I went into parenthood with a lot of confidence. “Parenting guilt” wasn’t on my radar at all. After all, I’d spent a lot of time honing my skills on my younger siblings since I was the oldest child, and wasn’t guilt a by-product of failing at the basics? I knew the basics. Diapers? I’ve had that on lockdown. Nursing? Well, that’s easy! Just give the baby the boob, right? Sleep, cuddles, burping, and all that? Yup, no problem. I was ready!
Guess what? I didn’t got that.
We’ve all been there…
Yeah, I know you hear what I’m saying. If you have ever had a child (or, hell, a puppy or a plant even), I can almost guarantee it took a matter of minutes for you to realize how seriously under-prepared you were. Maybe you know how to change a diaper, but were you ready for that moment when the baby decided he wasn’t done pooping? Yeah, guess what….you’ve got crap on your hands.
Face it – parenting stinks. Heh. Heh. Yeah…
There’s another thing I wasn’t prepared for, though, and that was the guilt. I love my children so much and I try so hard to be the parent they need. I know I’m doing my best. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel horrible a huge chunk of the time.
I can’t say for sure, but I suspect every parent has that feeling. It’s really a universal part of being human.
Jimmy’s mom brought homemade cupcakes for his birthday and I didn’t even think to grab anything until the night before! Ugh, I’m a horrible parent!
I can’t handle all the screaming. Fine. Chicken nuggets again. It’s all my fault…she’s going to end up sick because I can’t figure out how to convince her to eat real food.
Oh my god! How did he get onto the counters? Why wasn’t I watching him closer? He could have fallen and broken his neck!
Yup. We’ve all been there. Guilt is a surprisingly natural part of parenting.
How does parenting guilt relate to mental illness?
You know those oops moments? They happen a whole lot more often when you’re suffering from a mental illness. Feeding your kid the same meal 5 days in a row is commonplace when you can’t find the strength to cook. Losing track of your kid (hopefully in a safe space) happens all the time when your brain completely shifts tracks at the drop of a hat. And I can honestly count the number of times I’ve even bought something for my kids’ school birthday party on two fingers.
Confession time… So far this year I’ve actually forgotten Valentine’s Day, Easter, and even my 3-year-old’s birthday. Yeah. His birthday. Thank god for family, because they really saved me there.
Realistically, most days I can barely function as a person, let alone a parent. If I wake up and I don’t have a bowl for my cereal, half the time I just don’t eat. Yeah, I know I could wash one, but I don’t. If I don’t have clean laundry, I’m grabbing something off the floor and praying to god it doesn’t stink. Or, if I don’t have somewhere to be, I don’t get dressed.
Now apply that to my son. If I don’t have a bowl for his cereal… If I don’t have clean clothes for him… (btw, he’s potty training). The guilt is real.
Rigging the game
So how do I survive?
I rig the game. I know I can’t escape the guilt entirely because, truth is, most of it isn’t even rational, but I can give myself less “valid” reasons to beat myself up. How?
My son’s favorite food is pizza (in particular, cold pizza, thank god). So, when we make pizza for dinner, I try to get one extra cooked and in the fridge. Vary the pizza, vary the diet, right?
No clean bowls? We keep those little squeeze pouches high up in the cupboard for a rainy day. If I can’t bear to cook for myself, at least he gets something good for him.
Forgot to get some goodies for the class birthday party? Let’s be honest here….they really don’t need it. Not every parent can afford to, not everyone has the time, and I’m not going to worry about being part of the “perfect mom club.” Bonus, my daughter loves to bake so she can be in charge of her own birthday snacks if she wants them.
But that’s okay. Guilt is a natural part of life, and parents will always get an extra dose of it. It’s ridiculous to beat yourself up for beating yourself up, after all. So, take a step back and be forgiving. We’re all going to make mistakes and take short cuts – every parent does. In the end, your kids can and will survive.
Don’t believe me, ask my perfectly healthy 10-year-old. No lasting damage, despite her falling two and a half feet from my bed. Turns out they always learn to roll over when you’re not looking…