Getting Over Parenting Guilt

It doesn't take much to make a parent feel guilty: Here's how to fight it

Getting Over Parenting GuiltThe pangs of guilt. Parents feel them all the time, whether it’s guilt over working late (again!), guilt over not breastfeeding as long as Ms. Perfect Mom down the street, guilt over not putting the kids in enough extracurricular programs or even for letting them watch a half-hour too much TV. Guess what? Parenting experts say you can stop beating yourself up over this stuff.

1. The Breastfeeding Pang

“I didn’t breastfeed my baby nearly as long as I thought I would. I feel like I have failed my child and I am disappointed in myself.”

The Expert Opinion: Yes, breast is best, but there may be times — due to Mom’s family life, work involvement, health or baby’s health — when breastfeeding may not be possible. The next best choice is formula, and parents need to know that’s OK. Mom and Dad can still give baby the other benefits of breastfeeding, like maintaining skin-to-skin contact during bottle-feeding, says Karon Foster, the Lead Parent Educator-Nurse of the Parenting Partnership Program, a two-year Canadian parent education program currently in development by Toronto-based nonprofit organization Invest in Kids.

The Bottom Line: It’s nutritionally better to breastfeed, sure, but if mom isn’t happy, then nobody is happy.

2. The Lack-of-Quality-Time Pang

“Work is so hectic and it seems like we hardly spend any time with the kids. Is it enough to share breakfast-in-a-rush, dinner-in-a-blur, homework, bath, and that’s it?”

The Expert Opinion: It’s perfectly normal to feel like you’re not spending any time with your kids. The good news is there are things that can be done to change that. If you’re trying to get supper on the table after a hectic day at work, let your two-year-old make “potion in a bowl” while you make salad for dinner. (Potion recipe: Get five ingredients and a huge bowl and spoon and let him mix the stuff together.) Have him sort socks into colour piles while you change the laundry loads. It takes longer, but this is quality and quantity time that children want to spend with you. Rather than spending half the evening chasing your preschoolers back to bed, don’t feel guilty about finding a sleep arrangement that works for your family. If you are doing the family bed thing, or letting the kids fall asleep on the sofa, or staying in their room until they fall asleep, don’t let anyone take you to task for it. It’s a way to connect with children after a rushed day, and if it works for your family, no one has a right to say that it’s wrong, says Judy Arnall, parent educator, author of Discipline Without Distress, and mother of five near Calgary.

The Bottom Line: Get your kids involved in what you need to do to get through the daily routine, and don’t let anyone judge you for doing what works in your family.

3. The TV Pang

“We all know that the TV is not a babysitter, but some days, I just have to stick the kids in front of it so that I can get a moment to myself. I know that this isn’t the right thing to do, but I just don’t know how else to give myself a time-out.”

The Expert Opinion: Don’t worry too much if you’re using the TV to keep your kids occupied. This is where informal parenting support groups come in handy; parents can compare their children’s screen time and feel better about what really happens in homes, away from the “expert” advice. We know the recommendations and try to follow them, but sometimes it’s just not realistic and that’s okay. Foster adds that some studies have shown that selected TV shows, like Sesame Street, actually increase a child’s general knowledge and acceptance of people of different ethnicities. The key is in the selection. When you use TV, it’s wise to have specific programs or DVDs on hand, rather than letting them watch whatever happens to be on at the time.

The Bottom Line: If you don’t make a habit of it, you are just doing what most parents do — using technology to make life a wee bit easier.

4. The Extracurricular Pang

“I know that it’s wrong to over-program kids. Still, I feel inadequate as a parent for not enrolling my kids in as many extracurricular activities as the rest of their friends.”

The Expert Opinion: Get over it. Kids today don’t have time to learn how to play, says internationally recognized parenting speaker and author Barbara Coloroso of Littleton, Colo. This keeping up with the Joneses, she says, falls under the umbrella of hoarding, which is about me, mine, and more — to the detriment of us, ours, and enough. If you simply can’t afford to put your children in dance lessons, you can still go for less expensive options. If the lessons are really important to you (or the kids), adds Foster, there are always affordable options through community centres and public libraries. Heck, why not create your own dance class in your living room every Saturday afternoon for an hour?

The Bottom Line: Forget about the Joneses — keep the hoarding mentality in check and know that, if the lessons are a must, there are always cheaper alternatives out there.

5. The Anger Pang

“I feel so awful when I lose my temper with my kids. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, I feel really bad afterwards.”

The Expert Opinion: Everyone has certain hot buttons and many of them are common to all parents, such as trying to get out the door in the morning on time, says Arnall. Most parents start every day with the best intentions to be patient, and by 4 p.m. they are wearing thin. Some days are better than others. Parents need to not be so hard on themselves. They think they are monsters for losing their temper with their children, when in reality, every love relationship has some times of frustration, says Arnall. The best follow-up when you’ve lost your temper? Apologize, says Coloroso. “Own it, fix it, learn from it and move on from it.” You’ll send a strong positive message to your child when you admit that you lost your temper.

The Bottom Line: It is normal and healthy to occasionally lose your temper with your kids. When you do, try to time yourself out, take a look at why you lost it and know that a sincere apology goes a long way with kids.

Renee Wilson is a mom of two (Ruby, 4, and Jet, 3) who readily admits to falling into the parenting guilt trap all the time.

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