How to overcome guilt when we put ourselves 1st

Parenting, while it can be enormously rewarding, is also demanding and stressful. There can be a great deal of pressure from internal and external sources for parents to be “perfect.”

As parents, we want to do our best for our kids. The task can easily expand to fill every moment of our lives. There’ll always be “more we could do” so taking time to prioritize our own needs can bring feelings of guilt. But it’s important to take care of your own needs primarily because you will be a better parent if you are healthy, happy, and not burned out.

Here are a few strategies for navigating these feelings of guilt:

Clarify expectations and goals of parenting

Often, we expect ourselves to be great parents without stopping to define what that really means. That can contribute to the feeling that we could always be doing more. It can be helpful to define what “good enough” parenting means to you and to your partner if you have one. That might involve writing things down, or a conversation with your partner or someone else whose values align with yours. Then you can examine those expectations and goals and assess whether they’re realistic. It may be helpful to distinguish between things that feel non-negotiable to you and areas where some compromise might be OK. That clarity of what “good parenting” means to you can help make you feel that you’re doing enough. Be mindful of comparisons to others. There will always be someone who’s doing something as a parent that you can’t or don’t want to do.

Communicate with your partner and support network

If you have a partner, it’s important to have open conversations about the expectations and pressures of parenting, and about your own needs. If you and your partner are not aligned in terms of parenting expectations or values, or if there are perceived imbalances in terms of contributions or responsibilities, these factors can play into feelings of guilt. Likewise, if you’re feeling burned out and perceive that your own needs are not being met, your partner should know. They can help you figure out how to get what you need. If you are a single parent, consider reaching out to your support network, whether that’s grandparents, friends or childcare providers. See if they can help you create time to take care of your own needs while making sure that your kids are in a healthy environment. If your partner or support network can explicitly affirm that your needs are important, and help you create time for self-care, that can go a long way toward reducing guilt. And you can do the same for your partner, or even your friends.

Have a conversation with your guilt

That might seem like a strange idea, but it’s important to recognize that your feelings of guilt are very likely coming from a place of caring. So, when feelings of guilt arise, you can remind yourself that those feelings are simply conveying a message, and you can respond. You might say (in your mind or even out loud) something like, “Thank you for reminding me that I care a lot about being a good parent. Right now it’s important that I take care of my own needs, and that doesn’t mean I’m not committed to being a good parent.”

Accept and even expect feelings of guilt

Feelings of guilt may not disappear even if you do all of the things listed above. But you don’t have to let those feelings stop you from taking care of your own needs. Remind yourself that your needs are important and that you can’t be at your best as a parent if your needs are not being met. Allowing yourself to prioritize your own needs, even if you feel guilty, will likely provide benefits to your personal happiness, your parenting, and other areas of your life.

Andrew Lovejoy is with Bainbridge Youth Services, which has a monthly column in this newspaper.