Parental Guilt: What Should We Feel Guilty About?

A dad dropping off his daughter at daycare

Guilt isn't bad if it's realistic and motivates us to try and be the best parent that we can be. All we can do is try, and like billions of parents before us, we won't be perfect and our children won't be perfect either

Writer Ann Beattie once said "a parent's reach only goes so far." We can't keep our children from unexpected harm, heartbreak, disappointment and other life experiences but we can do our best to engage and parent our children.

Here are a few tips for identifying unproductive guilt and getting the most out of the guilt that is justified.

We should NOT feel guilty when:

  • We go to work—at home or out of the home.
  • We run or walk or go to the gym.
  • We want some time for ourselves. Being a good parent doesn't mean not having a life. In fact all of the above may make us better parents and role models for our children.
  • Our children get a few bumps and bruises—physical and emotional. If children don't get to fall down, how will they learn to pick themselves up?

We should feel guilty when we:

  • Don't make time for our children. Children need ample amounts of our time throughout childhood. They don't need all of our time, or time-on-demand, but they do require lots of time, and time when they really need it. Sending a child to an enrichment experience is not equal to having that child spend time with us.
  • Are not fully there when we do make time. If we don't turn off the cell phone or Blackberry, or engage them in the work we are doing, the time is diminished. It's very sad to see a parent continue to talk on their cell phone headset after a brief smile to their child and the child's teacher when picking up their child from child care.
  • Give in and don't stick by "no." We all say "no, no, no, yes" and give in occasionally, but making it a habit doesn't do anyone any favors.
  • Put the television in the child's room and the DVD player in the car. If children don't develop the capacity to amuse themselves, to read, and to have conversations, it could be a huge developmental loss.
  • Also, when we don't try to be:
    • Empathetic and see the world through their eyes.
    • Positive with high expectations because low expectations lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
    • Realistic in our parenting based on an understanding of the child and the life she is leading.
    • Optimistic and give our children an optimistic view of life.
    • The parent we want to be and the person we want to be and we should give ourselves credit when we are doing our best.

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Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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