We've all experienced it...the dreaded parenting guilt.
You blame yourself whenever you see your child fail or if they are unhappy or struggling. You beat yourself up after you lose your cool when your child misbehaves, you wonder how you have failed your child when they come home with a bad test grade, and you are sure it is your fault that your child hurt themselves when under your care.
There's always something to feel guilty about when you're a parent!
Judgments from those around us only increases the sense of guilt and shame that parents often already carry. If you have a child with special needs of any kind, whether autism, ADHD, depression, bipolar, anxiety or anything else, the stress and shame are only magnified. You are in public and your child acts out or starts throwing a tantrum and you get "those looks". You know the look I'm talking about - the "why don't you get your kid under control?" look.
Then there are the days when your sweet child turns into a toddler who has learned the word "no!". Or when you hit the teen years, a child who is satisfied by absolutely nothing you do or say one day and the next, you are the greatest parent that ever lived.
All parents have those days that feel like they aren't cut out for the job and wish their child came with an instruction manual! Take comfort in knowing you are not alone!
Parenting is truly the hardest job on earth (in my humble opinion!) and the reality is that the job description is forever changing. To add a little more challenge, what works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another. Better yet, what works one day may not work the next! And then to top it all off, once you think you have one issue or challenge mastered a brand NEW one arises! Every developmental stage brings with it new challenges and a whole new set of behaviors and dilemmas that we parents have to face.
Here's the secret...It's easy to feel like a failure as a parent if you base your success on your child's happiness, their behavior, and other's judgments. If that's your measuring instrument, you will feel guilty and as though you have failed more days then not!
Here are some pointers to avoid falling into the parents pit of guilt and shame:
1. Clarify for yourself what does define your success as a parent?
Some days, the fact that my children are alive and well fed is good enough for me. You may have bad parenting moments each day, but in the big picture: is your kid healthy, somewhat well adjusted and able to feed themselves?
Focusing on the big picture rather then the daily struggles can help you keep perspective and help appease the self-critical voice that reminds you of all of the ways you failed as a parent on any given day.
2. Don't measure your success or parent reactively because of the comments and/or fear of being judged by others.
No one is a wiser parent then those who don't have children — and those who do and are trying to tell you how to parent are probably sharing their own self judgment with you. Don't take it on!
Letting go of other's views, staying connected to your child and responding in the way your child knows you understand their feelings (misbehavior is simply a way for your child to communicate through their actions what they are feeling internally) will decrease your humiliation and increase your child's ability to respond to you.
When you model an appropriate and compassionate parenting response, you will likely impress anyone who is watching and they may even learn something!
3. Surround yourself with friends who will support you without judgment.
Find a friend who you can call when you've had one of those, "I'm ready to auction my child off to the lowest bidder" days who you can also support when they need to vent and make an intentional agreement that you won't judge one another and you won't give advice unless asked for it. Just a phone call letting of steam can be a huge relief and keep you off the slippery slope when you feel like you're about to fall in the pit of guilt.
4. Don't take your child's behavior, feedback from judgmental teachers and well-meaning parenting advice from your family or friends personally.
Know that it's OK to set boundaries with them as well. If you are forever getting the judgmental eye from your mother or the unsolicited parenting advice from your best friend or neighbor, let them know that you understand they are trying to help, but you feel judged and criticized when they give you that look/offer their advice and you're already hard enough on yourself and really need their support.
Setting boundaries can be done in a firm but compassionate way.
5. Educate yourself on each developmental stages of your child, challenges that they face and the tasks they are working to master.
This will help you put their behavior (saying "No!" at the age of 3 and moodiness when they are 13) in context and help normalize it.
It helps for perspective, but also by learning about their developmental challenges, you can educate yourself on the best strategies to help your child through each of these stages/tasks. This equips you with the information you need and will keep you from viewing their behaviors as a failure on your part. If your child wasn't going through these challenges, it would be more concerning.
6. Give yourself a break and the benefit of the doubt.
Every parent loses their cool and messes up at one point or another. If it is a chronic issue, find a support group or therapist to help you identify what is getting triggered in you when you lose your patience. Otherwise, chalk it up to your developmental process. Just as you wouldn't want your child to beat themselves up for a mistake they made, neither should you.
It is not what we do to our children, but what we do after what it is that we've done that truly matters. If you yelled at your child, apologize and take responsibility for your behavior. Repairs are one of the best teaching tools we can model for our children.
None of us are perfect and knowing we can mend a hurt will help you avoid parenting guilt and teach your child the lessons of taking responsibility, forgiveness and compassion.
7. Trust your instincts!
You know your child better then anyone. The times I have felt the most guilt as a parent were when I didn't trust my instinct and made a decision that discounted what my gut was telling me to do.
8. Remember that guilt is a feeling that can be a moral compass at times we have done something intentionally or unintentionally to hurt someone — it's not something we should use as a club to beat ourselves up with.
Remember that your children behave differently with you then they do at school, at friend's houses or with family members when you're not around. This is true for ALL children.
When I set a limit with my youngest daughter when she was 4 years old and she wasn't getting what she wanted she proclaimed, "YOU ARE RUINING MY LIFE!" and stomped off to her room. My thought was, "Great! I'm doing my job and all is as it should be". Thirty minutes later she was back to her usual happy self. Confirmation that I was on the right track!