Advice Column, Parenting

The Parent Guilt Trap

  • Mums Support Network
  • Category Advice Column, Parenting

You are not alone!

I’m one of those parents who subscribe to just about every newsletter that pertains to my daughter’s development. This might seem a teeny tiny bit of an obsession, especially for someone who used to teach preschool kids, yet for me the world is always changing and with new studies being published I often find it useful to be in the know. 

However, in the past few weeks I have noticed an influx of “mommy guilt” articles being published and observed that many of these articles didn’t contain stories of shared experiences. Sure, they had the facts, but the reality is that every parent has had some form of guilt during their child’s life, and I wondered what those stories entailed.

Enter the wonderful world of WhatsApp. I decided to send out a short, simple and sweet message to a few moms who would be interested in helping me with their personal stories of mommy guilt. I decided to also message a few dads as it wasn’t just the moms who were feeling this.  Truth be told I wasn’t expecting a big response; maybe two experiences, perhaps three at a push. What followed was not only overwhelming, it was alarming!

Real parents, real stories

Shann: “It’s a constant emotional rollercoaster. Are you doing too much and stunting their independence or are you not doing enough and creating problems further down the line where they will constantly seek attention? But what is too much and what is not enough?  Does anyone actually know? Like is there a guide out there or someone to tell us the exact amount of time so that you can find the balance? The crazy balancing act is like juggling chainsaws on a tightrope. The guilt seeps in at night when they are asleep and the questions start… did I play with them enough? Was I present enough? Was my attention intentional or could I have made more of an effort? Did I step in too soon and rob him of the chance to learn on his own or did I let him struggle too much?  Is he eating enough? Is he eating too much? Am I instilling the right values? Check myself – am I too strict, am I not strict enough? AAAGH. I can’t shut down and the anxiety is now full throttle… could I be better? Probably. Am I trying the best I can? Definitely.  By God’s grace and constant support I can turn off the comment section in my brain and rest knowing I still have tomorrow and the next day. That today’s exercise will be tomorrow’s lessons and I know they know how much I love them. I tell them consistently and show them continuously even through the sh*t shows.  It’s not easy. Nothing ever worthwhile ever is and nothing prepares you for mom guilt. Nothing.”

*Bethany: “I’ve been sick this week – just a cold, but also my body’s way of telling me to get some rest. My daughter – being a typical 3 year old – was being indecisive about needing to use the toilet and I just snapped. I cannot tell you how groggy, I was feeling that day. I snapped! I yelled at her like a banshee and she pee’d her pants. Right next to the toilet and stood there in tears and being all apologetic and I felt enormous amounts of guilt because I’d made her feel so bad because I couldn’t control my emotions. I feel so much guilt for working because I’m taking away time from my kids, and feeling guilty when I’m with my kids because my clients need my help, not to mention feeling guilty when I take time out to spend on me, because yet again, I’m not with my kids or helping my clients.”

*Trevor: “I used to work night-shift at my previous job and as December leave was approaching and with our 1 year old son sleeping through the night I told my wife to go have a night out with her girlfriends. About an hour after she had left our son woke up and was inconsolable. As much as I tried I couldn’t soothe him and the guilt ripped through me that I was unable to – he didn’t know me at night time and I didn’t know what he needed, worse is after two hours of constant crying I called my wife and within seconds of her picking him up, he was calm once more. I was determined more than ever to find a job that paid the same, but didn’t require night-shift.”

*Tanya: “My worst mom guilts to date have been cutting my kids nails and accidentally cutting the top skin off the thumb too. My other one was when my daughter was about 2 years old, I’d drop her at school and she’d scream ‘Mommy save me, don’t leave me!’ so loud that most of the other kids would start crying too. I spent months worrying that she was too young and I should rather keep her at home… it was awful and it riddled me with guilt for ‘abandoning’ her every day!”

*Daphne: “Just before my son was 3 months old, he was diagnosed with infantile spasms and he needed to be admitted to hospital for 5 days which would include testing and treatment. Upon admissions we discovered our medical plan wouldn’t cover the procedure. What I had thought was medical aid was instead medical insurance and they wouldn’t cover any costs going forward. I remember yelling at myself ‘What have I done? How could I have been so stupid and not get a proper medical aid? I’ve cost my baby his life 3 years before he was born. He won’t get the tests and treatments that are needed and he will be developmentally delayed for the rest of his life with special needs because I was trying to save some money on medical. The guilt was suffocating. This was my fault! My stupid fault!’”

*Simon: “After my son was diagnosed with ADHD I felt incredibly guilty. The years prior to this I had gotten so frustrated with his behaviour that I resorted to punishments in terms of time-outs and taking away his favourite toys all because to me he wasn’t listening. I see things differently now, and am a lot more patient and understanding with him.”

*Felicia: “As a mum, I was always told ‘when you are a mum, there’s no such thing as needing a break’ and ever since then, every time I go somewhere by myself or my son is not with me, I feel like an inadequate mum who cannot take care of her children.”

The takeaway

We are not alone in parenting. Shared experiences create solutions to obstacles that we are facing. If we allow ourselves not to judge each other, to give one another a safe space to talk openly and honestly, then we bring back that village that was once lost. We all have our personal version of parenting guilt, but we need to support each other and be vulnerable enough to talk rather than creating a suffocating environment of shame. We are humanly flawed and there is no shame in having parent guilt.

*Names have been changed

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