I Constantly Feel Like I Am A Terrible Parent

Even if I'm not actively thinking about all the ways I'm screwing up, the guilt is lurking there in the background.
Publish date:
January 28, 2013
parenting, kids, guilt, you're doing it wrong, maternal guilt

Here’s a confession: most of the time, I feel like I’m doing everything wrong in terms of parenting.

Since the day my kid was born, I’ve wondered if I should be doing things differently. One of my friends once joked that our job as parents is to screw our kids up for life, and there are days when that doesn't feel too far off.

And this questioning of whether I’m doing a good job is part of a maternal guilt that surprises me with its depth. Even if I'm not actively thinking about all the ways I'm screwing up, the guilt is lurking there in the background, just waiting to come to the surface anytime my son acts like a turd or gets in trouble at school, or when I talk to other moms who seem to have it all together (the root of all maternal guilt is, I think, comparing oneself to the perceived perfect parenting of others).

Things I feel guilty about, almost all the time:

1. That I don’t have enough money to buy my kid lots of stuff

2. That I don’t have enough money to enroll my kid in all the extracurricular activities he wants to participate in

3. For being a part-time parent, and enjoying it

4. For divorcing my kid’s dad, even though I know that it was the best thing for all of us

5. For living far away from my kid’s grandparents

6. For losing my patience too quickly

7. For not spending enough time playing with my kid

8. For not owning a home yet and raising my kid in a rental house (this one is silly, I know)

9. For working on my computer while my kid watches TV (See #7.)

10. For not having a second kid and giving my kid a playmate

11. Not taking my kid to do more enriching activities, like going to the museum or whatever

12. That I don’t always know about every activity going on at his school, and I often feel out of the loop

I know, on an intellectual level, that to feel this way is sort of silly -- after all, I love my son, and his basic needs are being met, plus some. I take good care of him. We love each other to pieces; I am present in his life, which is more than some of us got from our parents growing up.

But the really stupid thing about all these things I feel guilty for doing or not doing is: I do not judge other mothers for doing or not doing these same things. So why am I so hard on myself?

It turns out I’m not the only one who experiences daily doubt about her parenting skills. The Daily Mail recently published the results of a survey that found that 90% of mothers feel guilty. Here are the top 15:

1. Being too busy to give my children more attention

2. Not being able to afford everything they want

3. Not going on more days out

4. Not having more patience

5. Relying on the TV to keep them entertained

6. Not earning enough money

7. Feeling too tired to give my kids the attention I think they need

8. Returning to work after my maternity leave

9. Working long hours

10. Working late

11. Telling my children off

12. Wanting to have time away from my children every now and then

13. Putting my child into nursery/childminder

14. Not having more money to spend on new clothes/toys for my children

15. Not being able to afford to go away on family holidays

So to all my fellow moms out there, I want to take this opportunity to say:

I don’t have any answers for getting over maternal guilt, even when I can recognize how ridiculous it is. I’m still working my way through it. But I just wanted to put this out there -- like how Mandy put it out in the universe that she was ready to find a man. You hear that, universe? I’m ready to not feel guilty about this stuff. And I’m ready for other moms not to feel guilty, either.

Do you have feelings of guilt almost constantly? Are your feelings at all grounded in reality, or are they kind of silly, like mine? Say it with me: You are doing a fucking great job.

Somer is doing a f%&king great job on Twitter: @somersherwood.