As a new parent, you will no doubt want to get advice and guidance from your support network of friends, family, as well as medical experts and professionals. This is normal as you want the absolute best for your child. However, much of the guidance that you get will disagree and yet you will be told by everyone that their way is the ‘right’ way. To be able to parent without guilt, you must listen to all of the advice but then take time to work out what is best for you and your child, taking into account what is important to you. There is a treasure trove of tips and recommendations from others, but don’t let these give their opinions of what is best greater importance.
There are so many examples of situations where you will get conflicting advice – co-sleeping or not, breast or bottle feeding, when to wean, when developmental stages occur – the list is endless. If you listen to others too much, you no longer trust your ability to make decisions for yourself and the guilt of not doing the right thing grows.
But you DO know the right thing to do. Listen to your instincts, listen to your child, and know that whatever choice you make, it is done with love and pure intentions.
Every single person you interact with is a role you play. Every single one. Let that sink in for a minute – if asked about the roles you play, you may have chosen a handful – mother/father, son/daughter, husband/wife, girlfriend/boyfriend, friend, lover, grandchild. That’s normal because these may be the most important roles we play out in our lifetimes – but they are not the only ones. As you walk into a store, you become a customer. As you sit down in the dentist’s chair, you become a patient. As you wait in the playground you are either a member or a non-member of the PTA.
Each interaction you have with others creates a role that you must play. If it’s not a role that you are aware of or used to, you can get really reactive to how the other participants are acting, and with this you start losing control and can feel guilty about not getting your actions ‘correct’.
Think about your day, and how many people you have interacted with in any form (even by reading this blog!) How many of those roles were you really conscious and aware of, so you controlled them? And how many, upon reflection, did you feel anxious or guilty that you may have slipped up or was going to?
When you show your authentic self and start to live guilt free, you may trigger some negative emotions in others. These have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. As we hear truth, we cannot help but hold a mirror up to our own version of life that we are living and if it isn’t what we know we need or want, then it is easier to try to hurt the other person than accept that hurt within. If you know what you are doing is right for you and the life you want to lead, then carry on with what you are doing and leave others to deal with the negative emotions they have created.
Not all guilt is blatant – some of it comes as doubt, criticism, pointed questions saying “are you sure you should be doing that?”, leaving your mind to fill in the guilty blanks.
While I’m not an advocate of doing something to prove yourself to others (you are the only person who needs to know what you are capable of) sometimes, it is good to remind yourself of those who have questioned you that can give you a kick and a fire in your belly that you are worth more, you can do more, and you can be more.
A lot of guilt stems from making a decision that is best for you, but you know others will have a different opinion. Whether it is the choice to breastfeed, taking a new job, starting a new workout regime (or not), moving to a new town or simply your choice of outfit that day, other people will always have an opinion, but they shouldn’t force that opinion on you. Know your own mind, know the decision you make and why you made it, and then allow them to get used to the idea
When do you experience the most guilt? Is it during the day as you go through your daily activities, always half aware of everything that you are not doing? Or maybe at night, as the house gets quiet and you are alone with your thoughts?
For me, the most guilt-ridden time for me was the five to ten minutes after my children have gone to bed. When my eldest daughter was a toddler, she wasn’t great at going to bed properly (she’s not really that good now and she is nearly a teenager!). After a day of running around after her and trying to be the perfect parent, my patience was always running thin by bedtime, and way too often our last conversation would be me getting annoyed at her for still being awake and would she just go to bed already!?? I’d go downstairs tired and frustrated, and already gnawing away with guilt inside that my daughter who had really done nothing wrong was taking the brunt of my tiredness. A few minutes later, I would go upstairs and she would be asleep, and it that moment I felt like the worst parent ever, and I swore that in the morning, I would try harder to stay patient, to be attentive, to do all of the 1001 things that we are told as parents we have to do otherwise we are not good parents. But she used to wake up at 5am, and my 5am brain forgot completely about my promise and started immediately on the ‘it’s not fair, I’m so tired’ routine – and off we would go again.
I realised that waiting for the time when I was already stressed was way too late – I needed to set the intention when I was calm and also work out a way to get more rest so that I wasn’t so strung out by the end of the day. We are all told to sleep when the baby sleeps, but for me that became sleep when the toddler sleeps. I realised that looking after myself was more important than the household chores that I would usually end up doing, and by having a nap when she napped, I was able to stay true to the way I wanted to be and was less inclined to have those emotional hijacks that make you feel so terrible when you look back.
So what is your time? When do you feel the most guilty and what could you do differently to avoid that moment?
We are social animals, we need connection – but guilt can sometimes makes us feel isolated and alone. Who are your go-to people, those who you feel comfortable being vulnerable in front of, so that you can understand that others feel what you feel and you can collectively solve it for one another.
There are times when we get so focused on what others want us to be, that we forget that we get to determine our value and why we are important, leaving it to others to tell us. But we are all important for so many different unique reasons, and nobody can tell us who we are and who we want to be than ourselves.
So next time someone gives their opinion of what they think you should do or be, doublecheck it with your own version of you first – and feel free to drop their version if it’s not working for you.
Living guilt free isn’t about ignoring or avoiding guilt – we can’t control when others try to make us feel bad, or when we find ourselves not living life the way we want. Living guilt free is about seeing the guilt, recognising it, pulling it apart, taking the bits that matter and then discarding the rest. We can’t control everything around us but we can control our reactions to them.