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Parenting guilt. Why parents feel guilty about little things and stress out.

We have all been there. Wondering if we are parenting right and introspection is a good thing. It enables improvement; it hones our abilities and makes everything better. However, parents are not always happy with better. They want the best when it comes to their children and sometimes it means guilt.

What makes us feel guilty?

It could be a feeling of not doing enough, doing too much, or anything in between. There are labels that identify as one kind or another. Help the child with an assignment and its helicopter parenting, let the child play beyond sleep time and it may be free range parenting. A high pressure career may create guilt about not being around enough, while a stay at home parent may be concerned about not being a work place role model. There is also the tiger parent and the snow plow parent. The labels come with their own expectations and no matter how you identify as a parent, it’s easy to see another style as better/ more effective/ more successful. After all who does not want their child to grow up to master the piano, compete at Tennis and shine at school and a career of their choice? If we could, we would want our child to excel at everything and have successful and happy lives. The expectation gap makes us feel guilty sometimes.

How can we let go of guilt?

Guilt makes us parent from a place of insecurity, from a place of fear and this sometimes colours the decisions we take or the way we behave. It also adds to the stress of parenting and a stressed parent adds to the stress of the child. In fact all the negative emotions we feel reflect in our parenting and will have an impact on our child.  It is not easy but looking at the triggers and working on them will help.

Guilt for working away from home – It is not easy to leave a baby back and leave for work as usual. Do not expect it to be easy or the same as it was before the baby’s arrival.  Preparing for starting work and ensuring that you have done your best to have the child happy, healthy and safe while you work and earn a living is no reason to feel guilty. 

Temper, temper - So after a hard day’s work when the child does not eat their dinner despite constant entreaties, even though it is something they chose. You lose your temper and though things work out, it haunts you later. Being a parent does not endow super human powers (though it comes close). We try and control our emotions and irritants but on occasion, they do get the better of us.  You are not the only one to feel this, nor will the first time, be the only time. However, recognizing your triggers and walking from the situation will help for the next time. We can work on it only if we put away the guilt and work on it.

Not playing enough with my children – There are nutritious dinners to be cooked, clothes to be laundered, groceries to be procured, bills to be paid and so on. Work and home might demand attention that you would prefer to give your child. Feeling guilty will do nothing for anyone, so just plan a little toddler time with your little one - just 5 pages of a book at night, or a weekend playdate with just two of you in the calendar will help.

Feel like not a good role model – We want our kids to be the best versions of themselves, but at times feel like inadequate role models. Remember that they do not need you to be perfect. Being honest and guiding them to good values is what they need.

Fear of missing out - Not being able to go on more vacations or outings, work, home and life itself keep us busy at times. Also it may not be affordable at a certain point to go on vacations. Social media especially can make us feel like our kids are missing out on vacations and the fun everyone else is having. Kids are perfectly happy as long as they are loved, can play and have fun. Stop feeling guilty. Join the fun instead. Do a Staycation instead.

There are many such reasons for parents feeling guilt. Not enforcing discipline or being too strict, Not having time to make home-cooked meals, or not letting them have enough treats, not reading enough to the children or insisting they read to a timetable,  letting kids slide bed time or have them miss out on a meeting with an uncle visiting late in the day: small everyday decisions that have us going this way or that -  at times watch a child struggle and then succeed or at times intervene and push, offer encouragement at times or discipline at others, let them play a little longer or nudge them towards their schoolwork, motivate them to persevere in some cases or help them quit what does not work.  What we decide will depend on that situation and the circumstances, but this is what makes up our parenting. Feeling guilty about those decisions may be natural especially since we also worry about how all this will reflect on their future.  But the key is to focus on whether the overall parenting is loving, guiding and reassuring to the child, instead of worrying about that instant.  Parenting does not come with instruction manuals and we all do the best for our kids. Embrace parenting with all its imperfections and let not guilt take away the joy of parenting. Give yourself permission not to feel guilty and you will see how it is good for all. You deserve it!

February 03, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

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