Overcoming parental guilt

As parents, we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are responsible for SO many things and our commitment to our children especially carries a lot of weight.

We want to achieve our own goals and live our dreams, have our hobbies, pursue our own interests. At the same time, our children need us for pretty much everything. We nurture, guide, love, teach, provide for their every need. There are times we just can’t do it all and we find ourselves being pulled in a million different directions.

So this Children’s Day I was thinking about the other end of the spectrum: If parents are beating themselves up all the time, then how can the effectively care for their children? 

Guilt and exhaustion can destroy self-image and sense of self-worth rather quickly. It’s all connected: shame, guilt, and self-esteem. If you’re feeling unsure about making decisions, it will lead to more feelings of insecurity, which circles around to feelings of guilt.

I don’t think there is one parent who hasn’t lost their cool at their children at least one time in their lives. Losing you temper and yelling at your child can definitely trigger the guilt response.  Having that internal conflict between anger (and feeling guilty for anger) vs. loving your child can cause issues. Also the age old conflict:  child – “I want” vs. parent – “You don’t need it” can bring feelings of guilt.

Suffering In Silence

But we don’t tell anyone that we get mad at our kids. We don’t share our flaws for fear of other’s opinions. We worry behind closed doors about our parenting skills and how our actions will affect our children. This guilt can be so overwhelming that we keep it buried deep, sometimes so deep that we’re not even aware of it’s depth.

As a result of this silence, most of us live with blinders. Thinking that all the other parents are coping SO much better than we are, that we’re the ONLY ones struggling. And that’s just not the case.

Father and Son


Guilt hangs from us so much more now than it ever did. Our generation was all about the ‘self help’ section at the bookstore. Not to mention, going to therapy and personal growth coaches, and (dare I say it) people like Oprah. Awareness is amazing, and we love Miss Oprah for it for sure, but sometimes we take that guilt and shame stick and beat ourselves if we don’t do it exactly right. I mean we HAVE all the info right? Book after book, TED Talks, and T.V. shows. We don’t want to make the same mistakes our parents did.

You can visit website after website about how our children are suffering. Matter of fact I just wrote one for Children’s Day highlighting the epidemic of lonely children in the UK and what we can do about it.

It seems that all our parenting flaws are put on display everywhere you look… headlines read “Too much technology” “Not enough child/parent interaction” “You’re doing it wrong” (okay the last one wasn’t a headline but that’s what it sure feels like sometimes). When it comes to parenting and children, very little is focused on what we’re doing RIGHT as parents. It’s always the deficits and very rarely the hundreds of small victories we have every single day when dealing with our little ones.

According to Psychology Today:

Guilt is a normal emotion that can be a warning sign or nudge in the right direction when it arises as a result of inappropriate behavior or stepping outside our own values. For some, guilt becomes a chronic, even obsessive thought process that is no longer connected to a specific mistake or regrettable action. When guilty parents become stuck in their pain they may be unwittingly creating more serious problems for themselves and even their children.

If a child becomes depressed, exhibits problem behavior, has ADHD, uses drugs or alcohol, gets poor grades, is lazy, is defiant of authority, overweight, anorexic etc. guilty parents react in a variety of ways to cope with their pain. They may not be aware of the guilt, shame or any of their emotions but will instead act out what is going on internally.

There is good news about guilt…

The fact that you feel guilty about anything at all in regards to parenting is good news. Why? Because it shows you care. Many parents do not. And guilt can be a motivating force for change.

If you’re stuck in this cycle of parenting – you can find a healthier way to manager your guilt and/or shame. Remember that parenting does not need to be perfect. Our children learn and grow from every experience in their lives. Sometimes they learn the most when we admit that we’re wrong, that we’re not perfect and don’t expect ourselves to be.

You must learn to have compassion for yourself and your experiences, yes ALL of your experiences. The goal is “good enough” — not perfection. I’ve seen “perfect” parents and often times their children end up becoming perfectionists and beat themselves up if they’re not 100% perfect in any way. Children need some challenges and frustrations to become functioning adults. They need to learn to fail and fail well. That life isn’t always fair and that if they make a mistake it’s not the end of the world. You need to be that example for them.

You have to learn to not see things as all or nothing. Remember that you are your children’s biggest influence. If you wouldn’t want your child to beat themselves up for simple mistakes that means you have to stop doing it to you. We are all perfectly imperfect and many times it’s the little imperfections that endear us to others. Put the stick down and fix what you can fix, let go of what you can’t, and remember that you’re not supposed to have all the answers.

Remember, your children ARE watching and will copy your actions… even the negative ones. Loving yourself is teaching your child to love themselves too. 

Have you ever beaten yourself up for not being the “perfect” parent? How did you deal with parental guilt? I’d love to hear from you – leave me a comment below or let’s talk on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram.

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