When Our Guilt Gets in the Way of Better Parenting

I am a parent. I have made mistakes.

These two sentences have always and will always go hand in hand with each other. A vital part of the parenting journey is learning and growing – and we can do neither without making mistakes. Mistakes are an important, indeed crucial, part of parenting – but only when we learn from them.

Only we don’t always do better next time do we? Why? Enter the big ugly monster known as ‘guilt’. Guilt means “Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong“, but I’m not so sure I agree with that. I think sometimes the guilt is so all consumingly overwhelming that the awareness gets buried, at least consciously, because it’s just too painful to be mindful of it.


If we cannot process our guilt and allow it to seep out of our body with grace as easily and quickly as it entered then we remain entrenced in a position of parental suspension. We experience the worst of both worlds, the constant nagging pain reminding us of a decision made at a time when we either didn’t know or couldn’t do better and the inability to move on using the experience to lift us to a new level of awareness.  Many parents remain in this uncomfortable limbo throughout their entire parenting journey and eventually the guilt turns to bitterness which manifests either as an internal attack upon themselves or externalises into criticism of other’s parenting choices. Sadly this criticism usually manifests itself towards those who are closest, friends and family, but they aren’t the real problem – neither is their parenting – the real problem is the uncomfortable feelings these people generate within ‘the guilty ones’, though by this stage they are long past recognising these bitter feelings as their own guilt.

I am a parent. I have made mistakes. I have made parenting choices that I am not proud of now and I would not make again if I knew then what I know now. Everyone has, but I welcome my guilt for it teaches me to be a better parent. When we know better we do better. My own childhood taught me that life is too short for regrets, life is too short to hold onto those feelings that make us feel bad. Life is about living in the now, parenting is about living in the now, not dwelling on what happened yesterday.


If ‘we’ are to change the way society parents, if we are to raise the next generation to be better than our own we have to come to terms with the guilt that parenting brings.  We have to see the guilt for what it really is – an opportunity. An opportunity to learn, grow, change and make tomorrow a better day.

All too often I see parents too consumed by their own guilt, unable to hear truths about the choices they made during their birth or in the early days of parenting their baby. I know it hurts, but we MUST recognise and process our own guilt and we must not let it stand in the way of making a difference for those who follow in our footsteps. Just because a certain piece of information is hurtful for us to hear (whether it be about birth, breastfeeding, sleep training, discipline or something else) we must not be slaves to the guilt, we must use it as a driving force for good, for social change – not just for the good of our children, but for ourselves too, for when we use our guilt in this way it becomes positive, it has a purpose and a funny thing begins to happen – we begin to heal.

We MUST see the bigger picture here. When a piece of research is published that shows that a common parenting practice may cause harm, or may be less positive than we believed when we did it with our own children we must embrace it, no matter how it makes us feel. It’s time to end the cycle of what Dr. Michel Odent calls ‘Cul-de-sac-epidemiology’:

” I call it cul-de-sac epidemiology. This framework includes research about topical issues. Despite the publication of this research in authoritative medical or scientific journals, the findings are shunned by the medical community and the media. Cul-de-sac epidemiological studies are not replicated, even by the original investigators and they are rarely quoted after publication.”

It’s time to stop denying the validity of science because of how it makes us feel. It’s time to move on. It’s time to remove the road blocks of guilt and aim for a wide open highway of parental growth. When we know better, we do better.



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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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