The moment your new baby comes into your arms, a whole new set of emotions rushes in—pride, joy, wonderment, fear, and, yes, guilt. Because everything you do or don’t do as a guardian of this child is all your fault forevermore.
The Many Ways We Can Feel Guilty as Parents
There are nearly infinite reasons for us to feel guilty. But just to give you an idea, here’s a short list:
- Mom’s milk might not be enough to breastfeed the child or mom decides not to breastfeed when everyone else is saying it’s best for the baby.
- You forgot, again, that it’s pajama day at school (or, in my case, you sent your kid to school in her pajamas on the wrong day).
- Your kid is allergic to dogs and you have three of them.
- You took your kid out to the playground but it’s burning hot and you forgot the hat or sunscreen.
- You took your kid out to the playground but it’s freezing and you forgot the hat and gloves.
- You can’t find the overdue library books.
- You missed a recital or a soccer game because of work or maybe other plans.
- Your child isn’t getting along with many of the other kids at school and you wonder if he or she inherited your poor social skills.
- You’re raising an only child and feel guilty for his or her lack of a sibling (especially for the future when you’re an aging parent and the burden of taking care of you is on his or her shoulders alone).
- You’re raising multiple children and can’t give each of them the same attention all the time. Or you secretly favor one of them.
- Your kid has picked up some terrible language or habits, likely from watching you. (You know they’re always watching you.)
- Your child asks to play with you but you say you can’t even though maybe you do have the time. (You just want 10 more minutes in the bath alone! Or you actually do want to work. Or you’re tired of playing Skylanders.)
- You can’t give everything to your children that your parents gave you.
- Your kids subsist on a diet of McNuggets and chocolate milk. Some weeknights, so do you.
- You lose your patience and snap or yell at your kids—the biggest guilt inducer for parents, according to one survey (bigger than working, spanking, or missing a school event).
Originally this short list had about twice as many bullets, but you get the point. Pretty much anything that affects your kids is something you could feel guilty about, warranted or not.
Why We Feel Guilty
Some of these are the result of our own decisions or presence of mind, but it’s obvious that others are either beyond our control or no big deal in the large scheme of things. (Pajama day will come again.) But many of us hold ourselves to higher standards when it comes to parenting than perhaps any other endeavor. Here are my theories.
For many of us, parenthood is also a huge part of our identities, and anything that goes right or wrong can feel like a reflection of our efforts or abilities. Kid got straight A’s in school? Good job, Mom and Dad! Didn’t make the honor roll? Why didn’t you push them harder? Unlike many other pursuits, there are very high stakes when raising a child—a human being you could possibly scar for life (and who might blame you forever for it).
Other people don’t help either, from your kid reminding you of that time you gave him the most crooked haircut ever to the people in the restaurant or the airplane giving you dirty looks if your kid is crying or glued to the iPad. Don’t even get me started on other parents on the playground or in parenting forums.