Guilt is a trap that many parents fall into. Moms and dads everywhere worry they’re not doing a good job, and these feelings of self-doubt were intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and now again for some returning into the office or into a hybrid schedule .
Early childhood development and parenting expert Lynn Louise Wonders — a working mom herself — understands these feelings of guilt and inadequacy well. She has seen many other parents struggle with them. Moms and dads alike feel guilty they’re not spending enough time with their children because of career demands, or they feel that they’re falling behind at work because home life is so demanding.
This sentiment is stronger than ever with many parents working from home full time or part time, where they must juggle home, family and work needs simultaneously, and often feel they are not succeeding at any of these duties. “My biggest insecurity is not being able to manage it all and feeling like I can’t give 100 percent to anything — my kids, my husband or my job,” says Nicole J., a working mom with two children. “I feel awful that I’m often sending emails, on calls or reviewing documents while simultaneously caring for my children.”
Parental Guilt Is a Real Thing
With so many responsibilities, guilt is something many parents struggle with, and research proves that finding balance is difficult:
- 36 percent of working moms and 16 percent of working dads say they juggle a lot of child care in addition to their jobs (Pew Research Center, 2021)
- There were nearly 2.4 million additional cases of burnout among working mothers due to the unequal demands of home and work during the pandemic (Maven Clinic, 2020)
- 50 percent of parents with children over age 3 say the pandemic has permanently changed the way they parent (Gerber, 2021)
Because parents often struggle with guilty feelings, redirecting negative thoughts is the key to conquering guilt. Rather than focusing on what you’re doing “wrong,” focus on what you’re doing right: raising your children to be kind, respectful and happy humans, and helping them thrive even in the midst of a pandemic. “My biggest source of guilt was screen time,” says Kellie S., a mom to a 3-year-old. “Once I saw it as a way for us to spend quality time together while everyone gets a break, though, it helped.”
How to Avoid Guilt
When Wonders coaches parents, she assures them that they can overcome self-deprecating feelings with realistic expectations and positive thinking. She shares some tips for how to avoid the parental guilt trap:
- Stop trying to be perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and striving for this unachievable goal will inevitably lead to disappointment. Give yourself a break and simply do the best you can. If you feel chronically overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek counseling from a professional. But first, let the aspirations of perfection go!
- Acknowledge that you can’t do it all. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 percent of women say they do more than their partner when it comes to household chores, and 78 percent say the same when it comes to managing their children’s schedules and activities. Many moms (and dads!) feel they need to be all things to all people, but it’s important to realize that you are human and there are only so many hours in a day. Delegate and allow others to help: Divide parenting and household duties with your partner. Reach out to your community for support. Ask a trusted neighborhood teen to supervise your children, or leave your kids with another parent or family member so you can go to the grocery store and prepare dinner after work.
- Try to understand and support your child’s needs.When your child has a tantrum or rebels, it’s easy to think it’s a result of your parenting. But these outbursts are natural. Try to understand the reason for the outburst. Are they overly tired? Have they gone too long without a snack? Do they need one-on-one time with mom or dad? Look for the simple solution first. If the behavior continues, seek support from a licensed child therapist who can provide play therapy and parenting support in a nonjudgmental environment.
- Make time for self-care. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to be present and provide the best care for your child. “Keeping up with my general health helps me stay sane,” says Kate Z., mom of a 7-month-old. “I try to get sunshine time and find a few mindful minutes in my day.” Take time after work to listen to a guided relaxation or sneak in a quick workout. Listen to your body’s signals, get enough sleep and make sure to eat healthy meals throughout the day, too.
Looking for more tips on how to navigate parenting? Check out these resources:
- A Child Development Approach That Takes the Pressure Off Families
- How to Let Go of Parent Guilt
- De-Stressing and Spending Quality Time with Your Kids
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