Parental guilt is something most parents can identify with. Family life it nothing like it was in the 1950’s and 1060’s. It takes a village to raise our families.

The guilt of not being there for everything like we all would prefer, is hard to deal with. In this week’s Intentional Living we talk to a psychiatrist about the psychology of the guilt and tips to ease it.

If it’s not something you have felt before you might be asking where would parent guilt come from?

Dr. Sue Varma is a board certified psychiatrist and says, “You know, it comes from this strong bond and attachment that we have with our children. It comes out of love. It comes out of a need to protect them. From a biological point of view, an evolutionary point of view, it’s protective. Where it’s our kid, are we feeding them, what do they need? The downside is that sometimes it can be irrational, it can be feeling guilt over things we have no control over, that we have no responsibility over. But it’s a need for certainty, and wanting to make sure that our kid is okay and that we can control the outcome. Sometimes we don’t always have control.”

Like missing a child’s first words or first steps. For working parents those “first milestones” are often seen by someone else. And yet we try to fit in more and more into the same amount of hours. So the expectation on parents, especially moms, has changed. Women work more than they did in the 1960’s. Dr Varma says, “women are also according to PEW, spending more time doing daycare. Doing so many things in so many hours in a day. It’s often coming at the expense of our sanity, our mental health, our friendships and our hobbies.”

Whether you are a working parent or a stay at home parent, there is guilt on both sides brought on by other people. Varma says, “A lot of women internalize shame. Shame is profoundly corrosive to mental health. And women have more shame proneness, anxiety proneness than men. Guilt moves us toward pro social behavior and gets us closer to people. Shame isolates us.”

Women feel differently than men. Five minutes late to the kids concert or forgetting the snacks for the game. We are darned if we do and darned if we don’t. And as women we don’t give ourselves a break from the unrealistic high standards. But the guilt can be eased. Dr. Varma says there are three components to having self-compassion. “Being kind to yourself and kindness looks like affirmations, I’m doing a good job, I may not be the best Mom, but you know, I’m good enough. Kindness also looks like taking breaks, taking care of your mental health, scheduling time for therapy, scheduling time for girlfriends, friendships. Mindful observation is the second part. Don’t get over identified with your feelings. Say there’s the mom guilt again, you know, I’m a good person. it’s oki I’ll be there, like you said, though statements. I’ll see it, I’ll see it when I get home. The third thing is common humanity. This idea that we are part of
something greater, we’re something bigger than ourselves, and we’re not alone in what we’re feeling.”

Self compassion is the most important thing. And remember other people feel the same way. It takes a village!!