Parenting guilt was almost unheard of a generation ago. But it has now become a common emotion that modern-day parents have to deal with.
What is this strong negative emotion that makes parents feel inadequate? They keep asking themselves: “What am I doing wrong?” It’s parenting guilt and it’s becoming increasing common.
You may feel it because you yell at your child or let her watch too much TV. Or, because your child misbehaves in public, eats junk food, falls ill often, gets into a fight with a peer, or performs poorly in school. Parents may feel guilty because their child is with a nanny for long hours, because they fight in front of their child, or because they can’t provide for their child materially. The list is endless…
Why do parents today keep beating themselves up? Sydney-based psychologist and author of Parenting for a Peaceful World, Robin Grille calls guilt one of the most corrosive of all emotional states. In his opinion, parenting used to be harsher and more neglectful decades ago than it is today. Modern-day parents should take comfort from this fact.
Yet, a 2017 US survey revealed that American parents feel, on average, 23 pangs of guilt every week! And, 75% of parents feel pressured to be ‘perfect’ from friends, family and social media.
According to Ahmedabad-based consultant psychologist Purnima Gupta: “The crux of the matter is that these days parents don’t have enough time for their children. The nuclear family has put the onus on parents. Also, if couples are not prepared for parenthood, they struggle with the responsibilities. Comparisons on social media also fuel guilt.”
Do mothers and fathers feel guilty for different reasons? “Yes. This is because culturally, fathers have been expected to provide and protect and mothers to nurture and nourish. Parents may react to guilt by becoming overprotective or may overcompensate by showering their child with material gifts. This is not good for the child,” says Purnima.
Commonly, parents respond to guilt by giving in to their children easily and not enforcing discipline. Children may capitalise on this to get what they want. But in Diptii Shukla’s case it’s very different. She is a single parent working as a bank officer in Ahmedabad. “My 11-year-old son Hamir is very mature, perhaps too mature for his age. If I am unusually quiet or get upset, he consoles me and reassures me that all will be well.”
But Diptii does experience guilt on two fronts. “The first is that I am not able to give more time to Hamir. When he was younger, if I was late picking him up at the daycare centre, he would be waiting at the gate and tell me that he was the last to be picked up. I would feel so guilty. The second reason I feel guilty is that I have deprived him of a father’s presence in his life.”
Akanksha and Soham Mukherjee manage an animal rescue centre in Ahmedabad. This keeps them busy round-the-clock, even on weekends. Says Akansha, “My son Vivaan is eight years old and I feel guilty that when he has holidays, I have to be at the centre. I have an amazing support system in my parents who stay very close by. I think that’s why I don’t feel the burden of guilt acutely. But I still feel bad that Vivaan misses out on socialisation because we are working. Also, we can’t take long breaks from the animals.”
Parenting guilt has negative consequences for the emotional health of both parents and children. As such, parents need to practise self-compassion and pull themselves out of the whirlpool of guilt, shame and inadequacy.
If they feel guilty about a specific incident, they should swallow their pride and apologise to their child. Also, they should stop trying to be ‘super parents’. Instead, they should pat themselves on the back for doing their best. As Purnima puts it: “Balance what you want as a parent and what social expectations are.”
By: Aruna Raghuram