Feeling guilty can sometimes be useful. “It can motivate parents to question the way they do things and their own behaviours.”
“At the end of each day, I tell myself that I didn’t spend enough time with my kids, that I didn’t have any fun with them,” complains Marie-Ève, mother to 6-year-old Mia, 2-year-old Nolan, 7-month-old Romain and a 13-year-old teenager. “I’ve got so many things to do! And it’ll only get worse once my maternity leave ends. I also feel guilty for imposing consequences on my kids when they misbehave and for making my youngest eat store-bought baby food, when I made it at home for the others.”
What parent hasn’t experienced these typical feelings of guilt? Anika, for example, works from home, which lets 6-year-old Ann-Charlotte and 4-year-old Louis-Félix enjoy more relaxed mornings. But she still feels pangs of guilt when she has to bring her kids in to daycare earlier than usual, even if it’s for a good reason: she volunteers for the Breakfast Club twice a month. On the other hand, Claudine feels guilty for not playing with 5-year-old Thomas and 2-year-old Leah enough. “I don’t always have the time or the inclination to crawl around on all fours or to play hide-and-seek.”
Geneviève Henry, a psychosocial worker for the Parents Help Line, receives numerous calls from parents experiencing all sorts of guilt for a thousand and one reasons. “Raising kids is a huge responsibility. Parents want to do the right things, but are afraid of making mistakes or of not being able to give the best to their children. This is why they feel guilty.” In other instances, this guilt comes from shouldering too much of the burden and forgetting that being a parent is also a team effort.
But feeling guilty can sometimes be useful. “It can motivate parents to question the way they do things and their own behaviours,” explains psychologist Nicolas Chevrier. “This thought process can lead to changes that may be necessary, or on the contrary, can help a parent realize that there’s no need to feel guilty.”
That said, if guilt becomes too overwhelming, there’s a problem. If you’re under the impression that you never do anything right, you may end up doubting your parenting abilities. As a result, you may lose some of your self-esteem. And because you’re a model for your children, this may in turn mean that your child will have a harder time developing a positive self-image.
Feeling guilty about everything also leads to stress and fatigue. These emotions then take a huge toll on you, and make it difficult to think things through, come up with appropriate decisions or simply enjoy happy family moments. “Because they feel guilty, some parents overcompensate by becoming too permissive,” adds Geneviève Henry. “But children need rules and routines to feel safe.”
Some strategies to keep the guilt at bay:
- Allow yourself to try things. It’s normal to not always get everything right the first time. To know what’s best for your child, you may need to try different ways of doing things. Give yourself the right to make mistakes, because it’s more than likely that you’ll get things wrong sometimes.
- Keep things in perspective. Most of the time, the consequences are not as dramatic as you imagine. Is it the end of the world if your child has a stain on his clothes today? If you don’t like playing toy cars with him? If you arrived a little late? Ask yourself: what does any of this mean in a lifetime? This will help you gain some perspective.
- Enjoy each small moment with your child. Your daily routines and rituals are great opportunities to spend quality time with your child (when he tells you about his day at supper, during bath time, or at story time right before bed, etc.). You can also turn everyday tasks into a game, as Claudine does when she asks Thomas and Leah to help her set the table. Some other ideas: have your child count the number of cans of food that need to be put on the shelf, sing nursery rhymes while giving him his bath, ask your son to fold the towels while you fold the rest of the laundry, etc.
- Accept help from others. You don’t have to carry the weight of parental responsibilities alone. It’s a good idea to let others take over when you feel the need.
- Take time for yourself. Doing something you enjoy (taking a walk, visiting a friend, playing a sport, etc.) will help you recharge your batteries. The stronger you are emotionally, the easier it is not to let yourself be overwhelmed by guilt.