Ditch Parental Guilt
Oksana Tashakova
Friday, June 08, 2012

Quit thinking you have to be supermom — or superdad — juggling career, parenting and what-have-you just because it seems to have become a buzzword. Set yourself realistic goals, so you can inculcate healthy values in your children

Guilt seems to be a normal part of the parenting process. Check out these statistics gathered by the Working Mother Research Institute as reported by The New York Times:

  • 51 per cent of working mothers feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children.
  • 55 per cent of working mothers feel guilt about the untidiness of their house. Working mothers also feel guilty about not taking care of themselves better.
  • 55 per cent of stay-at-home-mothers feel guilty for not contributing to family income.
  • 44 per cent of stay-at-home moms feel guilt about the untidiness of their house. Stay-at-home moms also feel guilty about not using their education.

And, almost half of both working and non-working mothers agree that they are their own worst critics. Dads can feel guilty too. The society we live in today asks us to be supermen and women: to spend quality time with our kids but take time for ourselves too, to work at a fulfilling career and make enough money but not skip out on family time, to usher your children to every extracurricular activity and buy them everything the neighbours’ kids have, to be politically correct in so many ways when there are just not enough hours in the day.

We are our own worst critics because we have internalised those expectations. In a Huffington Post article, psychiatrist Srinivasan Pillay reminds us that guilt is often due to faulty recall. When we beat ourselves up for the things we did or didn’t do when it comes to our children, we’re often forgetting or downplaying the extenuating circumstances, the factors that made taking different actions at that time impossible. recommends taking a moment to think about what mother, father or parent means to you, to take the time to verbalise or write down what “shoulds” pop into your mind around those terms. Is this ideal impossible or unreachable? What parts of that definition do you think are truly most important? What is it that you yourself, and not society, thinks is most important to be for your children? Discard the rest. Challenge it logically and use these arguments whenever your inner critic arises.

Pillay tells parents that a true ideal is when you do “your” best rather than “the” best. Take into account all of those circumstances and pat yourself on the back for behaving as you’ve done. Even if you make a mistake, it’s good for your children to understand that you’re human and that you can acknowledge this. 

Holding onto guilt prevents you from doing better and can lead to martyrdom. This isn’t what you want to role model for your kids.

The World Health Organization (WHO) put out a newsletter feature about parental guilt traps and their remedies. Here are some examples:

  • When you feel guilty for losing your temper with your child, first be sure that you have reasonable expectations. Because your life is too busy doesn’t mean that you have to hold your child to the same kinds of expectations. Create fair expectations and consequences and stay consistent.
  • If you feel guilty because you cannot purchase all of the things you think other children have or experience, remember that it isn’t helpful for children to get everything they want. One of your roles as a parent is to help them to deal with frustration and to appreciate the things they do get. You want your children to “learn to earn” rather than expect rewards for simply being.
  • If you feel guilty because you are comparing yourself to other parents, parents that never raise their voices or who have kids that never seem to misbehave, keep in mind that everyone loses their temper. We are all human, we all get annoyed and there is much that we never witness in terms of private life.
  • If you feel guilty when you hear your own parent’s words coming out of your mouth, remember that “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”. You learned what parenting was by what your parents did. Whether or not you agreed with their actions, in the heat of the moment you will tend to do what you know, not what you know better. Being aware of this means that you’re already ahead of the game and making progress in terms of parenting better.
  • If you feel guilty about taking time for yourself remember that when you take care of your own needs you will be better able to meet those of your children. You don’t need and won’t get permission from your child to do things for yourself — you must give it to yourself and remind yourself that you will be a better parent for it.
  • If you feel guilty because you “should have known better”, cut yourself a break. No one knows everything even if they’ve read every parenting book on the planet. We don’t go to parenting school and there really isn’t any kind of comprehensive instruction manual that applies to your unique child and you.
  • If your child can make you feel guilty by telling you what other parents do, by telling you that they hate you or that you’re mean, keep in mind that this kind of manipulation is normal. Your job isn’t to give in to such manipulations but to maintain the authority to say “No”. You need to maintain the power in this relationship in order for your child to feel safe and understand boundaries.

Have a good look at what you feel guilty about and re-evaluate your ideals. Take a break from guilt and practise self-acceptance. This will help your child to appreciate you and to learn not to have unreasonable expectations of themselves.

Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s an expert in stress management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management. Visit her: or email her:

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