“I always have dad guilt,” my husband confessed to me the other day.
“I’m forever comparing myself to other dads, and feeling a bit crap that I’m not as good as them.”
He went on to tell me about his mate Dave who took his two boys out for the day on a wild scavenger hunt, that included a ferry, maps and lots of planning.
“Well, no one does THAT. ” I replied.
“Yeah, maybe not but what about all the dads who took the day off work for their kid’s first day of school? I didn’t do that. Or the ones who take their babies out for bike rides with those little seats? I don’t even own a bike.”
And then he said something genius:
“But you know what? I always compare myself to what other dads DO that I don’t, but I don’t ever think about all the great stuff that I do that they don’t.”
Ding, ding ding! And just like that, he might have solved how we can resolve one of our biggest forms of parenting guilt.
Let me explain.
Parenting isn’t a competition
We all know mumming and dadding isn’t a competition. No one wins or loses. And yet we still find ourselves looking sideways at other parents. We wonder if they are doing it better than us; if we should be more like them, or, sigh – a little less like us.
This form of comparison guilt is so confidence eroding, though. For example:
“Bec at mother’s group says her toddler wakes at 7am. Ours wakes at 4.45am. Every. Single. Day. What are we doing wrong? And what is she doing right? Are we failing at the sleep thing?”
“I should be making homemade veggie slice like Annabel’s mum at school does, instead of whipping up the same ol’ Vegemite sandwiches every day. I’m not as good as those baker mum types.”
“Mel made playdough with her kids yesterday and took them to the beach the day before. I don’t do enough of that stuff. I’m not present enough. Wah, my poor kid is missing out!”
“Maybe I shouldn’t cuddle my little loves off to sleep every night? Mia tells me her boys have been ‘independent sleepers from the get-go’ and never bed hop. I’ve encouraged bad sleep habits.”
“Emma is teaching her baby sign language and says he can communicate with her when he’d like a bottle. I should be doing more educational stuff. Am I disadvantaging my child? I need to be more like Emma and less like me.”
And so it goes on.
Instead of looking sideways, we need to start looking inwards
But here’s the thing. If we continue looking sideways at what everyone else is doing then we can’t see what’s straight in front of us.
And what’s straight in front?
A happy baby who loves you more than you know, because YOU are her everything. A curious toddler who is developing in leaps and bounds because of YOU, and all that you do for him. A preschooler who is getting more independent and confident because she has parents who believe in her and encourage her in every step. And so on.
Now, applying my husband’s ‘think about what you do, not what you don’t’ line of thinking, here’s my responses to those earlier thoughts:
I am a good mum
“Yes, our toddler wakes at 4.45 am but he’s an early riser. Bec’s little one has started resisting the day sleep. But my little love will always have one (often in the car if we don’t get home in time) and this gives me an hour, or three, of me-time. I need this time to get some things done. Bec does too but she isn’t getting it anymore, poor thing. Oh, and I am still giving him his daily quota of sleep if you add up the hours.”
“Annabel makes homemade veggie slice, but then her little girl won’t eat her fruit and veg at crunch and sip break. I know mine does because his crunch and sip container always comes home empty. Poor Annabel has mum guilt about that. I may not bake like she does, but I know we are both trying to get the kids to eat healthily. I’m just lucky that mine do, most of the time and I don’t have to go to extra baking lengths.”
“Mel makes playdough and has crafternoons with her little one. But she is also a stay at home mum who needs to fill the day with activities. My toddler isn’t missing out though. He does playdough at daycare and our weekends, when I don’t have to work, are precious. We make the most of our ‘us’ family time and do things like go to the beach then. Also, my child gets to have play dates multiple days a week with his little childcare buddies!”
I love cuddling my little ones off to sleep. I know other parents have what’s deemed ‘good sleep habits’ with their kids, but this stage in their childhood won’t last forever. And right now they need me to soothe them off to sleep. But I love the feeling of closeness as I spoon their little bodies into mine. I am there for them and they know it. It makes me feel like a loving mum.”
Emma communicates with her baby through sign language but I know I have my own language with my baby. I know his cries, and if I can’t decipher them first go, then I just keep trying to figure out what he wants and needs. I am more of an intuitive mum than I give myself credit for. Maybe Emma lacks confidence with this, or maybe she just delights in teaching her baby something? Good on her but good on me for going with the flow and doing what feels right for me.
Parental guilt eats us up
While this is just one form of parenting guilt, it’s a biggie. It can eat us up, make us feel bad, less than or even a bit sad. Sad that we aren’t being the best mums and dads for our kids that they deserve – because oh man, we love them SO much.
But we are! We really, really are. Just look at how happy your little one is, because of YOU, instead of glancing sideways at another parent.
And the next time you feel these kinds of guilts, remember all the things you DO for your child instead of all the stuff you think you don’t.
It’s all about changing our thinking.
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