How to Let Go of Parenting Guilt for Good — Or At Least for Right Now

Father walking outside with his arm around his son

I never realized that becoming a parent would lead to such intense feelings of guilt. On any given day, my internal dialogue can sound something like this: “I really should have read more books to her yesterday. Wait, when was the last time she had a bath? Ugh, she really needs a sibling. Why did I lose my cool over the socks… again?!”

You name it, and I’ve probably felt guilty about it. In working with my therapist and talking to close friends, I’ve come to realize that I’m not alone in putting extreme pressure on myself as a parent. Sure, this is evidence of the fact that I care greatly about my daughter and her well-being, but it’s just not serving me anymore.

So, what I’ve been working on lately is being kinder to myself and realizing that what matters the most is that my child is safe, loved, and celebrated. I’m going to mess up sometimes. We all are. So I’m learning to make space for imperfect moments. And you know what? It’s actually making my days feel a little lighter.

5 ways to lessen parenting guilt

When I feel the mama guilt getting loud, I’m trying to remember to reach for the coping tools below to alleviate some of the pressure. In doing so, I’m better able to show up for both myself and my daughter. I hope you find something on this list that helps lessen the feelings of guilt for you, too.

If you make a mistake, try to own it, and move on. On a particularly stressful morning, I forgot to pack my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal for camp. It resulted in tears from her and a major guilt spiral for me. When things calmed down, I was able to say to her, “I’m so sorry. I see how upset that made you. I’ll try to do better in remembering your one special thing next time. I make mistakes sometimes, just like we all do.”

Talk it through with another parent. If only we could always offer the same compassion to ourselves that we offer our friends, right? Anytime I call to vent to a friend who is also a parent, I am always met with kind words and empathy. We’re likely all pretty burned out at times. Voicing our guilt can help us to feel connected and less alone in our day-to-day struggles.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’ve kind of always rolled my eyes at this phrase until I really clung to it as a parent. Look, if your kid doesn’t eat as many vegetables as you want them to or if they watch extra television, it’s fine. We’re all so hard on ourselves to get it right, every time. I sometimes catch myself wanting to be more like an Instagram-influencer mom who is creating educational games to play with her child. But in reality, I know she isn’t doing it all perfectly either. In those moments, I like to remember what my core values are as a parent and focus on honoring those.

Journal it out. Often, putting our most private and vulnerable thoughts down on the page can provide a great deal of perspective and insight. It’s also a huge relief to just get.it.all.out. If I’m feeling like I need the support of a professional, I’ll journal my thoughts and feelings in the moment to share in my next therapy session. A journal is also a great place to write down and reflect on your core parenting values, so that honoring them becomes easier.

Double down on self-care. Feeling like you’re coming up short as a parent is the pits. Doing small things like taking a walk outside to catch your breath, repeating a comforting mantra, or meditating can really restart the day and offer the self-love boost that you need.

What’s one way that you can be more gentle with yourself as a parent today? The guilt you sometimes feel is an indication of great care for your child, so please take a moment to recognize and appreciate all of the ways you are doing a good job.

Honor what you’re doing right

Letting go of unrealistic expectations and doing the best that I can in the moment is something that I have to work on each day, but I’m starting to replace some of the negative self-talk with a little more gentle understanding. We see you, parents. It’s a difficult and all-consuming job, so be easy on yourself. Try to recognize and let go of some of the guilt that you’re holding onto in this moment.

By Katie Nave

Katie Nave is a writer and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in publications including Newsweek, Glamour, Business Insider, and Motherly. She has served as a producer for the National Women’s March and worked with organizations like Girls Inc. and CancerCare.

Clinically reviewed by Hayley Quinn, PsyD, Manager of Clinical Program Development at AbleTo.

Photo by Sladic/Adobe Stock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.