When you become a parent it seems to come with the package.
The feeling however much you do it is never enough and that you’re doing something wrong.
Whether it’s guilt about how you handled your child’s behaviour, guilt about taking time out, food, routines, work…… There are so many different things which set it off.
Now imagine the next time parent guilt hits you are able to ride that wave, gain something useful and then move forward positively.
Sounds too good to be true?
Firstly you need to ditch the unhelpful strategies.
If you listen to an exchange in the playground you'll quickly spot the 2 of the favourites - negative self labelling or the toxic comparisonittus.
The conversations go something like this:
“I’m such a bad/mean/lazy/evil/terrible/(Insert your own) parent because I X (follow with something which many parents do for good reason)”
This half joking comment is the cue for the other person in the conversation to offer some kind of token reassurance which, however well meant, will only alleviate any symptoms of guilt temporarily.
“I did/didn’t do X (insert something a parent feels they ought to be doing but is struggling to do X). It’s ok for X because they have more/less X.“
Toxic comparisonitus often leads to looking at other parents and either envying how their situation appears or feeling bad about your own.
Neither of these strategies are particularly helpful and they certainly don’t get rid of the guilt for long. But just ditching these alone won't cut it. What you need is an approach which will make a difference.
There is an approach which is a game changer and can make feelings of guilt the source of useful information. It's counter intuitive as the discomfort of guilt makes you want to do the opposite, but if you can take this key step then you begin a journey which can transform the experience.
Want to give it a try then pause, take a deep breath and ……
Instead of pushing the guilt away – lean into it. That doesn’t mean accepting it as true and evidence of your epic failure as a parent.
It means instead of rushing to get rid of that horrid sensation as fast as possible, pause, sit with the discomfort and really notice what is going on. To curiously explore takes courage and a faith that pushing through rather than pushing away will be beneficial. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.
I often tell my children that our feelings are just signposts – it’s easy to say and much harder to apply, but when I do pause and reflect and use them as signposts one of two things usually happens.
Either it gives me useful information about what’s going on and what I need to do OR like turning a light on gloomy shadows I realise that actually there’s not really much out of whack – that it’s feeling not a fact and actually we’re doing ok. Having leant in I now know how much is a pointer to change and what can be properly dismissed or addressed.
So how do you do this?
I’m not for going to promise you simple steps to banish parent guilt forever. I still have plenty of moments when I feel guilty – sometimes warranted and other times not! I do find asking myself the following questions is a gamechanger so I encourage you to pause, perhaps even grab a notepad and pen and journal as you lean in to that parent guilt:
What’s really going on?
So often there are layers to most situations – the thing we think it’s about often isn’t really the real issue at all! This is why exploring is so key. What are you feeling guilty about? What other emotions in the mix? What’s the root of it? Sometimes just labelling it as guilt and identifying the reasons can help begin to shift things.
For me guilt is often a result of not handling a situation with one of my children as well as I could. When I dig in and explore why it’s usually because I’m over stretched, overtired or just pulled in too many directions. I may need to apologise to my child, but if I don’t want to be repeating the cycle next week then the odds are I also need to do something else. Maybe it needs me to drop some commitments. Maybe it’s just an early night. Sometimes it’s having a conversation with my child so next time we’re in that particular situation they understand the expectations. The steps forward are unique to the situation, but without exploring, the odds are we’ll be back in the same loop at some point soon.
What I learn from feelings of guilt can be so valuable if I’m willing to go there.
What else is going on?
What is feeding your guilt? Are you carrying expectations around which don’t fit your family? Are you generally feeling low or struggling with confidence? Are you comparing yourself to others and constantly finding yourself lacking?
Having a clear sense of the wider context, patterns and dynamics helps bring guilt out of the shadows and for you to acknowledge what’s really going on. So often there is a bigger picture of influence. Identify what it is and you can bring things back into perspective much more easily – sometimes it means a break from social media or being clear about your vision for your family or noticing what you’re telling yourself.
When I work with clients on the big picture and these more subtle, but significant influences this can make a huge impact. The wider context has a massive bearing on the everyday events and feelings of guilt. When you reach a place of acceptance and understanding it’s much more fertile ground for confidence to grow.
What could you do?
I love this question because it gives permission to explore without having to commit to a plan of action. You could take a full time job and increase your income. You could go part time. You could give up work and be fully available for all school runs. You could shower your child in gifts. You could take a 2 week cruise…. alone. You could……
Some of the options you come up with won’t be realistic, but they are clues – useful clues as to what you feel could help. If you’re thinking of a 2 week cruise then why – do you need a rest, some adventure, some fun, some sense of luxury?
Exploring options is so valuable in beginning to identify what you’re looking for and what may help you move forward.
What would you like to do?
You still don’t have to commit – this is still useful exploration, but starting to consider what might make a real difference. If changing your work situation is what you’d really like to do then dig in further and explore what this really means. If you’d like to get a cleaner to reduce your work load, but you’re still holding back explore that.
I use the cleaner example as this comes up so often for clients. Whether working or home based mums in particular feel a huge pressure to have a clean and tidy house. This then impacts so many family interactions and yet often getting a cleaner brings a block, not because they can’t afford it, but for a whole heap of reasons which don’t hold up under scrutiny. Yet outsourcing cleaning can often mean less overstretch which means better family time which means less guilt! This also applies to stay at home parents as most stayed home to be with the kids not out of a love of cleaning!!
What would you like to do and what stops you?
What will I do?
This is where you begin to make a commitment. A commitment to change. It doesn’t need to be huge. It may simply be finding out how much a cleaner actually costs or a one off early night. Maybe it is taking that deep breath before heading into a confrontation with your child or making the time for that conversation which means they understand what you expect more clearly rather than being shocked when you lose the plot!
What it looks like will depend on your answers to the earlier questions and what’s really going on for you when the guilt hits, but whatever your actions finding small, simple manageable steps and then doing it again and again will bring progress.
What will I tell myself?
If you know when problems arise you’re pretty hard on yourself then plan in advance how you can address it – what will you tell yourself and how will you manage it. For me the title of parent coach can weigh heavy when I don’t handle a situation with my own child so well. Expecting perfection in my family would be toxic so I remind myself “I’m a mum who is constantly learning.” What will your mantra be?
Who can you confide in? Having a friend, partner or someone you can talk to about this can get those thoughts out of your head and make them a reality.
The next time a wave of parent guilt hits and the temptation to push it away is high what are you going to do?
When toxic comparisonitus or self depreciating comments start to slip in will you pause, put on your brave pants and lean in? I’d encourage you to give it a go. Guilt can rob you of so much of the joy of family life. It’s well worth the investment and effort to address it so you can enjoy the gloriously messy adventure that is family life. And if you don’t want to do it alone drop me an e-mail at juliecresswell@and book a chat.
I help parents who are struggling with self doubt or wondering what on earth to do to tap into their expertise and find ways to best support their child and nurture their own wellbeing so they can make their family life a more positive and happier experience for the whole family. You can book a free taster chat to find out more at: https://calendly.com/optimumcoaching/appointment-with-julie-cresswell-clone