November 17, 2020 – For parents feeling parenting guilt, you’re not alone. As a feeling that comes from a constant notion that a mom or dad feels like they’re not doing “enough,” the pressures can become overwhelming. Suzanne Barchers, Education Advisory Board Chair for Lingokids shares tips on how to address and overcome that guilt and the importance of finding balance, staying true to yourself, and focusing on the positives and not negatives.
Find balance between other’s advice and your emotions:
From the moment parents find out they are expecting a child, most parents start wondering—and worrying—about how to give their baby the best start. Doctors, books, friends, and relatives are generous with advice. “Don’t smoke. Don’t drink alcohol. Take prenatal vitamins. Play classical music and read to your baby in the womb.” It’s easy to get caught in the guilt trap even before your baby’s heartbeat can be heard, leaving you with worries, such as, “I had a glass of wine and didn’t realize I was pregnant. Did I harm my baby?” Finding a balance between heeding advice and dealing with your emotions takes patience and fortitude. Always be grateful for the advice and take it with a grain of salt, then evaluate whether you will take it or not.
Remember everyone’s experience is different:
Discuss with your family and friends how to stay comfortable with all the input from various sources, including social media. It’s natural to want to share your news with the world but be prepared that well-meaning friends and acquaintances may overwhelm you with their experiences. Have a game plan for dealing with anecdotes and advice. There’s nothing worse than hearing a horror story about a difficult birth from one friend and then having another say giving birth is just “hard work.” Keep in mind that the range of experiences are individual and varied. Practice saying something like, “I’m really thrilled that your pregnancy was successful, but I’m finding I need to limit input from others. Can we talk about something else?”
Surround yourself with families with your same values:
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had unlimited time and energy to be a super parent, one who bakes from scratch, plants a garden and cans food, runs the school parties, and always provides the best nutritional lunch choices imaginable? Rarely happens. Finding a set of parents who have similar values will help with the guilt factor. When I was in my 40s, with two school-age kids, a friend and I decided to get advanced degrees. We essentially pooled our resources and helped each out with childcare. The children benefited from our collaboration—having friends to play with—and we knew they were in good hands. Resist putting too much emphasis on what others are doing. We rarely know what is behind what we see. That mom who seems so “over the top” dedicated to making everything look perfect may be getting little sleep and letting other things pile up—creating her own guilt.
If you’re going back to work, know it’s the best for your family:
Once your baby has arrived, you’ll find yourself even more stretched. You may need to return to work and use a variety of caregivers. Leaving your child can be tough, and you may feel guilty for not devoting yourself to the child 100% of the time. However, working for your family may not only be necessary financially, but it may be the best thing for you as the parent. Yes, you’ll be exhausted most of the time, but your time with your child can be more precious as you ensure the bond that comes with what’s called “quality time.” A walk to the park can be restorative for you and a special experience for your child. Children can also benefit from the socialization that child care often provides.
Deciding to stay at home full time depends on the family. While it varies for each, some might be judged by working parents about having “too much free time.” Understand that this is what you decided and it’s what works best for your family.
As your child grows, having him or her assume responsibilities will help you out, and it will teach valuable skills. When my sons turned five, I started an allowance for them. I also said, “Now that you are five, you are big enough to help. Here are three choices. Choose one.” I’d choose appropriate chores, such as taking out the trash, folding their clothes, etc. At age 13, they had to do their own laundry. No negotiation. I sometimes gave the option of practicing piano an extra five minutes per day. That became an easy choice, and they became excellent pianists! I didn’t have to nag or push them to practice. We also limited their after-school choices to one sport. We recognized that as two working parents, choices had to be made so that the family functioned smoothly. Everyone had to pitch in.
Focus on the successes and not the failures:
Not everyone is perfect. We learn from our parents, our experiences and from our mistakes. And it’s especially true that with the first child we tend to want to be absolutely perfect in all our choices and decisions. People with successful large families have taught their children to share the responsibilities and thus share the journey. Acknowledge the challenges and laugh through the mistakes. Be sure to celebrate the successes too. And a good sense of humor will serve everyone well.
Suzanne Barchers, EdD is the Former Editor in Chief and VP of Leapfrog Enterprises, former Managing Editor at Weekly Reader. She’s an award-winning author of more than 250 books for teachers and children, plus two college textbooks, and served on PBS and Association of Educational Publishers Advisory Boards.