According to many polls, it is surveyed that as many as 94% of moms feel guilty about some aspect of their parenting. This guilt ranges from the amount of time they spend with their kids, the way they feed their kids (breast milk or formula, nutritious or junk food), to the type of diapers they use on their kids (environmentally friendly), yelling at kids, leaving kids at daycare of with another caregiver, the list goes on. There is always something to feel guilty about.
My advice as a Mom of 3 to new and first time parents is that there are no perfect parents and no perfect kids. No matter how perfectly you try to parent your kids they will not be perfect and neither will you. You can try to do your best most of the time. However, there are days when those standards will have to slip.
Today I was home with my sick 4 year old and I am recovering from minor leg surgery from a few days ago. Although I can hobble around a bit, I am supposed to sit still and let the wound heal. My son has plenty of other plans as his fever seemed to have cleared as soon as the School Bus drove past our front door. After a few games of Hedbanz and Lincoln Logs in addition to me hobbling about to fetch snacks, feed the cat and make lunch, I decided to call it a day. My son was treated to his favorite Ninjago Snake Attack Movie that I only very sparingly let him see, not only because these Ninjas are excessively violent at times but mainly because my off the charts snake phobia. But after feeling the twinge or two of pain in my leg and the even more pronounced twinge or two of excessive boredom in my brain from hours of mind numbing games (that I felt guilty I should not be feeling), I threw in the towel and allowed him to indulge in several hours of these movie festivities while I retreated to another room, well away from the attacking snakes video.
Did I feel guilty about this? Not a lot, maybe a little. Am I a bad parent? I don’t think so. If I did this every day, then yes I think that would be detrimental to my child’s development and show a serious lack of effort on my part. But once in a while, when we both really deserve it, sure, no harm done. However, if you were to ask me this question 6 years ago when my oldest son was this age, you would have gotten a very different answer. Yes, I would have felt incredibly guilty if I did anything like this, but this scenario would never have occurred. First we would not have had any movies of this type in our house, nor would we have access to NetFlix and not in a million years could he watch anything other than educational TV, Bob the Builder or The Wiggles (now I am burnt out on all of the above). Second I would have used this time as an opportunity for him to work on his coloring, or for me to home school him on adding and subtracting with string and pegs (yes, I was one of those “Tiger-like” Moms), although he would not learn these skills in school for another year or so. But I am a different parent at 44 and with my third child, who also has a very different temperament than my first child and does not find hours of adding games all that fun after a few minutes, nor do I at this stage. So in this case I think my degree of guilt has subsided with age, experience and number of children.
Many people might mistake me as a deadbeat parent to my youngest child on certain days of the week or hours during the day. I disagree. I actually believe my less stressed out and more laissez faire approach (or less present approach as I am parenting two other children with their own plates full of activities, homework and playdates), has encouraged my son to do more for himself. He knows that Mommy is not hopping around the house to anticipate his every need. So yes, he has a few more sugar snacks than the other two would have at his age (they had none other than fruit!). He has a little more TV time that usually is not educational and I do not drill him on reading and math all the time (although his siblings like to try their hand at homeschooling him from time to time with varying levels of success or dispute, depending on the day). I do however make sure he is safe, cared for, loved and feed every day which I think is the primary responsibility of any parent.
On the flip side my youngest is remarkably helpful and self-sufficient. He helps me with many chores, loves to help with cooking/mixing and baking things, he helps with the dishes, cleans his room, vacuums and dusts, dresses himself, makes his bed and is overall a very confident kid, proud of what he can do like his big brother and sister (and sometimes better). Maybe he has a few more scrapped knees and maybe his outfits don’t always coordinate perfectly, but I am pretty sure he will be able to do his own laundry and cook for himself by the time he goes off to college as he’s well on his way to mastering those skills now. Plus I can daydream that one day his future wife, my future daughter in law, will profusely thank me for raising such a self-sufficient guy while I nod knowingly.
On the other hand, guilt is not always a bad thing if it is used wisely and in proper context. Guilt is an internal alert system our body has to tell us that something is potentially wrong and we need to address it. It is a sign our body uses to encourage us to get on the right track and change a behavior, or make a different choice. Maybe we shouldn’t trust a particular caregiver. Maybe Johnny does need to eat healthier and cut back on the junk food. Yes we should watch what we put into our bodies when we are pregnant and stop dangerous habits like smoking or drinking too much. But we also have our common sense to override that guilt and cut ourselves some slack from time to time (not in smoking), but in most of our parenting decisions. Overall parents who apply love, consistency, their best instincts and joy to the job are on the right track any day of the week. We all need our cheat days every now and then to recharge. As long as our baby/child is safe and well cared for, I think we can cut ourselves some slack from time to time.