Rookie Mum Stuff: Parental Guilt

A learning curve for everyone

by Anna Dixon | Wed, November 08, 2017

I think from the moment you get pregnant and you realize that you are going to be responsible for another human for the rest of your life, something in your core intrinsically and irreversibly changes, and this doesn't just apply to women. Parents are equal. Your child is 50% each of you. You are both accountable, both able to take credit when your child gets a gold star, makes a new friend, or wins a Nobel prize, and both to blame if his or her first word has four letters and isn’t something you would casually say in front of your grandmother. What we do impacts our children. The way we act, the jokes we tell, the hugs we give, the way we discipline, the books we read. It all counts, which is why we feel parental guilt at least 25 times a day.

Baby Feet

Parental guilt for me can spring from anywhere, at any given moment. I work full time, and although I get back in time to see my son in the evening, give him a bath and put him to bed, of course it doesn't feel like enough. Sometimes I have to work a little at the weekends, and that’s a whole other world of guilt because it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m typing away on my laptop and what kind of parent does that? (Answer: a lot of us, because we have to.) But wait! We don't have a single banana in the house and now Theo doesn’t have a snack! I’ve failed! Oh god! He’s got diaper rash because we ran out of fancy diaper rash cream and now only have the store brand and it's not working and I’m a terrible mother! AND I GAVE HIM SOME CHOCOLATE BECAUSE HE KEPT LOOKING AT ME WHILE I WAS EATING IT AND NOW HE’S PROBABLY ADDICTED TO SUGAR! You get the gist… 

Kid Ice Cream

The scary thing is, for many people parental guilt can actually stretch much further than feeling a bit bad about doing an hour or two of work at the weekend, or being late home every now and again. Some parents feel real anxiety for not being the kind of parent they thought they’d be, for thinking they’ve inflicted some kind of lasting damage to their children by not being present enough, or for having an argument with their partner within earshot of the kids and panicking that those kids won’t ever have a healthy and functional adult relationship and will need to seek years of therapy to talk about their terrible childhood.

Parent and Child

So I guess the question is, why do we do this to ourselves? Whatever your level of parental guilt, and I’m sure most parents feel it to some degree whether it’s therapy-worthy, or have-a-glass-of-wine-and-compare-war-stories-with-your-friends-worthy, why do we continue to punish ourselves for being human? And I honestly don't know the answer here. I’m sure our parents felt guilt, and I imagine their parents did too, but I actually think that we have a worse deal now, in 2017. The Internet has ruined ignorant bliss for us. The minute we sneak a cupcake or disrupt a routine or don't brush their teeth, we know the repercussions, no matter how big or small.

Children Playing

I think what we do know is that it’s completely normal to feel this way, and it means we care, and that we want to strive to do better. It’s wired into our DNA to feel like we aren't good enough, and even the most confident parents will feel like they’ve fallen down somewhere along the road, but can all rest assured that guilt, along with constant worry and an overall sense of fear pretty much all the time is something we all feel, and we will feel even when our babies are grown and have their own babies. It's part and parcel of our journey as parents. It’s a learning curve for everyone, and as long as we talk about it and rest easy knowing that we’re all in it together, it shouldn't stop us sleeping at night.