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Pouring from an Empty Cup: Addressing Parental Guilt By Mary Kate Mueller, CIT

As someone who has previously worked in the childcare field for 7 years, I always observed one recurrent theme: the dreaded “mom guilt”. Our society seems to subconsciously project unrealistic expectations onto parents of young children. Perhaps you have also encountered those people in your own life who are shocked you would dare take a vacation without your child. Or maybe you’ve encountered the people who believe their parenting style is superior to yours. We are conditioned to believe that once you have a child, your life no longer belongs to you. This is not only inherently untrue, but it is a harmful belief! How are you expected to care for your child to the best of your ability if you do not first care for yourself?

There are many sources associated with parental anxiety. You may find yourself questioning your parenting methods, worrying about your child’s mental and physical health, or fixating on the messy house that you haven’t had time to clean this week. Or perhaps your child is in that phase where they exclusively eat chicken nuggets, and you’re concerned about their nutrition. These are all valid stressors, but they can easily become overwhelming and consuming. If we do not attend to these stressors, they may pile up like an intense game of Jenga, and you may find yourself waiting for that last piece to be pulled that will topple the tower to the ground.

Rather than letting it get to that point, it is important to discuss how parents can take care of themselves and manage the guilt they’re experiencing! One step we can take to alleviate parental stress is acknowledging our parental perspective. Whose standards are we holding ourselves to? There is objectively no “right” way to parent. If there were, I assure you every parent would own that manual. If you find you’re comparing yourself to other parents or questioning your parenting decisions, it is important to take a step back and understand why you’re doing so.

Another concept to consider is practicing self-love. We can get so sucked up in all of our activities and obligations, that sometimes our own well-being slips through the cracks. Just as you would take a sick day from work if you were physically ill, I encourage you to also take a night off from parenting every so often. Being exposed to these stressors consistently without taking the time to relax and remember what you love about being a parent can take its toll and, I would argue, lead to burnout pertaining to parenting. We must find the time to give ourselves some grace, acknowledge we are doing our best, and pat ourselves on the back for the things we’ve gotten right.

I’m sure we have all at some point or another heard the phrase, “It take a village”. Just as one person cannot be expected to reasonably work every role within their occupation, we cannot expect parents to care for themselves, their children, their household, their pets, etc. without additional support. It is okay to accept help and to care for yourself as you would for your children. Not only is it okay to do so, but it is necessary to do so. Plan that date night, go catch up with your friends, or even get a babysitter just so you can catch up on your favorite TV show. By taking care of yourself as a parent and releasing some of the guilt you’ve been harboring, you are better able to care for and model healthy coping and relationships for your child.

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