What Is Parent Guilt?

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What Is Parent Guilt?

As a parent, do you sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough for your children? Do you feel guilty about having to leave your child and go to work? Do you look at other parents who seem to have it all together and wish that were you? If so, you may be experiencing parent guilt, which is also sometimes referred to as maternal guilt, mother guilt, mom guilt, or dad guilt.

Parent Guilt

Parent guilt is when a parent feels torn between their responsibilities as a parent and something else that is competing for their attention, such as work or other personal interests, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University.

There is constant tension between parental and professional/personal roles, as when parents are working they feel guilty about not spending time with their children, and when they are with their children they often feel guilty about neglecting work, Dr. Romanoff explains.

This article explores some of the causes and characteristics of parent guilt, as well as some coping strategies that may be helpful.

Characteristics of Parent Guilt

Dr. Romanoff describes some of the characteristics of parent guilt:

  • Feeling like you’re never fully in either parental mode or work mode
  • Feeling like you’re always doing something wrong
  • Always having a long to-do list but feeling like you’re only able to do the bare minimum to get by
  • Feeling as though you’re juggling one too many things
  • Not being able to enjoy time with your children
  • Stressing over work and the status of your company/career
  • Not having any time for yourself
  • Not being able to do any hobbies or activities you enjoy
  • Experiencing anxiety or depression
  • Having trouble sleeping or eating
  • Feeling tired and stressed all the time
  • Straining your relationships at home, at work, and with friends

Parent guilt can cause you to feel like a failure at work and at home.

While anyone can experience parent guilt, these are some groups of people that may be more susceptible to it, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • New parents: New parents must negotiate these dual roles for the first time. The tension between the roles often tends to feel heavier with the first child.
  • Single parents: People who are the sole breadwinner and sole caretaker face more pressure to make sacrifices in either their professional or parental roles. Single parents are also more likely to come face-to-face with the limits of their capacity to fulfill each role and must make difficult decisions.
  • Parents with fewer resources: Parents with fewer resources often work long hours or multiple jobs to be able to provide financially for their children. However, when they are working, they tend to experience feelings of guilt for not being physically and emotionally present with them.

Causes of Parent Guilt

Dr. Romanoff explains that parental guilt can be caused by internal and external pressures:

  • Internal pressures: Parents often have unrealistic expectations of themselves. Having a child is a full-time job on its own. Being a parent while also working is a considerable adjustment and a tremendous load of responsibility that few prior experiences could prepare you for.
  • External pressures: From the outside, there is often tremendous pressure to be the perfect parent. However, many parents find these standards unrealistic and unattainable. This pressure is further compounded by the pressure exerted by employers who expect the same level of work performance from employees, despite the intense stressors and challenges they face as parents.

Impact of Parent Guilt

The impact of parent guilt can vary depending on how you manage it, says Dr. Romanoff. Below, she outlines some of the ways parent guilt can affect you:

  • Compensating in other ways: Often, parents will compensate for their guilt and lack of presence with their children by giving them more material or financial reparation to assuage their guilt and provide tangible proof of their love.
  • Feeling like a failure: Some parents might suffer from significantly lower self-worth as they view themselves as failures in the jobs they once were able to complete with ease as well as in their new roles as parents.

Coping With Parent Guilt

Dr. Romanoff suggests some strategies that can help you cope with parent guilt:

  • Identify your triggers: Pay attention to the automatic thoughts that cause you to feel guilty or judgmental towards yourself. Identifying the triggers for your guilt can help you get a better handle on them.
  • Reframe your thoughts: If you notice unhelpful thoughts that are making you feel guilty, make a conscious effort to reframe them in a more positive manner. For instance, instead of feeling guilty while you’re at work, tell yourself: “I am working to support my child.”
  • Recalibrate your expectations: There may be certain things you’re not able to do, due to constraints on your time and energy. Recalibrating your expectations and accepting the limits of what you can do can help you feel less guilty.
  • Focus on being present: Focus on being present wherever you are. For instance, when you are with your children, focus on enjoying your time with them and when you are at work, focus on getting your tasks done.
  • Build a support system: Instead of isolating yourself, find a supportive community of friends and family members to lean on. Ask for their help when you need it.
  • Avoid comparisons: Comparing yourself to other parents is a fruitless exercise. Instead, it may be helpful to join a support group of parents with similar circumstances, as they may be a source of advice, inspiration, experience, and support.
  • Take breaks: Try to give yourself occasional breaks, to recharge your batteries. You can either take 10 minutes to yourself every day or take a day or night off once in a while.
  • Practice self-care: Be compassionate and kind towards yourself. Find ways to prioritize yourself and practice self-care.
  • Seek professional help: If you find that you’re unable to cope and frequently experience feelings of guilt, despair, depression, or anxiety, seek out therapy to help manage your mindset and find a better balance in your life.

A Word From Verywell

Having kids can involve a lot of work. You may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to do and guilty about all the things you’re unable to do. However, it’s important to manage your expectations and be kind to yourself. Understand and accept that doing your best is good enough.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Constantinou G, Varela S, Buckby B. Reviewing the experiences of maternal guilt. Health Care Women Int. 2021;42(4-6):852-876. doi:10.1080/07399332.2020.1835917

  2. Miller CL, Strachan SM. Understanding the role of mother guilt and self-compassion in health behaviors in mothers with young children. Women Health. 2020;60(7):763-775. doi:10.1080/03630242.2020.1713966

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.