As someone who works daily with parents of young children with special needs, and as a parent myself, I am noticing something. There is one issue that comes up for all parents, across the board. I struggle with this myself, and have seen it in the lives of my friends who are parents as well. What is this one big issue that all parents seem to have in common?
It’s guilt. Every . . . last . . . parent I know struggles with guilt.
The guilt that you feel can be for a number of reasons. It may be that immediate flood of guilt that comes after receiving a diagnosis for your child. “What did I do to cause this?” may be one of the first thoughts to cross your mind or, “What could I have done differently?” It comes like a huge weight out of the sky, crushing you.
Then there is the guilt that you feel for the mistakes you have made in the past, or are making right now. “I’ve ruined my child,” you may think or “they’ll need years of therapy to heal from my mistakes”. When you make a mistake as a parent, you can almost feel your heart turning to lead and, at times, it’s hard to overcome that feeling. It sticks around like a heavy cloak, dragging you down and never letting you forget that it’s there.
There is also the guilt that you feel from not being available or being too busy. So many parents feel this burden– that they have lost out on time they will never gain back, or simply feel bad for having other things to do that don’t involve their child.
Then there is the guilt that is induced by our culture. This comes from so many sources, from the looks at the grocery store to online parenting blogs and communities. I have most recently noticed many articles directed toward parents warning them of what not to do with their kids, and how to avoid damaging their precious minds. The internet is rife with guilt-inducing articles that can leave you feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
For many of you, all of this leaves you feeling weighed down and discouraged as a parent. You can end up feeling paralyzed by your own thoughts. It can also leave you feeling like you don’t even know how to parent anymore. Carrying it around can even make your heart feel like it has turned to lead. It can often compel you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do instead of relying on the good instincts that you have as a parent.
You guys! Your guilt is keeping you from being the parent you want to be!
What if you could throw it off and walk free? Imagine heaving that heavy pack off of your shoulders and throwing it far away from you. How amazing would that feel to parent unburdened by guilt and to make choices for you and your child based on your love and connection with him?
Picture yourself having the headspace to be able to decide what you really wanted for your child.
Envision being able to parent without that heavy burden weighing you down.
Just visualize how light you would feel. You could watch your child tantrum and respond in a way that would help you feel in control of yourself regardless of his response. You could feel secure and confident in the decisions you make for your child. You would be deeply rooted despite the storms brewing around you. And even when you messed up, not just in minor ways, but in big ways, you could still use those moments to learn something as a parent and to help him move past his behavior.
So how do you get rid of that guilt? How do you heave that heavy burden off of your back? Let’s talk about some ways to free yourself and move toward greater self acceptance and compassion.
Four Ways to Move Past Guilt as a Parent
1. Embrace the guilt. Wait, what? Yes, embrace it. In order to move past it, you must first get very comfortable with it. Sit down and feel all of the feelings that come with the guilt. Even if you’re not feeling particularly guilt-stricken in the moment, think back to a time when you were and let all of those feelings come to the surface. Instead of trying to push them away, enter into the feelings and allow them to wash over you. If your like many parents, just the idea of feeling guilty can induce even more guilt, which creates an obvious vicious cycle. Allow yourself to feel guilty and notice how it feels in your body. If you don’t first acknowledge it, you will never be able to let it go.
2. Connect with others. Find your nearest fellow parent and talk more about it. Now that you’ve allowed yourself to feel all the feelings, get all those guilty feelings out there and into the open air by talking about them and admitting that you feel them. You will probably then need to allow the other parent the time to share their own guilty feelings as well (remember, no parent is immune to this experience). Often just talking about it can offer a huge sense of relief and may be just enough for you to let it go in that moment.
3. Practice self-compassion. Moving from guilt to self-compassion can seem like a huge leap, but there are many resources out there to help you. Here is a great resource for you by Dr. Kristen Neff who offers some excellent exercises to help you in this way. From journaling exercises to guided meditations, you will find a lot of encouragement and very practical ideas here to help you have a lot more grace for yourself.
4. Receive the grace that your child offers. Amazingly, even after you’ve screwed up big-time, your young ones are always there, ready and waiting to extend grace to you. Your child can be your greatest teacher of self-compassion. Go up and give them a hug or find an enjoyable activity to do together. Let your connection to them bring you back to a place of feeling like the good parent that you are. Your children have so much grace to offer you if you are open to receiving from them.
So, my challenge to you is this: take one step away from the weight of your guilt and move toward that liberating feeling of accepting yourself as the good parent that you are. For many of you, working on these four steps will enable you to do just that. But some of you may do all of these things, yet still need help to break free. I would love to help you overcome these mental and emotional hurdles. I am here to offer you the support and encouragement you need to let it go. If you’re ready to feel light again, then get in touch with me for a free 15 minute consultation. You can talk. I will listen. And together, we will come up with a plan to help you throw off that guilt and start feeling the satisfaction of doing what you know is best for your child.
Image courtesy of Andrés Nieto Porras