Parental guilt is real, and it happens to all of us for different reasons. As humans, it’s normal for us to experience emotions. But sometimes, stress can get the best of us, making us say or do things to our children that we often regret later.
Guilt is a negative emotion that we all want to release whenever possible, and we always want to be aware of it whenever we are carrying it unnecessarily.
It’s normal to feel guilty whenever we did something that we regret. It proves that we love and are committed to our children. However, too much guilt is detrimental to our well-being and our relationship with our children.
7 Signs that You’re Suffering From Parental Guilt
Is the guilt you’re feeling toward your child normal? Or is it unnecessary parental guilt?
Here are seven signs that you might be suffering from parental guilt.
1. Feeling Guilty After Disciplining Your Child
Most of us feel frustrated and angry when our children do something that makes us think, “They should have known better.” While it may be true, kids lack the same reasoning skills as adults due to their stage of brain development.
That’s why they need us, parents, to step in to provide guidance.
Natural consequences work with this method, too! A natural consequence is anything that happens as a result of a behavior or choice without adult interference.
2. Not Disciplining Your Child
Perhaps you didn’t feel like you gave your child enough time, attention, or explained expectations. Afterward, you’re left wondering if you just reinforced undesirable behaviors by looking the other way and you feel guilty for not reacting. Notice a pattern here?
We feel guilty no matter what because it is human nature to second guess ourselves, and it takes a great deal of awareness to notice it and let it go. If this occurs, try sitting down with your child at bedtime or another quiet time.
Bring the event or behavior up, talk about why it was not appropriate, and help them come up with a more appropriate behavior next time. If you see that same behavior happen again, you can address it on the spot.
3. Not Following Through With Discipline
You started to discipline or allow them to experience a consequence, but they managed to talk, cry, or puppy-dog-look their way out of it and you feel guilty for being the “bad guy.” You may find the consequence you gave was more trouble for you than it was worth, didn’t match the crime, or didn’t have the energy to follow through.
I am non-confrontational even with my kids. Sometimes, it has served me well, while other times, I have had to practice standing my ground.
I read parenting books on fair discipline that resonated with me and practiced my response to familiar occurrences in my head so I felt prepared, confident, and ready to stand my ground when the time came.
4. Not Requiring Contributions Around the House
There are mixed feelings about allowances and chores that are rewarded.
Some parents feel having a child earn an allowance for contributions around the house is a fair and appropriate way for them to learn responsibility and earn money before they are old enough for a job outside the home. Other parents feel household contributions shouldn’t be rewarded as they are a part of being a family where everyone does their part.
No matter what your stance is here, kids benefit from having responsibilities around the house, so let go of the guilt when you hold them accountable.
Yes, it can be easier to just do it yourself, but consider what your child is missing out on. Contributing around the house builds confidence and gives kids a sense of belonging and responsibility and that they are a valuable part of the family.
If your kids are young, have them match and put away socks and underwear, rinse dishes, or put away silverware. Picking up their toys is another easy way they can contribute while learning to respect their belongings.
Whether you choose to attach a monetary reward to contributions is up to you, but it’s worthwhile to think of ways all children can contribute.
5. Making Excuses or Being Embarrassed for a Child’s Behavior
“They’re tired.” “They didn’t know.” “It wasn’t their fault.”
While any of these may be true, chances are if you do a gut check, you may be feeling guilty for your child’s actions. It’s not fair to you to feel guilty for someone else’s actions—even for a child that may or may not have known better.
If there is an excuse, what changes can be made to address the cause of the behavior? Whether it is an earlier bedtime, a sit-down talk, or consequences, let go of any guilt and look at it as an opportunity to help your child learn and grow.
6. Stretching Yourself Beyond Your Means
While it feels good to give our kids clothes, toys, and experiences that make their eyes glitter with delight, remember that it’s the time we spend together that matters and will help them develop into awesome human beings capable of changing the world, not what we give them.
It teaches them the value of money and decision-making when they can’t have everything.
I have a daughter who is turning six this month and has asked for several things for her birthday. We had her make a list and circle the top three, reminding her to consider what she will get the most use out of and that while birthday gifts are fun, it’s our celebration together that matters. Even at that age, they can reflect on what holds the most meaning,
7. Feeling Guilty for Working
Most working parents feel a twinge of guilt when they are not able to volunteer at school or can’t play with their children when working from home. Remember, you are doing what is needed to support the family and there are benefits for children of working mothers, too.
It is important to spend dedicated time with your children, helping them feel safe, valued, and seen. But it’s okay if it can’t be the entire day.
It’s also okay to have your own time (and to enjoy it) and help children learn responsibility, respect for others’ time, and self-reliance.
8 Simple Tips to Overcome Parenting Guilt
Now that you’re aware of the signs of parental guilt, here are eight tips on how to overcome it.
1. Lower Your Stress Level or Find Stress Relief Activities
This may involve setting time aside for yourself, which may cause more guilt initially. Remind yourself you will be more calm, centered, and happier when you fill your own bucket.
There is a reason why parents are told to put on their oxygen masks on a plane before helping their children! Kids need to see parents taking care of themselves to help them understand they are part of a unit with all parts being equally important. This helps avoid the dreaded—but common—entitlement syndrome.
It also helps us get out of the survival mode that triggers overreactions and anger. Whether your preferred self-care involves yoga, meditation, exercise, time with friends, or reading a good book, take time for yourself. You deserve it and everyone will be better off.
2. Set Clear Rules For Working Time
Have you noticed that when your attention is focused on trying to send that email for work, everyone seems louder and gets on your nerves more?
Our brain can only stretch in so many directions at once, which is why we often have a hard time concentrating on parenting and work at the same time. It is only a matter of time before we snap—and here comes the guilt!
If you can’t separate work and family (as many of us can’t), try setting clear rules for your working time. Whether it is volume control, how and when you are available, or a process to support independent problem solving, notice what your triggers are and problem solve with your family.
With everyone being home more often, this one has been a big focus for us and takes constant planning and effort.
3. Learn Different Parenting Styles
Spend some time researching parenting and discipline styles that feel fair and appropriate to you. Most books and websites offer concrete examples and implementations so you can feel more prepared and in control of your reactions.
4. Show Genuine Support to Your Child (Even in Divorce)
It is common for parents to want to be the preferred parent after a divorce, but what kids need is reliability, stability, and for parents to take an active interest in what they care about. Support them in their interests and hobbies, and let them teach you about them.
You can show them your unconditional love and set appropriate and fair expectations and boundaries.
Breaking the bank on an epic trip to Disney or Paris might win points temporarily, but it’s the ongoing interest that will build a strong relationship. As a child of divorced parents, I saw clearly when my parents were acting out of guilt rather than genuine interest or love.
5. Set Aside a One-on-One Time With Your Child
Set up one-on-one time with your child and focus fully on them. Be clear with the activity or time frame, so your child has appropriate expectations.
While we may want to spend all day with them, we often can’t. So, it helps to give them specified start and end times and, in the end, express how much you enjoyed your time together and set up your next activity so it becomes a routine.
6. Tell Them Honestly How You Feel
Say you are sorry, and tell and show your child you love them always no matter what, especially after they mess up. This is important but also more difficult than it sounds.
We serve as role models for our children, so acknowledging our own imperfections and how we process, move on, and admit our mistakes are necessary.
We may tell our kids frequently that we love them, but they need to hear it most when they make a mistake. When you get upset the next time, try saying out loud what you are doing to process your emotions.
For example, I tell my kids I am feeling overwhelmed and need a few minutes to myself. I also thank them for respecting that so I can feel better and be the best “me.”
Your version may be different, but consider a quick “reset” practice during times of stress so you can move on.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
As parents, we are compassion experts for children. Forgive yourself as you forgive your kids, be open to your own growth as you support your child’s growth, and love yourself with that same unconditional love as you do your children.
Try closing your eyes, feel the love in your heart for your children, and imagine wrapping yourself in that love.
8. Assert Your Role as a Parent
Accept your role as a parent, not necessarily a best friend. Do what you know is best for your child, even if they don’t like it. They will thank you later.
What is the consequence of not releasing feelings of guilt? The joy of parenting goes unrealized and can become another burden to bear.
Parenting is often described as the most difficult job in the world. It is also an opportunity to experience the most profound love in the universe and expose yourself to experiences that will allow you to grow and evolve.
Our children are here to teach us just as much as we are here to teach them. What are some moments you have felt guilty as a parent? What is it telling you? Listen, respond, plan, and let go.
Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com