British Columbia·Point of View

Shed the guilt, there's no such thing as perfect parenting

From breastfeeding to basketball teams — many parents feel they are constantly failing to measure up. But is there a way to absolve ourselves from the parental pangs of guilt?

It's one of the toughest jobs in the world, yet many parents feel they are failing to measure up

Let go of the parental guilt. Your kids aren't expecting you to be perfect. They just want you. (Jeremie86HUN/Shutterstock)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

Forget about fossil fuels or solar cells — if we could harness the power of parental guilt we would be able to run the world forever. It's a completely renewable resource with an endless supply of parents who grapple with feelings of inferior child rearing!

Hardly a day goes by when I don't count up my "failings" as a mother and stash more money away for my offspring's future therapy. And when I bring up guilt with other parents, the list of their own perceived failings knows no end. 

It doesn't matter what you feel guilty about. I could feel badly about my child not playing enough sports, while someone else will say they feel guilty their child spends too much time playing sports. We constantly compare and look to see if we measure up. Why? Do we actually think there's a parent of the year award we've got a shot at? 

Mary Widdicks is a mom, freelance journalist, fiction writer and a former cognitive psychologist. She's written about parental guilt and how it's become what she describes as a "cultural epidemic."

Bottom line: we need to let go of who we "should" be and what we "should" do.

"When we use the word 'should' we're doing things to avoid negative consequences rather than to add benefit," says Widdicks. "It's the equivalent of going out for a run ... if you go out for a run because you choose to versus something is chasing you." 

No clear goal posts

Parenting is something none of us know how to do until we are thrown into it — and even then, we know shockingly little. It's one of the toughest gigs in the world, but we have no real time way of knowing that we are doing well.

Patty Connor is a Vancouver mom of two little girls. Between juggling work and family schedules — she wouldn't mind a little more feedback.

"There aren't clear goal posts for what you need to do to do it well," says Connor. "Your kid is a reflection of how well you've done your job, presumably." 

Of course, every time your kid is a jerk you feel like you've failed at your duties. Cue the guilt.

But what if we stop putting our energy into things that barely register with our kids? 

Are they really that impressed that you cut their sandwich into a dinosaur shape? Doubtful. Those hours spent bedazzling the heck out of a dance costume? Not so dazzling to them. 

But want to blow their minds? Just be there! Hang out. Listen to their stories. Play a game. 

Are they safe and loved?

You don't expect a perfect child. So why do you expect to be a perfect parent? 

You're still learning as a parent every day — and there will inevitably be some things that you should feel guilty about. And that's OK. Cut yourself some slack.

There are a lot of times — especially at the end of a busy day — when my guilt explodes and I worry I've dropped the ball. At those times, I try to remember this: Are my kids alive? Do they feel safe? Did I tell them "I love you?"

If the answer is yes to all of those questions, then I have to let go of my "sins" and the guilt.

They are safe and loved — and they know that 100 per cent. And that's what really matters. That's what they'll remember when they look back foggily on childhood — and I don't feel too guilty about that. Though I do apologize for my lack of clever sandwiches.  


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