River District Counselling & Wellness

The Guilty Parent Trap

When was the last time you thought to yourself 

“Oh, my goodness … I need a break!” An hour ago? Now?


Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or working parenting, it can be difficult to find the time for YOU. Remember those days where you wake up and go about your own thing? It probably seems like another life. You now seem to be constantly “on the go” with checking things off on your to-do list, balancing that with thoughts of  “What is my kid looking at on the internet now that my back is turned?” Or maybe it's the “I don’t have enough time for me” because it means I’m not being a “good parent” guilt.

Society has defined the ideal parent image, the “unrealistic” super-parent image that social media often portrays. You've seen that family -  the one with the super clean house in grey and white, organic home cooked meals on the perfectly set table and children running around in tan linen pants. If you don’t have that, then you might feel bad about not living up to that picture. It’s a weird way to offer assurance to be happy and grateful for the life created. In fact, it calls to all the things you "should" be doing. 

Reality check - you are pretty sure your kids are wearing never washed pants, you've got laundry baskets all on the floor and your oven is heating a premade Costco pasta in a foil pan. You want your kids to be the best so you give the best, but it does not mean you need to be “perfect” to give that. After all, you’re not superhuman.

You might not notice, but every time you look at the picture perfect family on social media, you accept the message that you need to devote all your time to your family and home and if you want some me time then you’re selfish. Truthfully, all these select images you see are making you unconsciously or consciously compare your family to others. Those are the moments where you think “Lisa’s kids are all so happy in that photo, I bet they never have yelling matches about Wi-Fi and using cell phone use.” 

Have you read this far and it’s all stuff you’re experiencing? Hold on to what you're feeling and telling yourself right now!  We will come back to it later.

It isn’t rocket science that you have kids with the expectation of you being the best parents and this is a lot of pressure you place on yourself. Sometimes, it’s a default mode to be hard on yourself even though you know you’re trying your best. We become our own worst critic and the pressure piles on.

Chalk board

First, say to yourself “It is hard to parent” and “I am doing the best I can with what I have!”


And remember “Self-compassion does not equate to selfishness.”


Dr. Kristin Neff recommends self-compassion as the key for parents to decrease the stress, anxiety and pressure you feel around these expectations. Self-compassion is being kind to yourself! Think how you would talk to your best friend or your loved ones when they are going through a tough time. Would you say “Well, you should have done more. It would have turned out if you did. ” Or would you be inclined to say “You are doing the best you can. You are doing enough. You are not alone and I am here with you.”


Research has shown engaging in simple self-compassion exercises can be very beneficial for parents. It can be done in small ways through everyday actions and it doesn’t have to be big grand gestures. 

For instance, order dinner one night when you don’t have the energy instead of cooking a meal for your family or bake some of your favorite treats instead of ones you know your kids would like. 

Take a bubble bath for 15 minutes instead of a quick shower. If you do need to shower - maybe that’s the time you’ll let that conditioner soak in for the recommended 3-4 minute time on the back of the bottle!  

Another self compassion activity you can engage in is having some alone time. Set your kid up with a show or movie (know what your kid is doing or have your partner watch over them) and set a timer. Tell your kids, for the next 20 minutes, mommy will be in her room having some alone time. As you build this into your routine with your kids, you not only get some Me time, your kids will also become more comfortable with the idea that parents need some alone Me time, they can also have some alone Me time. There is nothing wrong with wanting some Me time!


Practicing self-compassion is not only beneficial for you as a parent but also beneficial for your kids. Parents who engage in more self-compassion statements and practices tend to have teenagers with less depression and anxiety symptoms. Listening to ourselves without judgements, accepting ourselves with love, kindness and compassion will teach our kids to do the same. If we teach our kids to be kind. We must do the same as well.


Remember when we had to pause to check in with ourselves? Let’s go back to those feelings. Were you being hard on yourself? Saying to yourself “I get this… I do that…I see this...Yes, that is 100% ME!” Learn to engage in regular check ins with yourself. Catch yourself when you’re being your own worst critic. Give yourself a break. Just know that being hard on yourself because you aren’t the spitting image of the perfect Instagram photo isn’t something to be ashamed of! 


For more resources on self- compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website https://self-compassion.org/ for more tips and exercises.

Happy Parenting and Good Luck - JC