Guilt is a word that many parents know too well. It’s a feeling that can sometimes be difficult to come to terms with. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, we’ve all experienced it and continue to experience it throughout every hurdle of family life.
Although many people tell you about how different you’ll feel after you become a parent, nothing really prepares you for it. I often feel like I’m racing from one extreme to the other - from that amazing feeling of love and happiness to the crippling emotions of intense worry and guilt.
The feeling of guilt can take on many forms: it can creep up on you and almost take your breath away, it can linger like a feeling of foreboding, it can arise from different views and opinions and it can be exaggerated by your internal thought process. Whether it’s because you turned your back for a split second, or because you walked out the door to provide for your family, or because you went for a post-work drink with a friend, guilt is a reality parents must deal with daily. Knowing how to manage guilt is important because, for many of us, there are other elements that we need to include in our lives to ensure we feel fulfilled both personally and professionally.
Some of you will know after reading my last article that my life has changed drastically over the last couple of years and I’ve had to adapt. I went from a self-confessed workaholic, to having twins, to successfully managing both parenting and work. It’s not easy, but you can do it.
My views won’t be for everyone, but I hope you will take something away that could be useful. However, if guilt is not something you experience, I salute you, and hope you will share your experiences below.
Here are my tips for dealing with guilt:
1. Face it head on
Guilt is inevitable. Do not be surprised when you feel incredibly guilty even when you are making a choice that benefits your children and your family in the long run. Even when you have a well-oiled structure - great childcare, happy children – you can still feel guilt when you walk out the door in the morning to go to work.
As parents, we are wired to protect our children so it can be very difficult to hand over that responsibility to someone else. For me, success often comes from pre-empting that feeling because it can take away the shock and make it more manageable. Taking something that can feel negative and focussing on the positives is key – think of how much fun nursery may be for your little ones, what activity you’ll do together when you get home, what you can achieve at work that day and so on.
2. Be comfortable when you leave
I’ve spoken before about how important it is to get help with childcare It can be difficult to accept that in the beginning but a combination of nursery, family, friends can work really well and it can offer variety and flexibility. However, be aware that relying on others, especially family, can cause strain if not structured properly and that the options that save money aren’t always the right ones. Get it right and you will reap the rewards. I’m continuously amazed by what my children learn with their nanny and it’s a real treat to come home and see them so happy and developing into fantastic human beings with real personality.
3. Focus on the here and now
For me, focus is a big part of successfully juggling a career and parenting. I do everything I can to focus and optimise the success of the task at hand and, as a result, worry or guilt naturally subsides. I throw myself head first into work, giving myself much less capacity for anything else. I guess this is an exaggerated version of the ‘keep busy’ mentality but, for me, it’s important to be present to ensure I can achieve what I want. Before I realise, the day has flown by and I am heading home ready for that all-important cuddle that changes everything.
4. Make it all about them
This may seem obvious but when you are with your family make it all about them, as much as you can anyway. For me, the hour I spend with my children before they go to bed and after I return from work is so important! Give them your full attention, and once again be present. If you have one eye on dinner you’ll miss out on that valuable time and later you’ll feel guilty that you didn’t make the most of it. If you have the opportunity to work four days/week when your children are young, please take that option. My Fridays are so important and special and it really helps me get through the week knowing that I have that one on one time. Time flies so quickly so, press pause and focus on them.
5. Make plans for the times when you are needed
Children get sick.... a lot. And you will not always be prepared for this so tell your work what will happen if the inevitable occurs. Giving them warning and structure means that you can put your children first without feeling guilty. Share the responsibility if you can and think about utilising grandparents and the family network. Also, be aware that if you work, you may struggle to be there for every cuddle that’s needed over the years - this may be the worst guilt of all.
For us, the amount of illnesses and challenges were far greater than expected and some days I struggled to know how to deal with it, both physically and emotionally. If I’d known this beforehand I would have been far better equipped and asked for more help.
6. Take some time for yourself
Being at work does not count as taking time for you. Even though my children give me a huge amount of fulfilment in life, it’s not healthy to only work and parent. Having things to look forward to is very important and it genuinely helps you balance everything successfully. This is not something you should feel guilty about as it can help you as an individual as well as your relationships, which can often be under more stress when children appear. Date night, spa day and weekends just for you and your partner or with a friend; these things are also key to success and should be factored into the balance you are trying to create as a family. Even if you and your partner have the strongest relationship, nothing can prepare you for the dynamic that children can create, so don’t worry if things seem more strained, because it’s normal.
To all parents I challenge you: don’t give yourself a hard time. Easier said than done, I know! But I guarantee that most people in your life are amazed by how you juggle everything.
This blog was contributed by Angharad Kenward, Senior Director of Investigo. It is part three of a three-part series about pregnancy and returning to work. Please click the following links to read part one or part two.