house rules, you can understand how they’re feeling and help them get past it. That doesn’t mean holding onto guilt for things that aren’t your fault.
Letting go of guilt for things you can’t control starts with recognizing when it’s happening. Name it and don’t claim it.
Healthy Guilt Has a Point
The antidote to crippling, maladaptive guilt is to reclaim healthy guilt.
Healthy guilt serves a purpose. It’s an emotional signal light that tells you that you can do better.
When you feel guilty about something that is your responsibility, like losing your cool with the kids, it’s an opportunity. You can do something about it: first, apologize for the mistake, and second, plan to avoid making that mistake again.
Just like that, the guilt has served its purpose, so it’s gone.
The problem is that most parents cling to unhealthy guilt. If you’re racked with shame about things that aren’t your responsibility, you’ll never be able to take action to fix them, and the guilt will never go away.
Too often, unhealthy guilt paralyzes you. Instead of a helpful signal light, it’s like an alarm bell that won’t turn off. This cripples you emotionally and makes it harder to take action.
Did you make a parenting mistake? Congratulations, you’re human. Make the changes you need to make, then let it go.
Letting Go of Parenting Guilt
You’re not alone. Parenting guilt is a silent epidemic, but there are solutions.
In this post, we’ve covered the basics of letting go of parenting guilt. I delve deeper into parenting guilt and much more in my book, “Secrets to Parenting Without Giving a F^ck.”
Ready to end tantrums, neutralize fights, and build positive parenting strategies? Check out my book today for real parenting advice that deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of parenting.