Dealing with Parental Guilt

Feeling guilty once in a while comes with being a parent. Sometimes guilty feelings lead to learning experiences that make you a better parent. Other times, guilty feelings result in unhealthy parenting practices. Here are some common “guilt trips” along with some tips for using the experiences to become a more effective parent.

Guilt trip: I don’t spend enough time with my child.

  • Change what you can. Make the most of the time you do have with your child. Schedule meal times, game times, reading together, and other important family times first. Other activities—children’s sports, art, or music classes—can be fit into the time that’s left.
  • Limit the use of television, computers, and video games at home.
  • Keep in mind that taking time for your own emotional and physical health—exercising or getting together with friends—helps you be a better parent.

Guilt trip: I lose my temper too often with my child.

  • Be sure your expectations are reasonable. Very young children are not good at waiting (e.g., they struggle to ignore candy in the checkout line in a food store).
  • Set limits simply, calmly, and firmly. Point out what you want your child to do instead. “Don’t pull the dog’s tail. Pat him gently on his head instead.”
  • Be sure your interactions with your child are more positive than negative.

Guilt trip: I can’t give my child as much as other children have.

  • Remember that your child’s happiness is not determined by expensive toys. Your child’s well-being is largely determined by relationships with important people—family members, close friends, and teachers.
  • Help your child deepen his relationships with others by scheduling time with family and friends. These relationships will enrich your child far more than anything you can buy.

Guilt trip: I worry about doing the wrong thing.

  • Keep in mind that none of us went to school to learn how to parent. It is natural to worry about decisions we make as parents when our children are young.
  • Consult others you trust when you are uncertain what action to take with your child.
  • Act on your best judgment. Remember that parents need to set reasonable limits so children learn how to get along in the world.