5 Ways to Back Away From the Relentless Grip of Parental Guilt

Little girl in conversation with her parents outdoors.

As parents, there is a deep desire to fulfill the role of parenting for your own sake as a parent and above all, for the future sake of the child. (Image: Rido via Dreamstime)

Have you ever heard of “parental guilt”? Maybe you haven’t, but most parents will know the emotion.

As parents, there is a deep desire to fulfill the role of parenting for one’s own sake as a parent and before all, for the future sake of the child.

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There is no playbook for good parenting, however. No matter how much you read, how much you watch, or how you act as a parent all boils down to your state of personal development.

Parental guilt and its relentless grip

There is a certain dynamic to parenting. One part is the freedom to explore, learn, and grow. And another part is to maintain a tight grip, control, and authority.

It’s not always easy to balance the two out. And most parents tend to lean toward the last one of the two.

Trust is not something that you earn with your turning of age. Trust is universal and applies to toddlers, minors, and teenagers all the same.

Trust in your children is a reflection of trust in your own judgment. Too often, however, you blame yourself for the mistakes your children make. Why — because you are responsible for their wellbeing.

But what is really at work when you start to pull up walls and fences to keep stuff out and your kids in is not responsibility — it is parental guilt.

But what is really at work when we start to pull up walls and fences to keep stuff out and our kids in is not responsibility — it is parental guilt
There is a certain dynamic to parenting. (Image: friends_stock via Envato Elements)

Doing less is actually doing more

Parental guilt holds the pervasive meaning of not doing enough as a parent, not doing the right things, or making decisions that may negatively influence your children in the long run.

The painful emotion of guilt can come up when thoughts about your children or yourself don’t match the standards or values you measure yourself and your children by.

The is an idea that a parent should be totally selfless. You should be so devoted to the positive upbringing of your child that you will put the needs of your child before your own — unconditionally.

Sounds like a parody. Unfortunately, as selfless as we try to be as parents, none of us succeed at it. This is not an accusation to reproach any parent out there.

The point is, to even want to be selfless in what you do for your kids, you need some degree of selfishness. In terms of wanting to succeed at it, who are you proving it to ultimately? There is only one face you see staring back at you, like a reflection in a mirror — from everything you do or don’t do.

You’re so loving, so well-intentioned, so well-desiring. So you have to be mindful of the minefields of that ego. Parenting is not a selfless act. It is rather pretty selfish. At least the way parents are doing it today. They’re only doing it to create trophy children.

The busy parent syndrome

This is no medical term. It’s more of a culture we have created around our personal goals, like financial freedom and self-determination. This puts you in an awkward position as a parent.

Ironically, you want to be there for your kids. You try to be there for them the way you believe is the best. You believe that being able to provide materially for them and open doors that only money can buy is the best thing you can do.

Arguably, there is some truth to this. A good piano teacher has his/her price. An instrument also doesn’t come for free. In order to muster up enough cash to pay for it all, you try to do better at work, get a raise, or build a side income. This may or may not put more money in your pockets. But one thing is for certain — it takes time away from the clock of time that you get to spend with your kids and watch them grow.

A good way to change this is to sit down and really weigh out personal desires and priorities against the backdrop of your child’s desires and wishes.

A couple with their young children sitting on their shoulders and watching kites flying in the sky.
Parenting is not a selfless act. (Image: Mirko Vitali via Dreamstime)

Favoritism

In Greek mythology, there is a saying that: “Athena is also the favorite child of Zeus, being allowed to carry his Aegis, or armor, into battle.”

Among us mortals, it is no different. We too hold dear the things we favor and neglect the ones we don’t.

A pair of shoes will not care. Or the blue vs. the black sweater won’t mind that this season your taste in color has shifted from blue to black.

But children will notice the difference in treatment. They may not always have the intellectual vocabulary to express it verbally. But they will find other ways to show it.

The feeling of parental guilt is normal and can be experienced by all parents. However, if the responsibility is becoming overwhelming, some strategies may help.

Strategies to balance child without feeling guilty

  • Surrounding yourself with positive people: There is nothing wrong with avoiding people who trigger you to feel judged or guilty.
  • Sharing your responsibilities: If you have a partner, ask them if they can pitch in on chores that aren’t already on their list for you to be able to indulge in some “me time.”
  • Help yourself first: Keep in mind that loving yourself is one of the best ways to love your children.

Persistent mindfulness

Perfecting parenthood is a big part of our identities. When you feel that you’ve failed at it, and then the feelings of parental guilt follow, it reflects on your inability to do the most important job you’ve ever had. The key is to learn as much as possible during the parental process and then change your ways if needed.

Parents everywhere agonize in secret. Gone are the ancestral days when a casual attitude to children’s feelings raised few eyebrows. However, parenting is an ongoing work in progress.

We all want our children to be happy. But feeling under pressure to do everything right can make us feel guilty. Accepting that there is no such thing as a “perfect parent” can help you manage these feelings.

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