I meet so many single mothers and fathers who feel guilty about their parenting. They relate to me the traumas they are experiencing with a testing toddler or a difficult teenager. Their anxiety is sometimes palpable and often they will ask me the same question: “Is it because I’m a single parent?”
I tell them that they are going through the normal hassles of bringing up kids that I hear from parents all over the world. Most parents feel a sense of guilt at one time or another – “I must be the worst mother/father on the face of the earth.” However, it is much harder for single parents to cope with because the feelings of guilt and failure grow far quicker when we don’t have anybody to share the task of parenting with us.
That sense of guilt can be utterly crushing and we can begin to lose confidence. We constantly say to ourselves things like, “I handled that so badly” or “I’ve blown it again.” Even worse, we begin to see these events as irretrievable – the damage is done for ever. But the truth is, we do blow it as parents and we do handle things badly because we’re learning on the job as well. It’s normal.
I am not saying we don’t need help as parents. It’s just that while we can listen to others’ advice, read parenting books and go on courses – all valuable tools – in the end, we have to decide what works for us. We have to remember that children are people, not machines. And we have to put past failures behind us, try new things, and sometimes pray and hope for the best because every child is different and we are learning all the time.
Guilt is an occupational hazard of parenthood, but maybe we can gradually loosen its hold on us. A mum of two sent me this wonderful poem about motherhood; I’m sure it applies to dads as well:
Guilt is an occupational hazard of parenthood, but maybe we can gradually loosen its hold on us.
“Mother guilt is attached to the umbilical cord, but it stays with you for life.
You feel guilty about what you do, and guilty about what you don’t do.
Guilty when you leave them, and guilty when you pick them up.
Guilty about what they eat, what they don’t eat, and even what they might eat.
The guilt gets you at night, on the train, standing in the school playground and especially when you’ve left them when you have a break.
Then it usually gets attached to your purse and leads you to a toyshop.
What mothers need is a jury of twelve good mothers and true to stand up and say, “Not guilty, m’lud.”
I like this piece because it tells us we can’t be the perfect parents. The most any of us can do is to give the task of parenthood our very best effort. I once heard this little piece of parenting wisdom from an older mother. Write these words down and stick them to your fridge door, write them on your office blotter, and write them on your heart:
“Don’t take all the credit; don’t take all the blame.”