The Truth of Everlasting Parenting Guilt

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(parenting, n.):  The process of feeling guilt from the time a tiny human becomes yours to eternity (per the dictionary of Ashlynn)

Being completely real?  This parenting gig is no joke.  People talk about adulting but there is nothing like parenting to make you realize adulting.  What I mean is that parenting is hard—like, really hard.  Anyone ever beat themselves up?  Anyone do it daily?  It’s not easy and the guilt that comes with parenting is something else. You do a lot to prepare to become a parent, but guilt is the one thing that I didn’t realize would be so prevalent.  There is this constant feeling of insufficiency—I’m never doing or being enough for my kids. 

When we had our first child, we figured out what all the fuss was about.  We were so obsessed with her that we sort of rushed into having a second child because it was Just. So. Awesome.  Now, I realize that is not everyone’s experience (for real, if we had our third one first there would have been only one!).  I found out I was pregnant with our second baby and we were beyond excited.  But then the morning sickness, nausea, and exhaustion set in.  And so did the GUILT.  I have memories of laying on the floor with my eyes closed as a result of being so tired as I tried to play with our, at-the-time, 1 year old.  I felt she deserved more.  I felt awful that a child who was not yet even born was already taking so much of our daughter’s mama away from her.  The nausea was real.  The exhaustion was real.  And the guilt was real. I wished we hadn’t rushed into a second pregnancy so soon.  And because of that wish, I felt guilty for the new baby in our life.  He didn’t ask us to bring him into this world.  I felt like that baby deserved better.  The guilt was heavy all around.  Sure, guilt is a first world problem—it’s not like I was unable to provide for these babies, and I was also very lucky to conceive easily—nonetheless, the guilt of being an insufficient parent can be destructive.

photo by Michele Feeley

Today we have three amazing children who bring one another so much joy—they are best friends (although my 4-year-old asks pretty regularly if we can sell his 2-year-old brother back to the hospital).  BUT, come bedtime when we need to bathe, brush teeth and hair, read books, etc., I start to feel each child is not getting the individual bedtime attention they deserve and there is that guilt again.  At the same time, I know that if they didn’t have one another, I would feel just as guilty.  I have friends who have one child—some by choice and some not.  They are able to give their kids the individual attention I worry my kids are not getting, but of course, my friends still feel guilt about not providing a sibling for their child.  My point? It doesn’t matter what we do, the guilt looms.

I’m still learning how to cope with this guilt so if you think I’m headed toward an answer, I cannot offer that.  What I do know, is that I do my best given the circumstances which are at times, overwhelming.  I know that my children could not possibly be loved one more ounce than they already are. I know they are happy, safe, and healthy.  I know that it is normal to occasionally lose my patience or miss a night of reading, and to go through the McDonald’s drive through and maybe even get extra fries instead of apples or even—gasp!—a ROOT BEER!  I will say that in addition to knowing that these things are normal and inevitable, one of the things that helps me find peace with the guilt I feel is that my own parents felt this same thing.  To this day, I think my parents are the best parents two lucky kids could ever ask for.  I had no idea my parents were constantly questioning themselves asking if they were working too much or if they were making enough money to do the fun things we wanted to do as a family—if they were balancing it all effectively.  Knowing that they, too, felt this guilt while bringing my brother and I up to believe they were the single best parents anyone could ever ask for gives me some solace.  My own parents could occasionally lose their patience, let us drink a Cream Soda, or give themselves a hot second rather than laying with us until we fell asleep and somehow my brother and I still think, as we always have, that they are the single most amazing parenting couple that ever existed.  I never in my life felt they were insufficient although I know they were always in a state of questioning this as are my husband and I.  In short, your kids likely think you are the best parent ever so give yourself a break and try to occasionally celebrate your wins.  As a family you managed a day to lunch and the movie theater?  That’s a win! Did you survive a day at the ski hill with all three kids while the husband was out of town?  Heck yeah!  Go girl—that’s a win.  Accept it.  Revel in it.  And maybe go to bed because you’re likely exhausted.

about the author…Ashlynn is wife, mom of three littles, and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Rocky Mountain College.  She is an introvert who is uncharacteristically social and loves family, learning, travel, animals, and all things Montana.

featured photo by Michele Feeley

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