Most people have heard the term “mom-guilt”. It’s that icky, no good, very bad feeling in the pit of your stomach when you feel that you just can’t measure up. You have to go to work. You have to sleep. You have to feed the cattle or pilot your North American X-15 jet. (I’m sure you have something similar on your neverending to-do list.)
Of course, it’s not just moms who experience guilt; dads feel guilty, too. I don’t think you can be a good parent and not experience guilt.
Guilt is your Jiminy Cricket. It’s the angel on your shoulder, whispering (or shouting) not to yell at your kids too often, or let them go months without bathing, or eat an entire package of cookies whilst binge-watching SpongeBob. In these situations, guilt guides us in the right direction.
So some guilt is normal and even healthy, but what happens when it’s excessive? What happens when anxiety joins the parenting party and you start to feel like a smoldering volcano, ready to erupt when your kid asks if he can ride the dog one too many times?
Let’s take a closer look.
Yesterday, my son did a Very Naughty Thing. He peed on the floor. Why? I have no idea and I probably never will. But I didn’t handle it well. Few people enjoy cleaning up bodily fluids intentionally deposited on their floorspaces and I am no exception. My anxiety shot up and I scolded, yelled, and generally made the situation much worse.
But, it was a teaching moment. After I had cleaned up the mess and restored order to our castle, I sat down with my son for a chat. I told him that even though Mommy gets frustrated sometimes, I always, always love him. At that moment, his face was the sun breaking through a blanket of clouds. A relieved smile blossomed and he threw his little boy arms around my neck and climbed into my lap for a snuggle.
The takeaway: Sometimes we are blinded by anxiety and we overreact. What’s important is to debrief. Explain why you got upset but remember to tell your kids you love them no matter what. Then (try) not to dwell on it and strive to do better next time.
Measure your magma levels
As parents, we all harbor some level of anxiety — whether it’s related to our children’s safety and wellbeing, their progress in school, or their hygiene. Too much anxiety, however, and dysfunction ensues. If we don’t remain vigilant (and sometimes even when we do), anxiety manifests as anger and can intensify if left unchecked.
The takeaway: It helps to check in with yourself throughout the day. How anxious are you? Can you pinpoint what is ramping up your anxiety? Can you do something to improve the situation? These are all questions I ask myself in an effort to keep the intensity and pressure of my “magma” in check.
Vent some steam (but not too much)
I learned a long time ago that venting tends to worsen anxiety.
For years, I worked at a very stressful job (I know, welcome to adulting), but hear me out. Every day I would come home and complain to my husband about the terrible workload, my boss, my coworkers, the vending machine that never had my favorite snack items…
I started to notice, however, that rehashing everything I’d gone through at work got me fuming all over again. As a result, some of that scalding hot steam ended up leaking out and scorching my loved ones. I was dwelling on what went wrong during the time when I could have been relaxing and unwinding with my family.
The takeaway: Venting a little steam can be good for you but do it in moderation. Taking a breather to talk to a friend, neighbor, parent, or that friendly grandma you run into at the park sometimes can help to diffuse some of your anxiety. Just make sure you’re indulging in some much-needed distraction and play to maintain balance.
More mental health lessons from nature: