Do you ever feel like you have failed as a parent? You would not be alone. Parental guilt is incredibly common, and often unfounded. Yes, our children inherit our challenges and strangeness, but they are also shaped by the power of our unconditional love. Here are a few ways to help you take yourself off the hook.
1. Learn the Difference Between Helpful and Unhelpful Guilt
The first step is to explore your guilt. As with anything else, what we resist persists, so it does no good to ignore the fact that you feel guilty. Rather, discover what the guilt is actually about.
Sometimes, guilt appears to tell us that something is wrong. In these instances, it is an internal alarm that we are out of integrity in some way. If you feel guilty for yelling at your children or missing a childs school event, this may mean that you need to change your communication style or adjust your work schedule. Then guilt is helpful, because it can inspire you to change in a way that will make you and your family happier.
Often, however, guilt is irrational and unhelpful. If you are overwhelmed by a vague sense that you should be doing more or acting differently, with no concrete reason, then that might be the unhelpful type of guilt. In those instances, rationality is your friend. Ask yourself what specifically you could do more at that moment, or how your behavior should be different. If no answer arises, then do your best to release guilt (for the moment) and move on.
2. Talk to Your Children
Another way to release guilt is to talk to your children directly about the situations that trigger it. These kinds of conversations will need to be tailored to fit the communication dynamic you have with your children. The way you talk about your feelings will need to be adapted to be appropriate for the ages and temperaments of your children.
For younger children, it might be a simple discussion about how sometimes you get upset, but you love them and never mean to hurt them. You could develop code words for when you start to feel angry or upset, so they know that you need a time out before the conversation can continue.
With older children, you can explore guilt directly. Let them know specifically what you think you did wrong, and what your true intentions were in those situations. Communicating directly and honestly with your children empowers them to understand you, and themselves, more clearly. And it is likely that through the conversation you will discover how your children actually felt about the situation which probably is not as traumatized as you might think.
3. Think About Your Parents
You can get past your guilt by thinking about how your parents raised you. They, like you, probably did the best they could with what they had. Even if you are still healing some resentment, you can feel how much they must have loved you.
Then, do your best to forgive and accept your parents. This simple act of grace will potentially free up a lot of energy inside you. Forgiveness allows us to be more present and responsive in the moment, rather than being stuck in the past. Stuck energy and unresolved emotions often trigger a repetition of those patterns. You are less likely to repeat your parents mistakes if you forgive them and let that energy move.
4. Make Friends with Other Parents
There are many ways that being a part of a community makes us feel better. Connecting with other parents can help you see other styles of parenting. It will also help you realize that guilt amongst parents is common, but need not be debilitating. Being able to share about your process and gain outside perspective is invaluable for working with guilt in a healthy way.
5. Always Do Your Best
This guideline from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz can see you through many guilt trips. From this moment forward, vow to do your best in any situation. Understand that your personal best will change from day to day, depending on how well, rested, fed, and cared for you are. But if you are committed to always doing your best for your children, then there will be no place for guilt to sneak in whatever may occur.
Guilt is a normal part of parenting. Sometimes it is valuable, and helps us see where we may be off course as a parent and a person. But often it is just another way that we beat ourselves up. Try out these tips to help you cultivate a healthy relationship with guilt, and go easier on yourself. After all, modeling self-love might be one the best ways you can care for your children.