As I sit here tonight thinking about what to write for this article, I also have passing thoughts of “If and how will me missing a crucial part of their day (bedtime) several nights a week have an impact?” and “Is letting them watch Moana while I eat my lunch in peace messing up their development?” Comments from other people and comparing on social media doesn’t help either. I’m not introducing a new concept to you all, parent guilt… it’s REAL!
How and Why It Presents
People may have guilt over a variety of issues, ranging from their kids use of technology, type of food fed, letting their own emotions “get the best of” them through yelling or other behaviors, a broken promise, the amount of time away from home, not contributing enough financially or with household responsibilities, “I’m not doing enough”, “I’m doing too much and now they won’t know how to do for themselves”, not enough time for self-care/social/romantic activities, feeling you’ve had too much time having “fun” separate from the kids, not having your ideal of what a family system would look like and maybe even wishing you did not have children. This list can go on and on and can be exhausting if you’re not coping well with it.
When we have children, it can be difficult to take things day to day, usually we have plans on how we want to raise them. When we go even a bit off track from what we thought should be the plans, this can heighten a sense of regret or question ourselves if we’re causing harm. Let’s be honest though, who can plan out and keep to an 18 or more year plan? The following may influence how one experiences guilt:
Comparing ourselves to our parents: Wanting to do things similar to our parents because of fondness of our own childhoods/parents, wanting to do things differently from our parents because we can see the impacts our own parents’ behavior had on us.
Comparing to peers and social media: Often times people highlight the positive in their lives and leave out the imperfections. When we push ourselves to live by Pinterest-perfect ideals we can spend more time and mental energy attempting to paint a pretty picture of who we are rather than simply enjoying the moment. Comparing ourselves to a perception of perfect is not fair to ourselves, unhealthy and it’s certainly exhausting!
An over-abundance of information on how we’re “supposed to” parent: tons of articles on the internet, advice from different doctors, online parent support groups, American Academy of Pediatrics… even Pinterest!
There are so many articles out there about Mom-Guilt; little do people talk about Dad-Guilt. I’ve even heard people say “Men are lucky they don’t have to deal with this”. Which is not true! From my reading on the topic and taking the time to interview fathers, most dads experience some form of guilt, too. Maybe it’s not as written or talked about because of old-school thinking that men aren’t emotional or as involved in the child-rearing process. OLD. SCHOOL. THINKING! More and more men are directly involved in every aspect of parenting and taking care of the home.
Dads, if you’re in need of some articles/advice to help you cope with the challenges of fatherhood, checkout www.fatherly.com. From their website: “Fatherly is the leading digital media brand for dads. Our mission is to empower men to raise great kids and lead more fulfilling adult lives.”
What Can I do About it?
Expect guilt: If you’ve experienced parent-guilt, the bad news is it likely won’t go away completely. The good news is, you can work towards accepting that you do not have ultimate control over your thoughts that present and you can decide on how you want to cope with them. Read on for suggestions.
Radical Acceptance: Some things just are what they are and we can’t control it, such as, we only have so many hours in a day and days in a year. We have to make choices with the time and resources we have and know that we have to live with positive outcomes AND consequences of our decisions.
Talk: Talk to your family, friends, coworkers or anyone that you feel could be a good support. Holding guilt inside can have a snowball effect and ruminating on it can lead to shame or depressive symptoms. If you don’t have an adequate support system, or you’re seeing guilt interfere with things like taking care of your own needs such as relationships, sleep etc., consider going to talk to a professional therapist.
Your Reason: Usually, there are rational reasons behind our choices. Decided to go back to work after being a stay at home parent and feeling guilty for it? Remember your reasons why, maybe you wanted to be able to afford activities, vacations, to afford a certain home, or have more balance in your own life with being a professional and parent. When guilt starts taking over, remembering your reasons why makes room for logic and reason, bringing the emotional distress down a notch or two.
Apologize: If you’ve hurt someone and you’re holding guilt, consider apologizing. The following are some helpful tips:
- Consider exactly what it is that you’ve done wrong and how it affected others.
- If what you have done or said brings you sincere regret, let the person effected know about it and ask for forgiveness.
- Remember to minimize or avoid making excuses for your behavior. Usually an apology and acknowledgment of how it impacted the other person is enough. There may be times, however, when the person impacted wants to understand the “whys” of your behavior.
- Understand that forgiveness does not come on your time frame, but the other person’s. Be patient and commit to sticking to behavior which aligns with the kind of person you strive to be!
Forgive Yourself: Because you’re human and worthy! This concept can be quite complex, if you struggle with resentment towards yourself, please consider talking to someone professionally.
And Before I Go…
I regularly tell my clients at the end of sessions “be good to yourself”. I want to tell you all the same and have you consider what it would look like to “be good to yourself” as it applies to the parent guilt that you carry.