If Ben Franklin were alive today, he probably would have changed one of his more famous quotes to say, “Nothing is certain except death, taxes, and mom guilt.”
Especially in a world where we spent the last year quarantining, working from home, homeschooling, and making what seemed like an infinite amount of other huge life changes, the amount of guilt parents are feeling because they “didn’t get it right” is immense.
So if the guilt parents feel is crushing their will to keep trying … what are they supposed to do?!?
Never fear. Take this list to heart as you look to subdue the beast that is parent guilt.
YOU ARE NOT A PERFECT SUPERHUMAN, STOP IT. Read that again. And again. And again. Because that’s the standard parents are holding themselves to most of the time. Somehow, they are supposed to perfectly balance their home and work lives on a budget with no help, all while miraculously anticipating every one of their childrens’ needs so they are perfectly happy every second of the day.
Life is messy, frustrating, and most days feels like a really-not-funny round of improv. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Admit that the added pressures you may (*cough* most definitely) have placed on yourself aren’t doing you any good.
Be okay with being insecure. The fact that you got your preschooler out of the house with all of their clothes on and no food on their face was feeling like a huge accomplishment until you saw your neighbors load up into their SUV, single file, looking like they popped out of a fashion magazine.
There will always be other parents around you who seem to have it all together. (Keyword: seem.) A lot of parenting guilt stems from feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
The truth is literally everyone feels that way. The problem is that no one wants to admit it. However, admitting you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or guilty could be just the thing to offset those feelings. There’s a freedom that comes with stating the reality of the situation. So be the one to stand up and say, “I’m tired of trying to convince everyone that I know everything!”
Unfollow whoever is adding to the guilt. And this means online AND in real life. If there’s an influencer, another parent, or a family member who just always makes you feel bad about your parenting, cut them out. Mute them on social media. Sit at a different table. Their negative influence on your life is making things worse.
If you can’t completely remove them from your life, then don’t give their opinions a second thought. Instead, surround yourself with parents and family members who don’t make you feel guilty. That isn’t to say people that will 100% agree with you on all things, but loving and supporting people don’t always have to see eye to eye.
Identify the things you don’t need to feel guilt over. There is a lot of “fluff” that circulates the parenting world that somehow gets labeled as “essential to being a good parent.” Figure out what those things are for you and ignore them.
Did your kids’ dinner come from the freezer again tonight instead of including some kind of kale salad? Don’t feel guilty. Did you drink too much coffee today instead of drinking the 12 gallons of water an influencer mom on Instagram said you should be drinking? Don’t feel guilty. Want to rip your hair out because your kids are on your nerves? DON’T FEEL GUILTY.
Speaking of feelings, that’s an area where parents really need to tone back the guilt. Feeling annoyed, frustrated, or angry is not a sin! How parents respond to those feelings is another story (more below), but parents can make themselves feel bad just for feeling them at all. Again, you are a human. The people you love are not perfect and will frustrate you A LOT. Both of those things are fine.
Acknowledge, apologize, and learn. Sometimes (aka frequently) parents might (aka most certainly) act or react in a way they know is wrong. Maybe you snapped in the car because your kid forgot their backpack at home for the third time this week. Or maybe you had to work a lot this month and hardly saw your family at all. If you don’t say anything to your kids about these behaviors, they will either (a) think they are acceptable or (b) think you don’t care how your actions affect them. Own up when you think you’ve messed up and sincerely apologize to your kids.
Even better, let them know exactly how you’re going to change. Maybe explain that having to turn around in the morning is really inconvenient for the whole family, but that didn’t give you permission to shout at them. Or explain that work has been demanding but that you’ll do a better job of disconnecting from work and really engage when your family spends time together (quality over quantity).
Most importantly, follow through with your behavior. Kids are very perceptive and will be watching to see if you live up to your word.
Be kind to yourself! We end most of our blog posts with the reminder to practice self-kindness. That’s because we know you are honestly trying your best. Remind yourself of that next time you feel guilty about doubling your toddler’s daily allotment of tablet time, skipping your workout for the fourth day in a row, or becoming so frustrated with your child that you could cry. In the end, you’ve set your destination to “Best Parent I Can Be,” and that’s what really matters. Keep trying, keep improving, keep asking your kids for grace, and keep finding support in your community. Take time to decompress, enjoy your family, and work toward making the best life together that you can.
That’s what matters.
This article originally appeared on Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool.