It seems that not only do you have a lovely new baby when you become a parent but you have something else in abundance - guilt. Guilt about nearly everything - not breastfeeding, breastfeeding, not spending enough time with the kids, not reading them enough improving literature, not tidying the house, not…I could go on and on but I could never list all the things new parents feel guilt about.
And that’s the point. Buy into your guilt and it’s like fighting the mythical Hydra. Cut off one head, and another two will grow in it’s place. There will always be something you feel you aren’t doing right - the answer isn’t to get rid of guilt altogether but to find a way to manage it more effectively.
Don’t get me wrong, guilt is a valid emotion, it tells us that we care about things, and that’s no bad thing. But, as a new parent, guilt can feel overwhelming. Here are my tips to for avoiding the guilt trap.
What guilts you?
See if you can work out what gets your guilt going. Is it looking at pictures of other parents you know laughing joyfully with their perfect, clean offspring in their interior-designed homes? Social media can be great for a new parent to keep connected, but beware the people who post perfect pictures. Comparing yourself to others is a thankless task. Focus instead on the fact that you are doing the best that you can. Perfect parenting is a myth. Plus you just know that under the perfect picture lies a house as messy as yours.
Once you know what sets your guilt off, you can step back from it a bit more and avoid stepping into the trap.
Focus on what you can control
Feeling guilty is often the result of regretting a past action. When you feel guilty about something you’ve done in the past, you can take action to do it differently another time. That’s something you have control over.
But I notice with many new parents that their guilt is more of a ‘if I don’t do this, then my child’s life will be ruined and IT WILL BE ALL MY FAULT’ type of guilt. The problem is that your brain will manage to think over every possible negative outcome in the world in this scenario! No wonder parents feel overwhelmed. Add a dash of perfectionism about parenting into the mix, and before long your mind will be picturing your child alone and unhappy, all because you didn’t spend the morning teaching them baby sign language.
There are many things that will impact on your child’s future over which are not in your control. Focus on what you do have control over - providing a safe and loving home where your mind is in the present.
Live your values
Being a new parent is like being a magnet for everyone’s wanted, and unwanted, parenting advice. And that can lead to lashings of guilt. Rather than trying to take account of everyone’s advice, think about the kind of parent you want to be. What values do you want to show as a parent? Being caring, loving, playful? How would you hope your children would describe you as a parent when they are adults? Living your values, even it means things aren’t perfect, will be a far more fulfilling experience than criticising yourself for not living up to other people’s ideal of parenting.
Unhook from your Tricky Mind
Your mind is a tricky customer more likely to focus on criticism than praise. Try to think of it as a know-it-all older sibling who is always telling you what to do. But you don’t always have to listen! Next time your mind says ‘I can’t believe you went back to work/decided to stay at home/put the baby into a nursery’ try unhooking from these thoughts by saying ‘Thanks Mind for the advice, but I don’t need it just now!’. And then remember your values and why you have made the choices that you have. You’ll usually have really good reasons!
Just be good enough
Psychologists have long believed that parenting just has to be ‘good enough’ for a child to thrive, not perfect. And perhaps attempting perfect parenting is another unachievable trap. The more time you spend trying to never feel guilty by being perfect, the less likely you are to enjoy connecting and caring for your child. Focus instead on getting present, holding that guilt lightly and reaping the benefits of imperfect parenting!