When I wrote the title of this article, I was literally thinking that I needed to take my own advice. Stop living with so much parenting guilt, Abi!
I am no stranger to guilt. I feel shame over small things that wouldn’t bother most people. And I’m really good at blaming myself for things that aren’t actually my fault.
It has been a part of my personality for much of my life, but my oh my, did my guilt explode after having children. There’s something about being responsible for the way another human being turns out that makes you second and third and fourth guess all of your choices.
I shouldn’t have yelled.
I shouldn’t have let her get away with that.
I should have handled that differently.
Should have. Those are words I say too often.
I felt immense guilt when my firstborn son was a baby. I wanted to be a good mom, but I struggled deeply with depression and thought I just wasn’t dealing with motherhood well. I second guessed myself constantly on everything from sleep to playtime to feeding habits. Should I insist on a regular schedule? Should I feed him on demand? Should I let him cry it out? Will I ruin our relationship if I’m too harsh? Will I spoil him if I’m too soft?
And every time he didn’t fit the bill so carefully detailed by all the baby books, I thought I was doing it wrong. Every time he didn’t sleep well I thought it was my fault. When he nursed too often I thought I was erring in some way.
I never cried so much as that first year of his life.
All of my misgivings and fears turned into reasons for guilt.
As I had more children, I learned that some of those things are just baby things. Developmental stuff. Regular parts of having an infant. There’s no one right or wrong way to do it, and as long as you do your best to love them and take care of them it will all turn out just fine.
But unfortunately, I didn’t carry this philosophy into the rest of their childhood.
I continued to let parenting guilt get the best of me.
I felt guilt when my kids misbehaved. I felt guilt when I lost my temper with them for misbehaving. I felt guilt when our schedule went awry, because I wasn’t organized enough. I felt guilt when I didn’t do enough school, and I felt guilt when I pushed them to do too much. I felt guilt for not giving them better experiences. I felt guilt when they weren’t understanding a school subject, because I should have been a better teacher. I felt guilt when my kids were sad.
To be honest, I still struggle with parenting guilt every blessed day of my life.
But I’m slowly discovering the truth:
Guilt steals joy.
When I spend my day worrying about every possible way I’m messing up my kids, I lose the joy of being their mama. I miss out on all the fun. I stop smiling and spend the day grumping and feeling miserable with myself. In fact, parenting guilt actually can steal my kids’ joy, because I’m too busy feeling bad to model contentment. Which I suppose could make me feel doubly guilty.
For every minute I spend wallowing in parenting guilt, I lose an opportunity to be happy. To enjoy my kids. To smile about a little thing. To be at peace as a parent.
So, the question is, how do I stop feeling so guilty?
I don’t have a perfect answer, because it’s something I’m working on every day, and I imagine it will take me a long time to learn to let go of it. But here are a few things for both you and me to try.
Not every reader of this blog will identify with this one, but I find it an immense relief to bring my parenting worries to prayer. If I really believe that God’s grace is sufficient for my weaknesses, then that applies to parenting too, with all its multitude of worries and reasons to feel bad.
Some people think that Christians shouldn’t meditate; I disagree- but that’s neither here nor there. When I spend time relaxing my body, breathing deep, and focusing on truth, I am more able to face the rest of the day with a positive attitude. This can help to bring about a significant reduction in parenting guilt, among other benefits.
Well, duh. Why not smile? But for someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, worry, and guilt, smiling can sometimes be quite the challenge. When I make a conscious effort to smile at the little things, it helps me to live with a little more joy and takes my mind off of the self-doubt.
Journal the positive.
Write down all the good things that happened in a day- whether it be things your children did, ways you had a parenting win, little blessings, or just things you’re thankful for. Spending time to journal about the positive parts of your day can help to lift your spirits out of guilt-land and help you remember all the reasons to be happy.
Do something fun.
I find that when I make a conscious decision to get out of my funk and just do something fun with my kids- or by myself- we all feel better. I’m not advocating for escapism- I’d advocating for resetting your mind when you’re stuck in an ill-founded parenting guilt rut.
Preach truth to yourself.
Mama, no matter what you do, there’s always going to be something you could blame yourself for. Here’s the truth: what’s important is loving your kids and doing your best. Yes, you will make mistakes. But when you do, you need to ask for forgiveness and move on. Don’t let yourself be consumed with regret about what you did wrong. (Or even with the things you did right but feel bad about!)
Repeat after me: I love my kids, and I am doing my best.
Then will somebody please come over here and recite it to me too?