Parental Guilt: Forgiving Yourself For Parenting Mistakes

No person is perfect, and (especially) no parent is perfect – not me; not you; not even the seemingly fault-free cookie baking, PTA-leading, soccer mom from down the street who seems like she has it all together.

What we are is human, and humans make mistakes.

We tell our children that it’s okay to make mistakes and we teach them how important it is to forgive themselves and others when mistakes have been made. Why, then, are we so incapable or hesitant to do the same?

Every parent has the regret of something they’ve done or said, or haven’t done, or haven’t said, persistently nagging at them in the back of their minds. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs there is and you are bound to have at least one (but probably more) of those regrets – but it’s time to forgive yourself.

Forgiving yourself for parenting mistakes will help relieve you of the stress, guilt, and anxiety you may be feeling, and will allow you to focus on the present more than the past.

What Is Parental Guilt?

Parental guilt comes into play when you feel you’ve done something wrong as a parent that may have had a negative impact on your child. It arises when we, as parents, become aware that we have failed at doing the absolute best that we could for our children.

You are not only worried about how your action may have impacted your child, but are also angry with yourself for making such a mistake in the first place – and now you are punishing yourself for it by letting your guilt eat away at you.

What Are We Feeling Guilty About?

Of course, everyone holds themselves to different standards – whether it be because of the examples that have been set for them by their own parents, other parents they interact with, or even media or literature that they consume. All of these factors play a role in how one believes they should act and accomplish as a parent – what’s right, what’s wrong, etc., etc.

Despite this, there are, as usual, a few “mistakes” that are more common than others – things that most, if not all, parents have felt guilt about at some point or another, such as:

  • Not actively listening to your child enough
  • Being too focused on other things, such as work
  • Not showing enough affection to your child
  • Being to critical of your child
  • Being a poor role model for your child
  • Not parenting with consistency
  • Pushing your child too hard (or not pushing them hard enough)
  • Not taking the time to try and understand your child properly
  • Yelling at, hitting, blaming, or generally punishing your child

Do any of these sound familiar? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone – and we are here to help you get past the guilt that these types of situations may be causing you.

Why Are We So Hard On Ourselves? 

Making mistakes, having poor judgment, and doing or saying things we know we shouldn’t say or do, especially in the heat of the moment, are natural – it’s called being human.

However, when we do things like this, and then compare ourselves to the unrealistic, impossible, and yet idealized standard of human behaviour that is portrayed all around us, how could we not feel guilty?

Personal Standards

Of course, our parenting styles and habits are first and foremost built around our own personal values, morals, beliefs, and experiences.

Our values are the beliefs that each of us considers important, either for ourselves or for society as a whole. These values impact our behaviours, attitudes, decisions, and general outlook on life and the world. As a parent we work to instill these same values in our children.

One of the best examples of a common value that many parents strive to teach their children is “treat others as you would like to be treated”.

In addition to our own values, we often base our own parenting techniques on experience – most commonly the example that our parents set for us. Whether we look up to our parents and attempt to pull from the positive parenting they showed us, or we look to learn from their mistakes, these experiences play a large role in how we parent our own children.

Expectations Set By Society

We are under a constant influx of information – how-to guides, advice books, and parenting 101 courses everywhere you turn. Not only are we trying to keep up with all of this information, but we are doing so while under the microscope of society.

Where our parents only had to deal with the peering eyes of their neighbours and parents trying to offer advice on parenting, we are under a much more public eye. Thanks to social media, it seems that every person nowadays is an expert – and of course they have an opinion on everything, even our parenting skills.

We may feel we are doing a great job, until we read an article or receive negative feedback from someone we don’t even know – and then all of a sudden we start to question ourselves. Did we do the right thing? Should we have said that?

It’s as if expectations and standards for how we parent our children have risen, and yet support has dropped – society is more ready to judge us than to help us.

The Affects of The Guilt

While we as parents are the one’s bearing the burden of this guilt, it does not only affect us – it can affect our children too. Of course, it will affect both our children and us differently.

How It Affects Us

There are various levels of guilt that parents can feel.

Some parents may feel bad for the mistakes they feel they’ve made, worrying that they have wronged their child or beating themselves up because they feel they could have done better. This is normal.

In extreme circumstances, a parent may be so guilt-ridden that they become overly anxious or, worse, fall into spells of depression. This is not healthy, for you or for your children. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, it may be time to seek professional help.

How It Affects Our Children

Guilty parents often become targets for manipulation. Whether your child does it intentionally or not, they may use your guilt to get what they want. While this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express your guilt and try to make amends, it does mean you should avoid dwelling on the issue.

Let Go Of The Guilt

Forgiving yourself for some of the less-than-perfect moments you’ve had as a parent can seem like a finish line that is always just out of reach – but it doesn’t have to be. There are a number of ways to begin your journey to forgiving yourself for past mistakes and learning to avoid feeling so guilty for future mistakes (because we all know there will be more).

Making Amends for Past Mistakes

The first step in learning to forgive yourself for mistakes you have made in the past is to try to make amends – or at least apologize.

First, have an open conversation with your child (whether they are young or grown – but make the conversation age appropriate) declaring that you feel you made a mistake. Express to them that you are sorry and reassure them that you won’t repeat the same mistake again. After apologizing you can ask for forgiveness – or make amends in some other way.

Keeping the guilt hidden away is what feeds it. By apologizing and asking for forgiveness you can begin to forgive yourself.

Avoiding Future Guilt

Once you have started on your journey of forgiving yourself for past mistakes you can also begin to take a proactive approach to avoid feeling such strong guilt about future mistakes.

To help yourself from becoming too overwhelmed with guilt, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always remember, parental guilt is normal! There will be times when you may feel like the worst parent in the world, but we will let you in on a little secret – every parent has felt that way! And every parent has probably made the same mistake as you, so don’t beat yourself up too much about it.
  • Give up on being perfect. As we stated earlier, no parent is perfect. If you have unrealistically high expectations for yourself, you are bound to disappoint yourself. Be realistic and do your best.
  • Take action. If you keep your thoughts and feelings bottled up, they will begin to weigh you down. The best thing you can do is to express these thoughts and feelings and turn them into positive actions.
  • Find or create a support system you can turn to. Sometimes all it takes to relieve you of some of your guilt is knowing that someone else has been in the same situation or is having the same feelings as you.

Guilt is a powerful emotion, but by following some of the tips from above you can learn how to not only cope with yours but also how to learn from it.

Do you suffer from any sort of parental guilt? How do you deal with it?


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