How to stop parent guilt ruining family life.
Updated: Mar 12
When did your parent guilt start?
I think mine was in early pregnancy. I drank a couple of glasses of wine before I realised I was expecting. Since then I could easily find a million reasons to feel guilty and that’s just from the last few weeks!
Parent guilt can be triggered by the slightest thing – forgetting to wash a particular item that’s needed for that day, running late to collect my child, being the last parent to …... and that’s before we even start on the big issues - if you've ever held your sobbing child as you wonder if you could in some way have prevented the very real hurt and emotional pain they are feeling and you'll know it's so easy for the guilt will run wild.
If it takes hold then there’s an endless, joyless ride to nowhere.
Frustration, loss of confidence, irritability and then it impacts the family.
Which brings more guilt
And so it goes on…..
So one of my missions is to ditch as much of the pointless guilt as possible. Of course I’m not immune to it, but neither am I willing for it to dictate my relationships. So here’s 3 questions that help me address it.
1. What do I actually feel guilty about?
One big source of guilt is when I’m snappy or don’t feel I’ve handled an interaction with my child well. Frequently this is due to the pull between their needs, my needs and everything else I need to do.
I feel guilty because I want to be a loving, caring, nurturing mother, sane human being and I also want to fulfil my other responsibilities well. If I view the mistakes or pressures as a sign that I’m failing or a bad parent then guilt can have a field day. If I recognise that I’m a responsible, caring mum who makes mistakes (and modelling kindness to myself helps my children do the same) then suddenly I’m approaching things from a much healthier angle.
My viewpoint and feelings of guilt have a massive influence on one another, but I can choose to steer this.
2. How realistic are my expectations?
If I spend too much time on social media I come away wondering why I don’t have a beautiful clean, tidy house, work full time, have endless amazing times with my never arguing children whilst also seeing a constant stream of friends and producing homemade cakes for school bake offs.
Back in real life my children get messy and squabble. I get grumpy and make mistakes. Daddy occasionally does too! We fall out and make up. Somedays everything flows and somedays the house looks like every cupboard has vomited out its entire contents.
If I set my expectations that we have to have everything sussed then only failure awaits!
When I’m honest with myself about how much I can do, what it’s reasonable to ask or expect of my children at their stage of development, how many relationships I have the time to invest in outside of family life, how much capacity I have for work, house, volunteering, I am much wiser about what I take on.
The times I focus on what others do and try to keep up it just doesn’t work and I fling the doors to guilt wide open. Too often I see parents trying to keep up appearances or saying “yes” to requests for fear of letting others down only to the detriment of family life.
Everything we do with our time comes at a price – we cannot keep everyone appeased - the question is who matters most, what are our priorities and where do we want to invest our time?
3. Who or what can help me keep a healthy perspective (especially when things go wrong)?
In my head I know what I want, how to balance things and what matters most, but as my mum says “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Making it happen in practice isn’t always easy – this is where my husband and my own coach are invaluable. They check in with me and help me articulate these goals and then keep to them. As a result it’s much easier when I have to say “no” to things - I am much more confident - because what I say “yes” to is much more aligned to my main priorities.
It also means I know I am constantly weighing my decisions and approaching life proactively. When things do go wrong I know that I have made thoughtful decisions based on reflection rather than knee jerk reactions and that I have absolutely done the best I can at the time. Life may not always go smoothly, but I can look back and know I have hand on heart I have done the best I can with the knowledge I have.
Raising a child is one of the most significant roles we could undertake in life. The feelings of guilt, birthed out of a desire to do this precious job well can be helpful at nudging us when we’re out of alignment or off piste, but given free rein it can needlessly rob us of the joy of family life. Guilt may be unavoidable. The real question is what do you choose to do about it?
Julie works with parents helping to make family life work better. She has a variety of tools and programmes that help parents work out what is the most helpful way forward for their unique family.