Addressing Parental Guilt
Every week I hear from exhausted mums (and dads) who are concerned that everything they’ve done or didn’t do as a parent is somehow going to irreversibly damage their child forevermore. From the moment you bring a child into the world, the rush of emotions can be overwhelming, and unfortunately guilt is often one of the strongest. Did I make the right decision? Am I a failure if he doesn’t thrive on breastfeeding alone? If I don’t take him to a baby class every day will he somehow grow up socially challenged? Am I a terrible mum because my laundry pile needs its own postcode?
You are enough.
Don’t feel guilty because you’re going out to work and you’re not at home with your children. Don’t feel guilty because you’re staying at home with your children and not going out to work. Stop questioning yourself, stop second guessing your own decisions, and stop wondering if you’ve made the right choices for your children. You are doing the best you can, and the rest of us are largely winging it too. Yes, I make mistakes too!
Letting go of things is easier said than done, right? Often when we experience feelings of guilt, it’s based on decisions we made in the past, and it’s important to recognise that you made those decisions based on the best information you had at the time, and the alternate decision that you could have made was not necessarily possible at that time. It’s easy to forget that the reason why you didn’t make it to Tuesdays mum and baby class was because your little one hadn’t slept well the night before and was grizzly, or you couldn’t stop your toddler from falling over because you were breastfeeding your other child at the time. Our brain often distorts our memories, and so the guilt you experience isn’t accurate. Let go of the higher standard that you’re holding yourself to and recognise that you’re not going to love every minute of being a parent, you are going to make mistakes, you are going to wonder how much TV is too much TV. It’s going to happen, so embrace it, and then, in the words of Queen Elsa, let it go. (You will also wonder how many times you can watch Frozen without going insane…)
You are enough. The one thing I have learned from each parent I’ve spoken to is that they all fall into the trap of comparing themselves to Julie down the road who somehow manages to hold down a full-time job and wrangle three kids with three different school drop-offs. What you don’t know is that Julie might be struggling too. As parents, we need to stop comparing ourselves and stop being so afraid of imperfection. Everyone has an opinion on parenting and you will always encounter those who are more “generous” with their opinions than we’d perhaps like them to be. Let me ask you something- what do you think a “perfect parent” looks like? Is it the mum who never forgets a non-uniform day at school, who never raises their voice when their child is behaving like a Tasmanian Devil, or whose child thinks a Happy Meal is steamed organic vegetables on a bed of quinoa? I’ll let you in on a not-so-little secret: There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Surround yourselves with friends and parents who can be as real as you are and also admit that they succumb to the occasional microwave-masterpiece for dinner, it means you’re all human and not mum-bots!
As long as you are doing your best, you are enough. This is a valuable lesson to learn, but I also hope that this is something we can pass on to our children as well. Say it with me- You are enough.