Parent guilt and its effects on mental health

Whether you are a working or a stay at home parent, strict or lenient, from a typical or atypical household, there is no escaping it: parent guiltnew mom

What is parent guilt?

For moms, from the moment we find out that there is a tiny human that is growing inside of us, we begin to make changes. Many of us restrict our diet, restrict some activities, begin taking folic acid supplements, or begin a healthier lifestyle. There is no denying that motherhood beings the moment that the test is positive. 

For dads, parent guilt can arrive a little later – once the pregnancy is towards the end stages, or once the baby is born. Dads may feel like they’re starting off the parenting journey at a disadvantage, and could feel guilty for not being supportive enough during the pregnancy, or during the child’s birth. 

Parent guilt is that feeling of being inadequate, or making the “wrong” decisions or “messing up” your children. It could be a temporary or fleeting feeling, or it could be ruling your parenting world. 

Maybe you’ve rarely experienced it, or maybe its grip on your parenting is ever present – either way, most of us have felt the pang of guilt associated with not being good enough. 


What does the research say?

Meeussen & Van Laar  from the Journal of Frontiers in Psychology (2018) conclude in their research that guilt in motherhood is directly correlated with the pressure that mothers experience to be “perfect”. There are so many sources of pressure and such high expectations of parenthood, and parents often feel inadequate in their role. 

In the book You’re Doing it Wrong (2019), Johnson and Quinlan take a look at the effects of media and medical professionals on parenthood throughout history. In general, parents have been under careful examination by peers, society, and professionals with regard to their parenting.  There are a lot of opinions on what is “right” and “wrong”, and thousands of books promising step-by-step parenting solutions. As parents, our social media accounts are bombarded with images of “perfect parenting”, showing spotless homes, stainless shirts, and perfectly happy parents and children.

parent guilt

It is no wonder we feel inadequate when we see images like this one. Meanwhile, our homes look like they’ve been hit by a tornado, as we swim through a swamp of sweat, tears, and dirty socks, just to get to that scrumptious dinner of frozen pizza. 

I remember being a new mom and telling a friend (who wasn’t a parent) that I don’t have any time to myself. She then replied something like “oh yeah, same here, I’ve barely even had time to finish making these homemade candles I’ve been working on!”. But I meant I hadn’t been to the bathroom by myself in 3 years, and found myself reading books to my toddler while in the bathroom.

True story: I once recited a whole book from memory while in the shower, while my toddler sat on the bathroom floor flipping the pages.  

You know what I mean?



What’s the effect of parent guilt, and can we do about it?

While a tiny bit of parent guilt can be productive, like feeling guilty that your friend’s children are fed homemade meals every day and deciding to remove take-out from your meal planning, it is not always productive. 


“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


As we said in our Good Enough Parenting blog post, there is no need for perfection. Perfection is an unachievable standard. We can, however, strive to be the kind of parent that does their best for their children, while also keeping their sanity in check. 

A little self-compassion and a dash of “real” parenting examples can go a long way! 


Join one of our FREE Parent Circles to connect with like minded parents and hear about other parent’s struggles and experience.

Psst! We want to let you know that some links provided in this article are through an affiliate program, which means that if you buy one of the books cited here by following our link, we will get a little compensation.