Do you ever ask yourself, “Am I a bad parent?” or “Where did I go wrong?” or “Am I to blame for my child’s behaviour?” If so, you may be experiencing parenting guilt, a common feeling in today’s world where there is immense pressure to be the perfect parent.
To help you understand and manage this feeling, we asked Dr. Annabelle from Annabelle Psychology to answer some frequently asked questions about parenting guilt.
Dr. Annabelle Chow
MAPS FCCLP MSRP MSPS
1. What are the signs of parenting guilt?
Some of the common signs include:
- Constantly feeling that you should spend more time with your child
- Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of parenting
- Reducing time spent with children due to the fear of guilt
- Comparing yourself to other parents (even your own)
- Critical of your parenting approach
2. How can guilt affect my parenting?
Parental guilt may encourage parents to put in additional effort to correct their parenting errors and prevent their stress from negatively impacting their parenting approach. However, if parents’ actions are solely motivated by guilt and a sense of obligation, it may exacerbate parental frustration. The parent becomes focused on taking action because of guilt and might resent the acts he or she has to take, leading to a failure of outcome and deepening the guilt. This is likely to lead to a negative cycle in a parent-child relationship.
Additionally, guilt can affect parenting styles, which are the general approaches and strategies parents use to raise their children. These styles significantly impact a child’s development, attachment, behaviour, and emotional well-being. Research has suggested that guilt may drive parents to adopt parenting styles that could result in long-term consequences for children. For example, in permissive parenting where there is high responsiveness and low demandingness, parents may subconsciously indulge in their child’s needs such as rewarding them with expensive gifts or offering lenient privileges (e.g., excessive screentime) to try and assuage their guilt.
3. The billion-dollar question is– how do we overcome parenting guilt?
Dr. Annabelle notes that there is no “one size fits all” approach, as every parent, child, and circumstance is unique.
To start with, it is crucial to identify and prioritize your parenting values. Take into consideration the values that both you and your partner cherish, do some research, plan, and strategize together. Develop a plan that suits your unique situation, and take practical steps to implement it. Take concrete steps taking into account your unique circumstances to implement your plan. Then, execute, observe, and refine the plan as you and your partner go along. Remember that there may be days when parenting meets with “misjudgment” and that’s okay! No one can be a perfect parent all of the time. Our children need to see us not as perfect beings, but as loving and caring parents that will try their best, consistently over their lifetime, no matter the situation.
Secondly, communicate with your partner. Share your feelings of doubt or guilt with them. Recognize that both parents can have their own parenting styles, and find a middle ground that is supportive of each other’s choices.
Thirdly, do not hesitate to seek support. Reach out to family members or peers who have gone through or are currently experiencing parenthood. Alternatively, seek guidance from parenting experts who can provide you and/or your partner with parenting tools to manage your emotions and navigate parenting together. Depending on your child’s needs, consult healthcare professionals such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, or educational psychologists for advice on how to help your child cope in different situations.
Lastly, replace guilt with self-compassion. It is important to remember that you are only human as well. Be kind to yourself. Use an encouraging voice on yourself (similar to how you would comfort a friend who’s experiencing parenting challenges). Identify the strengths of your parenting and accept that parenting is not always smooth sailing.
4. When to seek professional help?
When parental guilt persists and interferes with your functioning and relationship with your child, it is recommended that you speak with a professional. Seeking support through individual therapy can help you explore the underlying causes of your concerns and discuss your feelings of self-doubt or guilt. You can learn how to manage your emotions and develop tailored parenting strategies through therapy sessions. Sometimes, we may be aware or unaware that our current parenting methods stem from unresolved childhood experiences.
5. Words of encouragement from Dr. Annabelle:
It takes a village to raise a child/children and you don’t have to go through it alone. Reaching out for support is a courageous step! Take a moment to pause, allow others to be there for you, and yourself permission to lean on their support.
Remember, parenting doesn’t come with a manual or guidebook! The precise steps to take with your child are not always clear, and it may take time to learn how to parent effectively. It is perfectly normal to encounter obstacles and face roadblocks along the way. Embrace these challenges as opportunities for growth and remember that you are doing the best you can for your child.
Thank you, Dr. Annabelle 😌
To all the parents out there who struggle with guilt, know that you are not alone. Give yourself grace and take time to care for yourself too. Keep going, and know that you’re doing an amazing job.