Home / Family Articles / Are you a guilty parent

Are you a guilty parent

are you a guilty parent

Written by:

It’s impossible to understand it completely until you become a parent yourself, but unfortunately guilt is a major part of the parental experience. You may as well accept right now that for the rest of your life, any problem or mistake on your child’s part, no matter how big or how small, will make you ask yourself are you a guilty parent?

Why do parents feel guilty?

It’s the inevitable by-product of caring about your kids. We all want our children to grow up as healthy, stable and happy individuals. When anything appears to threaten that, we start questioning whether we have made mistakes. And of course, we all have made mistakes. There is not a parent in the world who doesn’t get it wrong sometimes. So if you are determined to find things to feel bad about, you will certainly find plenty of examples in your parenting of your children.

What can I do about it?

There is nothing wrong with feeling guilty when you know you could have handled something better. We all snap at our kids sometimes, and we all make mistakes with discipline, either laying down the law too forcefully or letting them get away with too much, or in many cases, swinging between those two extremes. Afterwards, we feel guilty, and that prompts us to apologise to our children, talk it over, and decide to handle things better next time.

Furthermore, guilt can be an indicator that you need to make changes. If you work so hard that you can’t spend time with your children, your level of guilt will soon tell you that you need to find a way to achieve a better balance. If you are fretting because you know that you are constantly irritable and snappy, then you already know yourself that you must think about your own needs more in order to have the resources to respond more positively to your children.

But what if your feelings of guilt are deeper than that? If you find that you are guilty almost constantly, and the feelings are overwhelming to the point where they are affecting your happiness, then it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself what’s really going on.

Dealing with excessive guilt

An excessive, damaging degree of guilt almost always arises from unrealistically high standards. It may also be linked to your own self-esteem problems. You need to think about whether you are asking too much of yourself and if so, why that might be.  Perhaps your own parents were very strict or highly critical, and you have taken on their parenting style without realising it? Or alternatively, perhaps they were very laid back, and you are trying to impose an order on family life that was lacking for you as a child? Either way, you need to ease up on yourself. Your children will make mistakes sometimes, and they will do things ‘wrong’ by your standards. That doesn’t make you a bad parent, it’s just normal and hard as it is, you are going to have to let them makes those mistakes. If you spend the rest of your life feeling responsible, you will have a pretty miserable existence.

are you a guilty parent

Children and parental guilt

Children are experts at picking up on the things you feel guilty about, and they can learn to use this to their advantage. That doesn’t mean they’re miniature psychopaths, it means that they are following a human instinct, i.e. to try and get what they want and to control what’s going on around them. If you feel guilty because you are short of money and can’t buy the kids everything they want, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will tune in to your feelings and do what they can to increase your guilt until you cave in and give them that one thing that you know you can’t really afford. It’s not good for kids to be able to manipulate their parents in this way, so dealing with your excessive guilt is really important for them, as well as for you.

Breaking the habit

You may have been feeling so guilty for so long, that it’s become a normal state of mind for you and you don’t even recognise it. From now on, when the guilty feelings creep up, stop your train of thought and take stock. Do your children feel loved and secure? Are they fed and, clothed and is your home warm and comfortable? Do you play with them, talk to them and generally spend time with them on a frequent basis? Can they confide in you about their problems? If so, you are doing fine, so ease up on yourself. You will be a much better parent for ditching the guilt.






About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

View all posts by