Parental Guilt: Navigating Parenthood’s Toughest Emotions

How often have you lost your cool with your child and felt guilty afterward? Sometimes, I lose my temper with my four-year-old daughter over trivial things like not wanting to brush her teeth, getting ready to leave the house, etc. I am human, and so are you, and it is normal to lose our cool occasionally. However, even though I know this, I can’t help but feel guilty and have negative thoughts about being the worst parent in the world after the fact.

Feeling parental or caregiver guilt is common and can be overwhelming. If you are experiencing parental guilt, here are some tactics to help you navigate parenthood’s toughest emotions.

What is Parental Guilt?

But first, we need to know what parental or caregiver guilt is. Parental guilt is the feeling or worry that you are not doing enough or that you are not a good enough parent. These feelings of guilt and shame are felt by some parents or caregivers when they feel like they don’t live up to their own or others’ expectations of how they are raising their children. It is an internal dialogue that tells you that you are failing as a parent or caregiver.

These feelings can be felt by parents and caregivers no matter your gender identity or role in your family. Here is a video that explains more in-depth what parental guilt is:

What Causes Parental Guilt?

Parental Guilt can be felt for many reasons, such as:

Breastfeeding or Formula Feeding

This might be the first reason why parents and guardians feel parental guilt. Due to our society and pressure from family, we tend to think that how we feed our child is wrong whether we choose to formula feed or breastfeed.

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby breast milk or formula. Feeding your baby is essential; you must do what is best for you and your child.

Being a Working or Stay-at-Home mom:

Again, like feeding your baby, parental guilt happens no matter your path. If you work, you feel guilty for not spending time with your child, and if you stay at home, you might feel guilty not contributing to your household economically. I know this from experience.

The truth is that no matter what path you choose, you need to do what is best for your family. If you must work, you must realize that this will improve you and your child’s lives.  You should not feel guilty about it. If you can be a stay-at-home parent, you must realize that parenting is a 24-hour-a-day and seven-days-a-week job. You are contributing to your household with your time and energy.


4-year-old on screentime when mother is busy

Many parents and guardians feel guilty about letting their children have too much screen time (which I am also guilty of). The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that non-educational screen time be limited to one hour daily for children two to five years old.

I agree that children should play outdoors and play with other children. My daughter and I would use less screen time in a perfect world. As much as I would like to focus all my attention on my daughter, I must attend to other things such as writing, cleaning the house, cooking, paying bills, and adulting. She can find ways to play alone, but sometimes, that does not work.  

This is when technology comes in handy, and she has more screen time than I would like to admit to. I am not the only parent with this problem; allowing my daughter screen time does not make me a bad mother. Yet this is when I begin to doubt myself, and the guilt hits me very hard.

Feeling Judged

Sometimes, well-intentioned family members or friends want to advise us on parenting our child best. I always find this advice helpful, but sometimes I feel judged. This is when I start feeling parental guilt because I have a different parenting style than them.   

In these situations, we must remember that just because these people raised their children a certain way does not mean that how you and I are raising them is wrong. We must do what is best for our children and family; every child is different. What works for some does not work for others.

Needing a break from our children:

This is one of the reasons I feel the most parental guilt. When I need time, I feel guilty that I am not with my daughter. It took me going to therapy to realize that self-care is essential and that spending time with myself is crucial.

If you feel the same way, know that you are not alone and that having some time for yourself is okay. It is not selfish or wrong to do something away from your children, and it is needed to be able to be patient with them.


In the social network era, comparing ourselves with other parents who seem to be doing everything right is easy. I know I have done this. I see moms who work full time, have time to be with their children, and have spotless homes, and I feel like a failure because my living room looks like a hurricane hit it.

The thing is, everyone is different, and we don’t know how others are doing. You cannot compare yourself because you don’t see their imperfections or what is lacking in their world. No one is perfect; all you can do is do your best.

Losing your temper:

Again, no one is perfect, and no matter how much we try to keep calm and be cool and collected, we are human. Humans have emotions, and anger is one of them.

I know there have been times I have lost my temper, but I also know this can be a learning moment for my daughter and me. When situations like that happen, I can teach her how to behave when I lose my temper, such as apologizing and talking to her about what I can do when I feel mad.

For example, my daughter has reminded me to take deep breaths when she sees that I am starting to feel frustrated. Even though she is only four years old, she will also tell me that she is getting frustrated or mad and begins to take deep breaths to calm down.

Postpartum Depression:

Although feeling guilty is normal, if these feelings are overwhelming and consistent, it could be due to postpartum depression. I know because I have and have had postpartum depression. If you feel like these feelings are preventing you from living your life, you may want to do what I did and reach out to your healthcare team or a mental healthcare professional to find therapy.

Strategies to Help Navigate Parent Guilt

Having these feelings is normal, and you are not alone. However, if you are like me and these feelings become overwhelming, you struggle to cope with guilt. Here are some strategies that have helped me, and could help you navigate these emotions as well.

Identify the source:

Erin Eatough, an occupational health psychologist who wrote “The Hidden Struggles of Working Moms? Guilt. Here is How to Overcome It,” mentions that writing in a journal about the things that cause you to feel guilty or ashamed can help find what makes you feel parental guilt and can help you address it.

Show some self-compassion:

One of the things that I talked to with my therapist was that I was my own worst critic and wouldn’t treat a friend the way I treated myself. She mentioned that I needed to show self-compassion, which is easier said than done.

I started by following my therapist’s advice and began to treat myself the way I would my best friend. I would tell myself that I make mistakes because I am human, which does not make me a bad parent.

Heart with hands to show self-compassion when feeling parental guilt.

Take deep breaths:

Parental guilt starts when automatic negative thoughts start creeping in. When this happens, taking deep, mindful breaths helps to take a break and stop the negative intruding thoughts from taking over.

An app that has helped me to take deep, mindful breaths is the Calm app, and here is a video that can also help with deep, conscious breathing.

Calm App mindful breathing video

Prioritize Self-Care:

I find this still tricky, but it is essential. We need to take care of ourselves to be able to take care of our loved ones. My therapist would tell me you need to put your oxygen mask first before putting it on your child because if you don’t, who will care for them?

Self-care is the oxygen mask, especially when struggling with parental guilt. Some ideas for self-care are exercising or doing something you like to do, such as a hobby or a fun activity. For me, it is getting my nails done, getting a message, or reading a book for fun.

Find Support and Talk It Out:

Finding support is crucial and could be in the form of friends, family members, or being a part of a group where you can feel supported and talk about what is bothering you without feeling judged.

Seek professional help:

As I mentioned, if you feel that parental guilt is overwhelming and interfering with your daily life and enjoying what you like to do, you need to seek professional help.

It is okay to talk to a professional mental healthcare provider to help.  My sister, a psychologist, told me once that we go to the doctor when we are physically sick to get medicine or find out what we need to do to get better. So why do we not go to a doctor when we are mentally unwell?

Our mind is just like any other part of our body that can feel unwell, and we should seek help when needed.

Family spending time together without parental guilt

The Takeaway

Feeling parental guilt is usually part of the parenting journey, and you are not alone. This is something that all parents feel, and it is parenthood’s toughest emotions. However, there are strategies to help us deal with parental guilt, and we can always ask for help if we feel overwhelmed. You do not have to struggle or feel like you are not alone because you are not. Remember, we are all human, and you are doing your best. Parental guilt is part of the good, the bad, and the ugly side of parenthood.

Resources for Postpartum Depression:

If you liked this post, you might enjoy our post: Is Melatonin Safe for Children to Help with Bedtime?

Here is a list of our latest posts:


  1. “Got Mom Guilt? Here’s How To Navigate It.” Healthessentials. April 28, 2023.
  2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry “Screen time and Children.” No. 54 February 2020
  3. Eatough, Erin, PhD. “The hidden struggle of working moms? Guilt. Here is how to overcome it.” January 10, 2022.
  4. Garone, Sarah, “Why Mom (or Dad) Guilt Is a Thing — and What You Can Do to Stop Beating Yourself Up.” Healthline. Nov 19, 2019.
  5. Paturel, Amy. “Why we feel ‘mom guilt’ – and how to stop.” August 9, 2022.
  6. Wojslaw, Jill “Managing Mom Guilt.” What to Expect. April 27, 2021.

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