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Guilt: it’s a reality of life for parents. Balancing the task of raising children with caring for your house and nurturing your other relationships and earning money to pay for all those dance classes ranges from “outrageously difficult” to “downright impossible”. Something’s got to give. There’s just no way to do it all perfectly, all the time, and so we don’t. We don’t fall short out of choice, though, so we feel guilty.
I feel guilty about something each and every day. There’s always something I should be doing, or really want to do, but can’t find the time to accomplish. On top of that, as my kids get older they get better at issuing direct complaints on the substandard nature of my parenting. If I forget someone’s hat when I drop them off at school, or prepare something they don’t enjoy for dinner, you can bet I’m hearing all about it. Their little eyes get wide and they look at me and say, “Why mama, why? Why did you do this thing?” Hannah has even gone so far as to draw pictures illustrating my various shortcomings.
The idea that we’re not spending enough time with our kids a hot-button issue in our culture. Mothers, especially, are not supposed to spend any time on ourselves when we could be spending time with our kids. If we work inside the home, we’re ignoring our kids to sit at the computer. If we work outside the home, we get a whole heaping plate full of guilt about that. If we don’t do any kind of paid work, that comes with its own societal judgments, too. There’s no winning at this game.
In spite of the fact that we’re getting constant messages about how we’re failing as parents, we’re actually far more engaged with our kids than any time in recent history. One American study showed, for instance, that mothers with a college education spent an average of 12 hours a week caring for their children in 1995, and an average of 21.2 hours a week in 2007. That’s more than one extra hour every day. The problem is that our expectations have also changed, so no matter how much time we spend with our kids we still feel as if we’re falling short.
In spite of its prevalence, parental guilt doesn’t help anyone. It just leads to anxiety and stress, and anyone can tell you that an anxious parent isn’t much fun to be around. Letting go of the guilt isn’t that easy, though. The desire to raise our children well is programmed into us, and so we’re constantly monitoring our own performance. Even given our predisposition to guilt, I think there are some ways that we can reduce the stress and anxiety.
Amber’s Guilt Reduction Tips
- Do something fun with your kids. It doesn’t have to take much time. Even 15 minutes can help you feel re-connected, and restore your sense of calm.
- If your kids are old enough, tell them what makes them so fabulous and then ask them what they love about you. Kids can be very effusive, and their expressions of undying love will remind you that you can’t be doing all that bad.
- Think back to a typical day when you were a kid. A time when you weren’t going to school, like over summer vacation, is especially good. Remember how many times your parents sent you off to do something that didn’t involve them – then remember how that didn’t scar you for life.
- Keep track of all the things you do for other people during one day. Marvel at how very giving you really are.
- Read about the benefits of leaving your kids to their own devices.
- When your kids start complaining about something that pushes your guilt buttons, remember the times when you were doing something super-fun with your kids and they complained. Like, say, when you went to the waterslides and they decided the water was too splashy. Accept that sometimes kids just complain. It doesn’t mean we’re bad parents.
When you can let go of some of your guilt, it frees up a whole lot of mental space. It may even free up some space in your schedule, because you’re spending less time scrambling to do it all. That space will help you to restore your sense of equilibrium, and give you the room you need to live a life that actually works for you – instead of a life that just makes you feel guilty.
What do you think? Is parental guilt inevitable? How do you reduce your own guilt level? I’d love to hear your thoughts!