Are there any parents out there who feel guilty?
Only joking: we all do. It's the one issue I see again and again in my 1:1 therapy practice, and I know it plagues parents who don't have the opportunity to access therapy, too.
We can feel bad about almost anything as parents, but it's actually completely normal: you can hear me talk more about this here.
That doesn’t mean we have to live with it, though. Too much guilt can be pretty toxic to us, and to our kids. Over time, guilt can really start to impact our own mental health, as well as the parenting we are trying so hard to get “right”.
Do any of these resonate?
⚡️You feel an enormous pressure to get things "right" as a parent and sense other parents are doing a better job.
⚡️You constantly second-guess how you handle things and feel confused by the conflicting parenting information you read.
⚡️You worry about the long-term impact on their child when you "mess up".
⚡️You find yourself emotionally triggered by tour kids, then feel guilty when you lose your temper or make rash decisions.
⚡️You’re worried you’re turning into your own mum or dad, despite actively trying to break intergenerational parenting patterns.
⚡️You’re overwhelmed, lacking in support and your own needs and identity are lost and neglected.
⚡️And you blame yourself for not doing a “better” job.
If you recognise yourself, you're not alone. After working with parents for the last 15 years in the NHS, in clinical research, and in private practice, I began to notice this vicious cycle. So I drew it out:
Does this hit home for you?
The Vicious Cycle
A core feature of the vicious cycle we see above is that no matter how parents try to escape, they can't:
💥 The more parenting “strategies” you try, the more guilty you find yourself feeling when you can't use them because you can't think straight at stressful moments.
💥On the other hand, if you work on your emotional regulation and self-care, you find you're still not confident of the healthiest way to handle situations with your kids, leaving you feeling still stressed and guilty.
This seems especially true for neurodivergent parents or parents of neurodivergent children (or both). Does this cycle ring a bell?
Let's break these cycles
I know that as a parent, you find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of pressure, unmet needs, lack of support, dysregulation, self-criticism and guilt.
The harder you try to be a “good” parent by criticising yourself, the more stressed you feel, and the more this fuels the cycle - taking you further from the parent you want to be.
I am absolutely determined to help as many parents as possible avoid this slippery slope, and that’s why I have been working hard for the last year or so, piecing together the most powerful psychological techniques to create a new tool to help you:
Feel less guilty
Feel more confident in your parenting
Feel more like yourself again
Get comfy with imperfection
We want to get closer to this cycle, of confident, imperfect parenting:
Sound good? So, drum roll please...
The Guilty Parent Escape Plan
It's called The Guilty Parent Escape Plan – and it does exactly what it says it does. The 6 "P Keys" to help you unlock a way of parenting that is more effortless, joyful, less guilt-ridden and overwhelming, and works for you AND your child:
🔑 Each P Key offers evidence-based information and psychological tools designed to reduce dysregulation and guilt/shame, and increase parental confidence and compassion.
🔑 AND each Key contains techniques both for us as parents, and for our children.
Everything is geared towards celebrating imperfection & relieving pressure.
How does it work?
For you: each Key gives you techniques to keep your own brain calm and reduce guilt and overwhelm, so you can feel more like yourself, and parent in the way you actually want to, without the pressure of having to be the “perfect parent”.
For your child: each key helps your child’s brain stay calm so they are more likely to listen and respond to the boundaries you are setting. You’ll feel more confident and less guilty about how you handle those tricky moments.
Let's go through how each P Key can help you, and help you parent your child.
First up, the Perspective Key!
This Key is about properly understanding what’s happening for you - and for your child - at emotional moments. We all need this foundation before we can do anything differently. It helps you:
Take your own Perspective & use a special framework to recognise patterns in your emotional reactions with your kids & how you talk to yourself about what's happened.
Understand how guilt turns up & how we can get into a vicious circle of stress, overwhelm, & shame.
Use my new BALM tool to slow these reactions right down… so you can stay calmer and think more clearly... and have a better chance of parenting in the way you want to, with less to feel guilty about!
Once you can do this for yourself, you can help your child do it, too!
Understand your child's brain, their Perspective and why they act the way they do.
Use scripts to help them feel seen & stay calmer whilst we navigate setting tough boundaries.
Teach emotional literacy skills for their long-term development & mental health.
Next up is the ImPerfection Key.
My personal favourite - see how it's imperfect because it doesn't even begin with P?!
This Key is crucial in tackling parent guilt. Imperfection is the very essence of being human – and being a parent - so finding a way to get comfortable with it is essential. There are so many reasons that we are set up to strive for perfection in parenting... learning what these are can help us become more aware of what's driving our guilt.
Feeling like a good parent isn’t about getting everything right or never getting triggered by your kids... it’s about expecting that this WILL happen, and not beating yourself up when you do.
It's about understanding that our relationship with our kids is actually made stronger by "ruptures and repairs" - & learning how to do this with our kids.
It’s about doing for ourselves what we already try our best to do for our kids – being kind & compassionate to ourselves when we make mistakes, or feel bad.
Being gentler to ourselves can be really hard for a load of reasons, one of which is that we just didn't ever learn how to do it when we were growing up. But, we absolutely can learn now.
And we need to - for our own mental health, for the sake of our parenting, & to teach our kids how to do it too.
There are no wrong turns, there’s no perfect way to handle any situation, there’s no perfect way to be a parent.
The Predictability Key
This Key is all about predicting what situations with our kids trigger guilt, anger or overwhelm, and planning ahead to reduce these triggers.
The reason we get triggered can absolutely be because the situation itself is just mega stressful (we look at these situations in the Perspective Key). And sometimes we can feel more stressed because of our expectations and how we talk to ourselves about what happens (see the ImPerfection Key).
But I don't know about you, sometimes I find myself "over-reacting" to certain things. Certain issues can trigger us based on patterns laid down in our brain wiring from our childhoods - our "buttons". Our reaction can be automatic too - we can find ourselves repeating behaviour from the past that we would rather not.
The Predictability P helps you:
Understand and categorise these "buttons", and where they might come from.
Becoming more aware of patterns from our past can help us break unhelpful intergenerational cycles in the way we want to.
Acting in a preventative way can then reduce the situations that cause us to feel guilty in the first place, and also help us bring some understanding to ourselves.
The child Predictability Key is about using strategies that increase the level of predictability in the boundaries we set, to help them listen and learn what you are trying to teach them. Everyone stays calmer, and there’s less to feel guilty about.
The Playfulness Key
We tend to prioritise play-time for our children but neglect it for ourselves. Obviously, being a parent often means less time to ourselves (understatement), BUT it's also true that we sometimes forget about our own need for “play”, or deny ourselves permission for it. Is that true for you?
For me, "play" is about meeting our own needs in a spectrum of ways, not just traditional relaxing "self-care"... it can be about doing things we enjoy, having fun, seeing friends, exercising, getting outside, soothing ourselves, doing things we care about and being ourselves... and so much more.
However, when we don't meet our own need for play, our brains are more likely to react rather than respond, and get sucked into a cycle of dysregulation, guilt, and overwhelm.
The parent Playfulness Key helps you:
Understand how play affects your brain
Map the important dimensions of Play for you, using my ESCAPES tool.
Identify "tweakments" that can make Play realistic and achievable
Trust that allowing yourself time to play is actually good for your child, as well as for you
The child Playfulness Key is not about being a "fun parent" - urgh too much pressure! We look at how to use specific playful strategies to help our children's brains stay "online" and able to listen at tricky moments.
The Power Key
Do you ever wonder, "who am I?" Becoming a parent can be an enormous shift in our identities. It can be a positive change, of course, but it can also be hard to navigate.
We can feel a bit lost, and that can put us on edge.
The Power Key is about understanding our values and our identity as a parent, but more importantly as a person. Mapping out what we care about and making sure we play to our strengths. Having this direction is crucial in helping our brains to feel more regulated, less guilty or overwhelmed, and more like ourselves again.
For our children, the Power Key is about considering different ways to give them power so they feel calmer and more in control, particularly when we are asking them to do something. This can make our life easier and mean we have fewer things to feel guilty about!
The Physical Support Key
It's tough isn't it. Many of us simply don't have the "village" to raise a child that we hear about. If you're the "default parent" carrying the mental load of parenthood as well as the physical tasks, plus all the other things you have to do in your life (paid work, other caring commitments, etc), you are carrying too much for one person. The more burden we carry alone, the more stressed we feel, the more likely we are to forget things or make mistakes, leading to more guilt and stress...
We can't do this on our own.We can't conjure up a magic village but we CAN maximise the support that we do have. The Physical Support Key is about reducing the sensitivity of our threat system by ensuring our needs are met by others as much as possible. Building more - and better - support helps us look after our mental health, feel less guilty, and be the parent we want to be.
We do this in 3 ways:
Learning the steps of effective, healthy communication to ask for help - many of us never learnt how to do this growing up
Learning how to accept help and release control - without feeling guilty or like a failure
Identifying healthy and supportive influences in our network
For our children, the Physical Support Key is about knowing when our child needs our physical support to succeed at meeting our boundaries, & to make sure we can follow through. This is the part that I find most parents feel least confident about, and is a crucial step in helping you feel less guilty when setting boundaries.
What do you think?
So that's the 6P Keys and The Guilty Parent Escape Plan!
I hope that these ideas are useful to you in thinking about ways to shift the pressure of perfection in parenting.
Join the Club!
If you think you would benefit from exploring the Plan in greater depth, learning the techniques, and joining up with others in the same position, why not check out The Guilty Parent Club?
Changing your parenting for the better is waiting for you, and we'd love to have you join us!