Caleigh Gnana-Pragasam

Parental guilt and feeling inadequate

written by Caleigh Gnana-Pragasam

  1. #parenting
  2. #parentalguilt
  3. #inadequate
  4. #parent
  5. #parenting
  6. #breastfeeding

We all feel it, the parental guilt and feeling inadequate but sadly we don't often admit it. Here Caleigh admits her fears and takes comfort in "a problem shared, is a problem halved"

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I have a phrase I say to myself sometimes, it’s sort of an affirmation, but not really. “For promised joy,” is from this verse in To a Mouse:

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain: The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!”

It’s a reminder that even the most meticulously planned parts of life can go wrong. When applied to life with children, that’s definitely the case!

When it comes to our children, we quickly learn to expect the unexpected, but sometimes we wish we’d handled a situation differently. From that birth plan that was thrown out the window after 10 minutes of labour, all the way until they leave home (and beyond), it’s easy to feel guilty, apologetic and a little bit inadequate.

I find myself doing it a lot, and I’m not alone. Do any of these, sound familiar?

“I’m sorry, do you mind if I breastfeed my baby here?”

“I’m so sorry, but I’m really tired, I’m going to have to go to bed.”

“Sorry about the crying, he’s hungry/sleepy/wet.”

“Sorry about the smell, she’s just pooped!”

We apologise about things that we simply can’t control and, let’s be honest, shouldn’t be sorry about in the first place! If our friends and family can’t excuse our children for filling their nappy, or feeling hunger, then they might be best avoided for a few years.

It’s not just the small stuff either.

Recently, I was with some other mums and we were talking about breastfeeding. I was telling them about my own attempts to nurse wee Xander. When he was born, Xander was quite poorly and was taken straight to Special Care. He was tiny, weak and jaundiced so couldn’t feed for long, and he didn’t gain weight quickly enough. If I’d asked the right people, I would have known to express after feeding Xander and been able to top up his breastfeeds with expressed bottle feeds, to make sure he got the hind milk (and to keep my own milk production going), but the advice didn’t come in time.


As I told my story to the group, one of them stopped me. She pointed out that, given the circumstances, I should feel proud of the time I did manage to breastfeed. Instead, I was apologising for myself. I’m not the only one here, either. I’ve met several mums with very similar regrets about birth, feeding, weaning, childcare, education, health and quality time. The list, it seems, is endless.

Why do we do it?

We can’t change the past and there’s no one right way to bring up a child. There are as many approaches to parenting, as there are children! We’ve all felt inadequate from time to time, the problem starts when we blame ourselves when life doesn’t go to plan. Guilt grows and, before you know it, you’re feeling like a failure.

What can you do if you’re feeling inadequate?

It’s easier said than done, but try not to dwell on it. In retrospect, you’ll always be able to see a better way you could have dealt with a situation. Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight when we’re in the middle of things, so it’s better to focus on the present instead. Whenever you start thinking about your regrets, go and do something else. Tickle your baby and enjoy their giggles, take your toddler to the park, bake cakes with your child, go for lunch with your teenager or, pamper yourself. Find that “promised joy”.

Laughter is the best medicine

Next time someone compliments your child, or tells you you’re doing a good job, say thanks!

Don’t equivocate - accept it.

Write it down if you like, so that next time you have self-doubt, you can remind yourself that you are doing this parenting thing well.

It’s a difficult job and you’re doing great!

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