How to Let Go of Parent Guilt

How to Let Go of Parent Guilt

My children are grown and have children of their own, but I still remember the ache of “mommy guilt” I felt decades ago, trying to maintain my priority focus on my children while also remaining committed to my work and my career. It was overwhelming, and I know it has only gotten harder for today’s moms and dads.

More than half of working parents with children at home say being a working parent makes it harder to be a good parent, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study.

These feelings of inadequacy and frustration are widely shared by working parents, but it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be striving to be perfect — in parenting or your career — because this is an unrealistic expectation. Instead, focusing on striving to do your best paves the way to more peace and joy in your life.

And here’s some good news: In 2018, a Harvard researcher found that children of working moms grew up to be happy adults — and just as happy in adulthood as the children of moms who stayed at home.

And according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the old adage “quality over quantity” is absolutely true. Despite the natural tendency of mothers to place pressure on themselves to spend more time with their children, the quality of time spent with their little ones has a greater effect on child development.

Surprised? The researchers who developed this study were, too. Their hypothesis was built on the belief that more time spent with children would result in enhanced child development and success. Instead, mothers who invested quality time interacting with their children by reading together, sharing meals or talking one-on-one saw more successful behavioral, emotional and academic outcomes in their little ones later in life.

As a reformed perfectionist, I learned the hard way that quality of life is not about striving for perfection at home and work. It comes down to balance and choice. It’s vital to prioritize what is most important to you. I’ve had to pare down many interests over the years to focus on what is most meaningful for me in the long run.

Nothing is more important than your child, and in my journey to maintain balance, I’ve found ways to make rewarding, everyday connections with my children (and now grandchildren) without sacrificing success in the workplace. Here are a few of my favorite ways to spend quality time with the children in my life:

Unplug in the evening

After coming home from the office — or out of the home office — try to let go of work stress and be fully present with your little ones. Turn off your mobile devices and establish evening rituals with your children, such as taking a walk, reading a book together or dancing to fun music.

Take part in pretend play

When our children were young, my husband and I would encourage them to direct us in playtime. We would let them lead, engaging and listening in their imaginary play world. This kind of interaction made our children feel loved, respected, seen and heard while also providing my husband and me time to relax and enjoy them as we unwound after a day of work. With our grandchildren, we are delighted to have the opportunity to repeat this fun all over again.

Give back to others

Helping other people feel good reminds us of all we have to be grateful for. Getting children involved in giving back at an early age is a meaningful way to spend quality time together and nurture the development of important character traits, such as gratitude, sharing and generosity. You can create lasting memories together by doing simple community service projects, such as making a home-cooked meal for an elderly neighbor or collecting canned goods for a food pantry. At Primrose schools, our Caring and Giving Food Drive and other activities teach our children the importance of giving without expectation.

In my experience as a working mother (now grandmother) and the leader of an early education company, I’ve learned that we working parents have a unique opportunity to be important role models and examples of balance and servant leadership for our children.

Finally, I am so thankful research is starting to disprove the long-standing notion that as working mothers, we are putting our children at a disadvantage. And, according to researchers, by spending quality time together — even if it’s limited because of work schedules — we are investing in our children’s futures and possibly improving their academic achievement, behavior and emotional well-being.

For newer working parents, I encourage you to focus on the quality of the time you spend with your children and to be confident that you are not perfect and that is perfectly OK. My hope is that you, too, can let go of parent guilt once and for all.

For more on parents’ mental health, check out:

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