Parenting in 2022 means juggling a huge variety of competing priorities. We’re encouraged to do it all and try and achieve ‘perfection’. It can feel like we’re constantly on a treadmill of endless tasks, with guilt weighing heavily on our shoulders. Do our children have enough chance to play? Have we read to them enough recently? When was the last time we gave them a proper cuddle? Should we sign them up for football, even if it is at 6pm on a Friday? Will they be ok even though we weren’t there for two bedtimes this week?
As a company founded by parents of young children, we know well that it often feels overwhelming. That’s why we’re so excited to be working with Anita Cleare, parenting expert, writer and coach. She’s the founder of The Positive Parenting Project, which focuses on evidence-based parenting strategies. She’s a published author on the subject too, with The Work/Parent Switch available internationally.
We caught up with Anita for her thoughts on what’s most important to alleviate working parent guilt and what parents should be focusing on.
What are some of the most common questions working parents ask you?
The biggest question, and the one that’s most often at the root of working parent worries, is “is it my fault?”. Fear of failing our children drives a lot of the guilt we feel as parents. Much of the parenting advice out there focuses on the idea that you should do X, Y and Z and then you’ll become a good parent. In reality, this is completely false and just adds more pressure to parents’ shoulders.
This belief feeds the desire to do everything, even if we have very limited time available. When we aren’t able to, we inevitably feel like we’ve failed. I try to help parents understand that they don’t have to do everything and that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ parent. It’s all about choosing what’s most important to you as a family and prioritising that.
For example, many parents I work with will ask how to get their child to stop or start doing something. Encouraging children through homework, activities, dinnertime and bedtime while you’re tired and stressed at the end of the day is exhausting – if you add to that trying to correct a behaviour, it’s a recipe for overwhelm. My question to parents is always: “What can you do differently? What’s actually important to you?” You might have found yourself ticking off a whole list of tasks which are really other people’s priorities, not yours.
A large part of feeling successful at parenting is knowing your own priorities and understanding that parenting is a relationship, rather than a series of tasks.
What’s your top tip to avoid working parent guilt?
My biggest tip is to ask yourself whether your guilt is helpful or unhelpful. Helpful guilt points you to the areas where change can happen. Unhelpful guilt is simply making you feel bad about things you can’t change. To find out whether your guilt is helpful or not, you need to look at the beliefs underneath it.
Notice when you feel guilty – what’s triggering it? Now hold that guilt up to the light and discover the belief that’s underneath it. Ask yourself if there’s an alternative belief that could also be true? For example, is it true that you’ve “hardly been there for bedtime” or did you simply miss one?
Your philosophy is based on parenting smarter, not harder. What does that look like in practice?
If you understand that parenting is a relationship rather than a series of tasks, I think it frees you from much of the guilt and fear. Parenting smarter is about savouring all those small moments that create a relationship. With limited time and energy after a day of work, seeking out those tiny moments of joy, support and connection is far more positive than having a mental checklist of all the things you ‘ought’ to be doing with your children.
Remember too that you can’t see a relationship from the outside. Staying clear of comparison-itis will help you maintain focus on what’s really important for you and your family.
How can people get your help if they’re interested in learning more?
I’m running a webinar called How to banish working parent guilt with Elevate – get in touch to book your place and enquire about my 1:1 parenting clinics.