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What Parents Can Stop Feeling Guilty About, According To Science

Save your energy. You need it to raise tiny humans.

Ah, guilt.

If you’re a parent, you probably have it, and you probably feel those pangs for every damn parenting decision you’ve ever made (and a few things out of your control, too). It’s kind of ridiculous, when you think about it.

Nearly 90 per cent of moms report feeling guilty, according to one recent study. And that’s a lot of wasted energy, since guilt can actually negatively impact your parenting.

Ugh. This must stop. And that’s where science comes in.

We looked at some of the top things new parents might feel guilty about, and gathered evidence to show you why you should stop feeling guilty about these things immediately.

Behold, five guilt trips to go ahead and cancel:

1. Working

Of all the guilt trips in all the land, working when you have young kids might just be the worst one. Blogs, TV shows, movies, and entire books are dedicated on how to achieve work-life balance on the one hand (stay up until midnight batch cooking? Don’t mind if I don’t!) and the myth of “having it all” on the other.

Meanwhile, a quarter of working moms cry at least once a week from the stress of it all, according to a 2014 study.


"Sure, I can dial into the conference call."
Ariel Skelley via Getty Images
"Sure, I can dial into the conference call."

If there’s only one guilt you let go of, let it be working-mom guilt. Because guess what? A massive 2018 study of 100,000 people across 29 countries showed kids of working moms grow up to be just as happy as those of moms who didn’t work. Let us repeat that for you in case you were picturing your baby crying for you instead of focusing: KIDS OF WORKING MOMS ARE JUST AS HAPPY AS OTHER KIDS.

Not only that, but the same Harvard study found that daughters of working moms grow up to be higher performers in the workplace. And sons of working moms grow up to spend more time caring for their family members.

See what a good role model you are? Wipe those tears away.

2. Daycare

Daycare guilt tends to come part and parcel with working-mom guilt. Is it the feeling of abandoning your precious babe with a stranger? Is it the multiple cases of hand, foot and mouth disease that babe will have before he’s two years old? Or is it an often-cited 2006 study showing that children who attend daycare tend to show “somewhat” more behavioural problems in child care and kindergarten classrooms?

Yeah, time to let that go.

Actual depiction of a baby catching gastro.
FatCamera via Getty Images
Actual depiction of a baby catching gastro.

First of all, that same 2006 study found that kids who attended daycare centres had better cognitive and language development, and those who experienced high-quality childcare were somewhat more cooperative. So, balance.

And a more recent French study found that children who attend high-quality daycare are actually better behaved and display better cognitive skills than their peers.

“The evidence is clear that high-quality, early-childhood care is beneficial for children,” Dr. Jillian Roberts, founder of Family Sparks and associate professor at the University of Victoria, previously told Global News. “These programs include not only play and socialization, but also educational and nutritional components from highly-trained early childhood education professionals.”

As for all the daycare diseases, think of it as building your child’s immunity.

3. Sleep training

Maybe your baby sleeps like an actual dream without intervention. Maybe your baby is a crap sleeper, but you’re OK with it. Or maybe your baby is a crap sleeper, you’re not OK with it, you’ve tried everything, but you feel too guilty to sleep train because won’t that make you a monster?

WATCH: The truth about sleep training. Story continues below.

Only you can decide what works for your family, but if you do want to sleep train (or already have!), there’s no need to feel guilty about it. And you are most definitely not a monster.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement that infant sleep training is “effective and safe.” Another 2016 study found that letting babies cry themselves to sleep doesn’t lead to emotional, behavioural or parent-child attachment issues.

Plus, getting a good sleep is important to a child’s health and wellbeing, and those who don’t may have trouble functioning during the day, the Canadian Paediatric Society notes on its website. Not only that, but when parents are tired all the time it can affect their kids, even affecting a parents’ ability to express happiness in front of their children.

And sleep deprivation can take a toll on parents, physically and mentally, effecting everything from memory and mood to a risk of heart disease.

So, remember: sleep is good for everyone. And if sleep training is what gets you there, then godspeed.

4. Not breastfeeding

Oof, is there anything people love to judge parents for more than how, what, when and where they feed their babies? A 2017 poll found that, among the majority of new moms who said they’d been shamed for their parenting choices, 39 per cent said they were most shamed about breast vs. bottle feeding.


Someone call the authorities: this child is being fed.
Tuan Tran via Getty Images
Someone call the authorities: this child is being fed.

Yes, the world’s top health experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding until a child is six months old, with continued breastfeeding to age two and beyond. The benefits are well-documented, and include “antibodies that help prevent disease and may reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies,” Health Canada notes. It’s also easy to digest and can help protect a baby from harmful bacteria.

But not everyone is able to, or chooses to, breastfeed.

And formula moms should NOT feel guilty. First of all, let’s debunk the myth that breastfeeding is the only way to bond with a baby. As Doula Meghan Grant previously wrote in HuffPost Canada, yes, breastfeeding produces oxytocin, which aids in bonding. But you know what else produces oxytocin?

“Touch, eye contact, trust, cuddling, hugging and eating in general,” Grant writes.

“You do all of these things when you feed your baby a bottle, even if they are in a chair. As long as the caregiver is engaged in the feeding, oxytocin is contributing to bonding.”

Oh, and in case you were worried your bottle-fed baby might have a harder time getting a scholarship, a 2018 study that followed-up on kids when they were 16 found “no benefit of a breastfeeding promotion intervention on overall neurocognitive function.”

5. Taking time to yourself

Being a parent is hard work, and you cannot be your best self for your kids if you’re constantly running on empty. Yet, a study that came out this summer found that 40 per cent of parents feel guilty for taking any time for self-care, including naps.

Listen, we get it. There’s a lot of pressure on parents these days to be super involved (the New York Times describes modern parenting as “relentless”). Plus, with more women in the Canadian workforce than ever before, and both moms and dads still doing lots of chores around the house, spare time is at a premium.

But, please. Take the damn nap.

"Go away, honey. Mommy is recharging."
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
"Go away, honey. Mommy is recharging."

Go for the massage. Sign up for that painting class. And if you have child care/a partner, take that weekend trip with your friends.

Recent research out of Belgium found that parental burnout is legitimate, with nearly 13 per cent of the 2,000 parents surveyed experiencing “high burnout.” Researchers also found that exhausted parents tend to disengage emotionally from their children. In fact, they wrote that parental burnout can have a “potentially dramatic and long-lasting consequences” for children.

Breaks are crucial, parenting expert and author Ann Douglas previously told Global News. And they don’t have to be huge. Enjoying a cup of tea, reading a book, or going for a walk with a friend can be enough to re-energize you.

“As important as the role of parenting is, it is not our entire life,” Douglas told Global News. “You have to continue to invest in your other parts of yourself – whether that be our health, relationships or your interests or identity.”

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