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Why Do I Feel Parent Guilt, And How Do I Stop?

July 28, 2021 Posted by: Kidzapp Team Health & Nutrition, Parenting

I have never met a mom that told me she doesn’t feel guilt. And I’ve met many! Why do we feel so much guilt and what can we do about it? Are we meant to just live with it? Today, typically both parents work and commit to taking care of the family at the same time. Yet even with both parents working, child rearing and the expectations that come with it have not changed - especially for women.

We know that spending quality time with our children improves their well-being: with open warm communication and secure attachment, the children have higher self-esteem and eventually fewer chances of undesired issues later in life. On the other hand, workplace related stress has been on the rise and work stress has a negative impact on personal relationships, including parents and their relationship with their children. 

Juggling several stressful challenges is not an easy task.

With mounting expectations from many ends, we start experiencing feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Guilt is a self-conscious emotion that is defined by the feeling that something is wrong and needs to be corrected and that “it is my duty”. Once we start feeling guilty often, we start experiencing selective negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs such as “I’m a bad mother/parent” or “I am worthless”. 

Prolonged feeling of guilt causes low self-esteem and lack of self-care. When we feel guilty for not being there for our children or for not putting enough effort at work, we start devaluating ourselves and instead, we start prioritizing others’ before our own needs. 

What can we do to manage the guilt?

An effective method to get rid of the worry of not having a balanced work/personal life is to identify the thoughts that bring us down. Once we realize that these thoughts are baseless, we are able to isolate them and reduce their effect on us. Let us keep in mind that guilt as an emotion exists for a reason and while experiencing it sometimes is normal, living in it is not. It's important to give ourselves a margin of error and not to let this trigger a trail of negative thoughts and worries.

While noticing our thoughts is essential, we should also re-learn how to take care of ourselves. Just because our lives are busy and we are overwhelmed with different duties, it does not mean we should neglect ourselves or constantly place others ahead. In fact, not taking care of our own wellbeing will render us incapable of taking care of our children or focusing on our job. “You cannot feed others from an empty cup”, as they say. 

There is a limit to what any person can do. We cannot be superheroes. Each of us has a unique life. What works best in this situation is to realize that it isn’t the amount of time itself that we spend with our children that is important, it is the amount of quality time instead that is effective. 

In summary, here’s what you can do:

Identify the sources of guilt

Get curious about the real reasons you feel guilt, you may go way back to your childhood. The severity of your guilt can depend on:

If you’re parenting differently than your parents and feel strongly that you want different ways

If you’re parenting with any mental health conditions or past trauma

Try journaling or making a note in your phone when you feel the guilt, and over time, themes may emerge. Once you can identify the causes of the feeling, it’s easier to watch for these triggers. It’s also a great first step to make a simple change in the right direction.

Identify your values

What is something that really bothers you and you can’t be with? The opposite of that could be your value. For example: Noise really triggers you? = Quiet/Peace/Calm could be one of your top values. You can’t ever be with people who lie? = Honesty is your value.

What is super important to you? What can’t you compromise on? = More values.

Whatever you value, naming it and sticking to it will minimize the guilt.

Tip: Sit with your partner, share your individual values and agree on your common family values. This will help you with future decisions and minimize disagreements at home.

Identify your trusted circle

Are you surrounded with mostly like-minded people who appreciate your values? If you’re not, re-evaluate and ensure you’re listening to valued sources of information. Do not shy from seeking social support when you can: partner, close friend or family member, pediatrician.
Narrowing the group of people with whom you discuss important decisions with can help reduce unsolicited input. If none of the people around you meet this description, it’s time to find an amazing coach or therapist.

Listen to your children and your intuition

Children are excellent sources of information on whether your decisions are working or not, and what areas you should and shouldn’t feel guilty about. If you have a child constantly begging you to make a puzzle with them while you’re working, you don’t need to feel guilty for working, but may need to schedule a playtime later that’s all about them. Your intuition is a strong source of wisdom. Trust it!

Defend your values against intruders

Don’t be surprised when someone challenges your choice. Instead of second-guessing it, move away from defense and believe that it’s healthy and OK to disagree.

Empower your tribe

Where does parent guilt come from? Other parents. Don’t be that mom at the park needing to convince someone that pacifiers are evil. Take care when you are making social media posts that could seem like bragging or pushing an agenda on others. We can reduce parent guilt by not spreading it, and instead encourage each other to follow our own hearts.

Give yourself the care you need and have a trusted circle to support you. Once you empower yourself and you normalize your struggle, it will be much more manageable to navigate these emotions. Acknowledging our emotions instead of fighting them is the first step towards leading more mindful and fulfilling lives.

Written for Kidzapp by Parenting Coach, Pascale. Follow her on @parenting.moments

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