How to Work Through Parental Guilt (and Take Time for Yourself)

Most sources define “parental guilt” quite obviously as a negative feeling about the quality of your parenting and/or an overwhelming sense that there’s more you could or should be doing for your kids. Do a quick online search of the phrase and you will see just how common it is. After all, we’re responsible for caring for and raising little humans into healthy, happy, contributing members of society. No sweat, right? It’s quite understandable given the scope of the responsibility that many of us feel inadequate from time to time (or even all the time!). Whether it’s the choice to eat organic or what limits to put on screen time; which sport to sign up for and should it be competitive or recreational; or deciding what is a good balance between free time versus scheduled activities, the questions seem endless and overwhelming. (I’m sure you could fill in many more of the questions with which you wrestle). Add to that the toxic ingredient of comparison with other parents and kids and your recipe for parental guilt is complete. So, clearly, we know WHAT parental guilt as well as the mountains of pressure that make up the WHY so many of us deal with it. Our big question today is, “HOW do we work through it?”

The answer to that question begins with how I worded it: We work through it.” Parenting is the most important job we will ever do. It’s our greatest opportunity to impact another life for good. It’s a 24/7 job, rain or shine, sickness and health, rich or poor. Knowing how big it is and how much is at stake, we’ll naturally feel the strain. We’ll make mistakes, and yes, we’ll feel at times like we could have and should have done better. This job, while the most natural, is also incredibly foreign, because we’re learning on the job! What I mean by that is whether you’re a biological, adoptive, or foster parent, there are moments that seem to come naturally and other moments that are awkward and uncomfortable and you feel way over your head. That is normal! Parenting takes work. Expect to have to learn and practice at becoming a good parent. It regularly takes helps from others, sometimes peers and sometimes professionals. What parenting requires changes with the season. Once you get used to one life stage or circumstance, kids change, the world throws something else at us, and something different is needed.

It is important to gather information from the family first and not directly from the child. Keep conversations with kids responsive to their thoughts and feelings without asking them details about their backgrounds.

Here are a few things to consider about parental guilt:

    • Accept. It will be a part of our experience because we love our kids more than we can describe, and we really want to give them the best.
    • Plan. Regularly assess as a parenting team what you think is going well and what you would like to change. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want, and work together to take things step by step.
    • Forgive. Some days will go well, and others will not. When necessary, be quick to ask for and give forgiveness. Most of the time, the hardest one to forgive is ourselves. You are not alone in that.
    • Prioritize. Decide what is the most important thing and focus on that. Maybe you can make a home cooked meal today, or maybe you want to spend your time at the park so sandwiches on the way home will be the dinner plan.
    • Ask for help. Everyone needs help, whether from a friend or a professional. It is a sign of strength to ask for help and to remember it is often a blessing to the one who gets to support you.

Now, some final thoughts on taking time for yourself!

With this being the most important and difficult job on the planet, we must view it from a marathon mindset, not a sprint. In other words, remember that we want to keep bringing our best to each new season, and that means we have to take care of our greatest resource… We need healthy bodies, bright minds, and well cared for emotions. When we neglect any of those key life domains for a long period of time, the quality of our parenting goes down. Kids view themselves by how they are treated by the important adults in their lives. When our tempers are short or our energy low, they interpret that as something lacking or wrong in them. That is why a part of our parenting job description is good self-care so that we can respond to our kids in loving and patient ways. We want to have the energy to follow through on the promises we make and the rules we establish. Exhausted and depleted parents are unpredictable, and kids thrive in security and predictability.
Self-care is an important part of parenting, AND it’s important because YOU are a valuable individual separate from your role as parent. Who you are apart from your kids must be nurtured. You are raising your kids to go out in the world and live independent and healthy lives. Continuing to pursue personal hobbies and friendships while raising your kids sets you up to be able to do that successfully. It’s not helpful for you, your marriage, or your kids for them to become the center of your identity. They will benefit by seeing your uniqueness, and it will encourage them to pursue their own dreams and passions.
Healthy individuals make up healthy families, and healthy families produce healthy individuals!
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