I routinely meet with people who are struggling with the pressures of raising kids. It’s a 24/7 job that can spark a roller coaster of emotions depending on the day: fear, resentment, joy, frustration….and that’s just before breakfast.
But one of the most common emotions that my therapy clients struggle with goes to the heart of how they see themselves as parents. And that feeling is shame.
WHAT IS SHAME?
The experience of shame is deeply personal and can make us question how we see ourselves in everyday life.
As a parent, shame can lead to feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt around how we’re bringing up the next generation, particularly when certain parts don’t work out as we envisioned or planned.
WHERE DOES SHAME COME FROM?
Moms and dads often have an image in their mind of what parenting ‘should’ look like. Aptly coined the ’myth of the perfect parent’, this romanticized outlook is usually formed before the babies are even born and the messiness (literally and figuratively) or parenting truly sets in.
This universal idea of what parenting ‘should’ look like can also give rise to a million smaller ‘shoulds’ that creep into our everyday thinking. For example:
I should be breastfeeding my baby.
I should be balancing career and family.
I should always enjoy spending time with my kids.
I should never yell or show frustration.
The trouble with all these ’shoulds’ is that they put an unrealistic pressure on moms and dads to parent a certain way and can lead to feelings of defeat when things don’t work out. This disconnect between expectation and reality is where shame starts to set in.
WHAT ELSE IS AT PLAY?
While the issue of shame around parenting isn’t anything new, certain aspects of modern life aren’t helping.
Social media, for example, has made it easier than ever to compare ourselves to one another and fill our minds with doubt about what we should and shouldn’t be doing as parents. Just last year, a survey of 500 Canadian women revealed that 82% of moms compare themselves to other moms online and 69% said they have “insecurities about motherhood” due to social media.
SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Despite the emotional challenges of parenting in today’s world, there are strategies that can help:
The Underexplored Issue of Postpartum Anxiety
Lowering the Stress of Summer Parenting
Surviving Motherhood: 5 Tips to Help Avoid Burnout
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.