Guilt. It’s no fun. It’s also inevitable, especially for parents. Why do you feel guilty? Maybe you feel like you’re too focused on work. Perhaps you owe several friends or family members phone calls or emails. Maybe your child asked to go on a vacation that you just can’t afford to take. Here’s the thing: unless you’ve done something that is clearly wrong, you have nothing to feel guilty about! Here are some quick points to keep in mind when you’re feeling guilty—and some ways to escape those feelings.
We are constantly hit with powerful images that may remind us of what we don’t have, or what we aren’t giving our kids. It’s important not to use other people’s lives as the gauge by which you determine your own value or success as a parent. And even if, as Facebook or Instagram might suggest, your friends’ lives are as perfect as their pictures make it seem, so what? Remember that your kids know you love them and that you care about them. There’s no need to focus on what other people are up to, no matter how in-your-face that information may feel.
Use self-talk as often as you need to as a way of reminding yourself that there’s no such thing as a perfect mom. Psychologists use the self-talk approach in therapy with patients all the time and it’s a very effective strategy. (It’s even effective with preschoolers. For example, when they’re scared, they tell themselves that they’re brave.) Repetition and reinforcement can help drive points like these home for kids as well as adults.
We all strive to be perfect moms, but there’s just no such thing. We need to have more realistic expectations of ourselves, and that doesn’t make us mediocre moms. Does this mean you need to lower your expectations of yourself? Probably! Does that mean you’re going to be less of a good parent? No way!
Are you thinking, “What time?” If so, then you’re probably someone who needs to make some time for yourself. It’s truly critical that you set good, healthy boundaries with everyone in your life—your partner, your friends, your boss, and yes, even your kids. Not only is it okay to sometimes say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t right now,” but it’s good for your health. When you take on more than you can handle, it’s easy to become resentful, angry, and yes, guilty. And those emotions may even evolve into feelings of self-loathing. It’s not positive and it’s not productive.
Take care of yourself in supportive, gentle ways. This might mean giving yourself time to read a chapter of a book you’ve been meaning to get to. It might mean finally getting to that yoga class—or even that 15-minute exercise video—you’ve been meaning to try. It might mean taking a nap! Whatever “time for yourself” means to you, it’s important to make it happen.
You have to trust yourself, you have to stay strong and secure in what you believe in, and that’s what you need to communicate to your kids. Guilt is not a healthy emotion—it can be destructive, and like a poison. And it can be so all-consuming that we can’t get rid of it—it’s just there, and it’s a negative energy. As moms, we need to be emotionally healthy, and getting rid of the guilt will make room for happiness. And that’s what you and your family deserve!
It’s easy to take on guilt from your family, or even decide in your mind that you have something to feel guilty about. Sometimes people put guilt on us, but we don’t have to accept it. If you haven’t done anything wrong, then there’s nothing to feel guilty about. And if you have done something wrong? Deal with it: apologize to whomever you’ve hurt or disappointed. Talk about it. And put it behind you!
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.