7 Common Reasons Parents Feel Guilty

How moms and dads can address this feeling

Many parents feel guilty about committing the “sins” that afflict nearly all mothers and fathers. But feeling guilty has consequences related to the emotional health of parents and children's general wellbeing. Guilt may lead parents to develop unhealthy discipline habits, like giving in to children when it's not in their best interest or overcompensating for the choices they make. While those things may temporarily relieve a parent's guilt, those responses could be unhealthy for children. 

Assuage your guilt by understanding that no parent is perfect and, sometimes, you do what you must to get through the day. Here are the top seven reasons parents feel guilty and tips for ways to deal with those feelings.

I'm a Working Parent

Most good parents feel guilty every once in a while.
Peter Cade / The Image Bank / Getty Images

For parents who work outside the home, this is likely the top source of guilt—you feel guilty that you like your job, you feel guilty that you need your salary (and even guiltier if you don’t need the money!), and you definitely feel guilty that going to work can sometimes feel like a respite from the chaotic environment at home.

Research shows that children’s language, social and cognitive skills can be benefited by attending a quality day care. If going to work makes you happy, that provides a world of benefit for the entire family.

Do you feel even worse when you pick up your little one from daycare and head home, only to leave him with a babysitter so you can have a date night with your spouse or attend a board meeting for a charity you really care about?

Your life matters, too, whether it’s maintaining your relationship or fulfilling yourself mentally by taking a break via volunteering, shopping or otherwise. In fact, as your child grows up, it’s good for him to see that you take care of your needs, too. Plus, he probably loves playing with the babysitter! 

My Child Misbehaves in Public

All parents have felt embarrassed when a child throws a temper tantrum in the grocery store or becomes the worst acting kid at the playground. Those looks you’re getting are more likely a sign of sympathy than one of judgment. However, you can change your discipline strategies a little bit to help address this situation.

First, if you think your child is old enough to understand, set your expectations for behavior in advance. Ensure that he knows the consequences of misbehaving, and actually enforce them if you run into a behavioral mishap.

Avoid taking your child on an outing when he’s due for a nap if at all possible. Meltdowns are more likely when your child is overtired.

It’s hard to change your own plans to work around your kids’ schedule, but it makes life easier overall. Plan ahead by packing snacks, juice, a change of clothes and a distracting toy.

Sometimes, kids misbehave in public because they know it’s embarrassing for their caregivers and they think they’ll be more likely to get what they want. When your child breaks the rules, follow through with an effective consequence.

My Child's Diet Is Awful

One day, your baby is happily scarfing down beets, broccoli and sweet potatoes; the next, your toddler refuses to eat anything except peanut butter sandwiches, goldfish and lollipops. It’s best not to make the dinner table a battleground over food; simply keep offering your child a wide variety of nutritious items.

Don’t make a big deal about it if she refuses to eat those fruits and veggies—after all, no child died from boycotting Brussels sprouts. Eventually, she might surprise you by trying (and loving!) a food that she previously rejected.

If your issue is that your child eats too much junk food or fast food, remember that it’s not poisonous! But, it should be a treat rather than a daily occurrence.

Alleviate some guilt by doing research on what the healthier items are at the drive-thru. Or, do some research on what types of meals you can serve at home that are fast, but healthy. As with so many other things in life, the key is moderation. 

My Child Enjoys Too Much Screen Time

If you listen to some experts, electronics are the source of all evil—it contributes to obesity, ADHD and a plethora of other problems. Of course, there’s truth to that, but it’s also sometimes a necessary evil.

It’s all about balance. If your child is watching TV every day for many hours in a row, then it’s time to cut back. If he plays on his tablet for an hour each evening and he watches a movie on the weekends, that’s moderate viewing.

Make sure your child has plenty of other activities he enjoys. Running around outside, building with blocks, or doing chores all have mental and physical health benefits.

You can also make screen time a worthwhile activity by snuggling up next to your child and using the show or movie as a launching point for education or activities. Ask questions about what’s going on, apply it to real life or ask them to count objects or colors on the screen. In other words, make screen time interactive and educational.  

I Yell Too Much

Even the most laid back parents snap sometimes and yell at their child once in a while. And sometimes yelling is warranted. If your child chases a ball into the street, don’t worry about your tone of voice. Yell out a reminder to get back to the sidewalk before he gets run over.

However, if yelling is becoming the status quo, consider if your stress levels are high or if you need helping managing your anger. Or perhaps, you need help finding more effective discipline techniques.

A licensed therapist can help you sort out why you can’t seem to maintain patience with your children—and help you find ways to keep your cool. That’s important because yelling at kids can be harmful to their mental health.

I Can't Afford to Give My Child Any Extras

Between music classes, gymnastic lessons, soccer teams and all the gadgets that kids seem to have these days, raising a child has gotten more expensive than it’s ever been in the past. Despite all those expenses, you’ll likely see your child’s friends vacationing in Disney World and playing the latest video game while your child is playing in the backyard and wearing hand-me-downs.

But, really, the bells and whistles aren’t necessary in childhood. In fact, offering too much stuff is problematic. If your child is constantly overindulged, he might grow up to become materialistic.

Sending your child outside to play (without the latest toys) encourages imagination, which is what’s really important. Add your own imagination by creating nearly free toys, such as building a boat out of a cardboard box, or turning a sheet into a superhero’s cape.

Avoid sending a message that tells your child it’s unfortunate that you don’t have as much money as other people. Teach him to be grateful for what he has and focus on spending quality time together.

I Can't Do It All

Who says you need to? This form of guilt is typically self-imposed by parents who think that they have to be a superhero parent, plus a super-employee, super-friend, super-housekeeper and super-everything-else-possible.

While it’s important to live a balanced life, a work-life balance doesn’t mean everything needs to be fair and equal. There may be times when you have to focus more on your career and times when your family needs you more than usual.

Be willing to ask for help. And be willing to accept help when it’s offered.

If you have the funds, hire a cleaning service or a food delivery service once in a while. Say “no” to social obligations occasionally. Allow your child to watch TV when you need a break. 

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