How to Ditch Parent Guilt

As parents we spend almost as much time beating ourselves up as we do looking for socks. Neither is ever very fruitful but both are part of the undeniable fabric of parenthood.

The new Sleep Mums episode is five ways to help lessen that horrible ache of parent guilt. Our podcast is about baby sleep, but I have found that my own feelings of inadequacy have kept me up at night - almost as much as my kids - and because we want to help you get more sleep (and generally just feel supported and less alone) it seems like a really important thing to talk about.

As ever, we hope it helps.

The transcript for The Sleep Mums episode 14 How to Ditch Parent Guilt is below. You can also listen to The Sleep Mums podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your pods.

[Parent Guilt Transcript]

Cat: [00:00:00] Hello. By the way, you're doing brilliantly today. I'm starting this episode with a compliment because if you want to hear about ditching parent guilt, you probably need it. We spend almost as much time beating ourselves up as we do looking for socks, and neither is ever very fruitful. I'm Cat Cubie, chief investor in parent guilt and broadcaster. And this is Sarah Carpenter, mindful mama and baby sleep expert.

Sarah: [00:00:24] Other things we spend too much time doing as parents, wiping bottoms and talking about poo.

Cat: [00:00:31] Did you not want to say bums there? You were like 'wiping dirty bottoms' [laughter].

Sarah: [00:00:36] Did I go all posh?

Cat: [00:00:37] All right, Muuuum!

Cat: [00:00:42] Together we are The Sleep Mums. So parent guilt, in case you don't know, is this gross, uncomfortable ache that kind of lodges itself in your heart and then creeps into your head often in the middle of the night, and it can keep you from sleeping almost as much as a newborn. And that's why we want to talk about it. On the nights that Sarah spent with me as a client, she was as much a therapist as she was sleep expert, cuddling me with supportive words during the 3a.m. feed. So, with that in mind, we want to give you a bit of a cuddle too and share five ways to get rid of the parent guilt because, honestly, it sucks.

Cat: [00:01:20] Our first advice is really hard in this super connected world. Try not to compare yourself to others. Everywhere you look, there are mums and dads who seem to have this whole parenting malarky down. It's not new that parents like to brag about their kids, but what is, is that we're kind of bombarded by it. 'Look at my baby rolling over at two weeks', 'Look at my six month old reading Shakespeare', 'Look my kid has slept through!' *smug face*. But it's also not just a case of one way of parenting being the sole comparison, because literally, whatever you're doing, you'll probably feel guilty about one aspect of it, because there will be someone right there beside you saying they did it differently.

Sarah: [00:02:02] The advice, the conflicting opinions, you know, people really do take it all on their shoulders and then beat themselves up about this decision that they've made. And the other thing that I see so often is parents who have made one decision once for one child and then compare their own children, so then feel guilty if that same thing doesn't work for another child in their family. So it's not just the guilt around what other people are saying or doing, it's guilt within the family as well. And it just makes the whole day a battle for a lot of people.

Cat: [00:02:39] Yeah, I mean, like literally as a parent, there are around 897 decisions you need to make about or for your child on the daily. So that means 897 things that you're going to worry about choosing correctly. And then obviously if you've got more children that just multiplies. Beating yourself up about those decisions is in part about the fact that you care. But I can promise you that fretting about them will not help you be a better parent. It will not inspire you to do things differently or do it better next time. If anything, it's just going to make you feel crap and totally take away your confidence. Parent guilt only works to make you question everything you've done, are doing or might even think about in the future. And we promise you it is rubbish. You are doing your absolute best.

Cat: [00:03:28] Sarah, you must have loads and loads of stories about how her confidence affects how people parent, because that's kind of the essence of what you want to give to parents, really, isn't it?

Sarah: [00:03:40] Absolutely. I mean, my sole mission is to give people back their confidence and their ability to enjoy being parents and the confidence to make the decisions based on what's right for them and their family. But it's difficult. You know, it's difficult for people when they're in the thick of it to actually realise how connected everything is as well. And you can see, obviously, as people are becoming more and more sleep deprived, you can see their confidence is getting further and further away from them. But to them, it just becomes a vicious cycle of, you know, they're worried about the decisions that they're making so they've been up more in the night, you know. In fact, I've had a message this morning from somebody saying we had a fantastic night last night, all your advice really worked, baby slept through. But I've been up since four o'clock worrying about things so that, you know, even though they've got to the point where they wanted to be, it's still that guilt and worry that all these other decisions and all these daily parenting things are just chipping away at their confidence. And because they're sleep deprived, it just feels so much worse.

Cat: [00:04:47] Totally, and as you say, that is so common. That's why we wanted to talk about it in a podcast because once your baby's sleeping, often parent guilt or those feelings of guilt or shame or whatever it is, are the things that keep you awake. So it's important to deal with those as well. It's part of the whole parcel. What do you think from your experience you have found parents feel most guilty about or beat themselves up about the most?

Sarah: [00:05:17] Definitely not being where they think they should be as parents and as a child or baby. It comes back to the comparison thing, like Jo has said that her baby rolled over at 12 weeks old and Hannah's baby didn't roll over until nine months. And it's that just constant, you know, somebody has said this or somebody has said that. And they just cannot get on top of those feelings of guilt and failure. You know, it comes back to the failure thing. Again, it's very much parents feel like if their baby hasn't done what Google says that they should have done, then they failed. And that's not the case at all. It's trying to get across to people that every single baby is so different. And even within a family, every single baby is so different. I mean, when you compare the ages that my three all walked, people can't believe the difference in that. You know, it was like 19 months and then the second one 10 months and then the third one was almost 21 months. So they're just completely different. But for parents who are all talking, that's horrendous. You know, for some parents to hear that a child walked at 10 months, that sends them into a spiral of worry that their child isn't doing what they should be doing. And that is not the case. Every child is just completely different, needs to be supported in different ways. And they all need to learn these new skills at their own pace. And you can do that. You can support them with that, but you don't need to feel guilty about that. But, a it is obviously easier for us on the other side to be able to say that we do exactly what it's like to feel that you should be doing something more.

Cat: [00:06:58] Yeah, but I don't think that feeling goes away as a parent. I think that's true whether you have a newborn and it's about rolling over or you have a kid who's going to school or you have a teenager, those feelings... Because you want the best for them. But I think that's one of the things that we've made such a point in talking about. And it's one of the things that sets The Sleep Mums apart from other advice is how much we talk about those differences between us as individuals, between our babies and between our family set ups, because all of those things are important and acknowledging and celebrating our differences should and is a good thing. So try to remember that every time you think Jane or Jim or that lassie with 20K followers on Instagram is doing better than you, because they're not they're just different.

Cat: [00:07:48] The second thing that can help with parent guilt is asking for help. Now, I know that asking for help might make you feel like just another way you're failing. And I know that because I've been there so many times. The first was actually right before I met Sarah. I was struggling so much, but I couldn't bring myself to get in touch with her. I thought if I do, it will just show how shit I am at this whole motherhood thing. And in fact, it was my partner that contacted her and yes, you guessed it, that made me feel a million times worse. Even he thinks I'm doing a crap job. Please, can I have some guilt with a side order of shame? Thank you. But then I met Sarah and she totally put me at ease and she helped me know what to do. I wasn't a worse parent for asking for help. I was a better one because, honestly, I didn't know what to do.

Sarah: [00:08:42] You know, everybody feels like they should have this mothers or fathers instinct and they should know exactly what to do. And they are you know, they're going to be viewed as being a failure if they get help. Years ago, I worked with a client who had a very, very close antenatal group, and there was eight of them. Now that client never told anyone that she was getting help. And then another member of that antenatal group got in touch with me and they never told anyone they