Parental guilt is a feeling that parents deal with, often stemming from the feeling of not being enough for your child or your family unit as a whole. The feeling of guilt is a hard emotion to define, as it may feel different for different people. It can be best defined as the feeling when you are feeling remorse, sadness, anxiety or agony over a particular situation. It is important to note that the feeling of guilt can present itself in many different ways for people and can develop into something bigger, such as anxiety attacks or depression.
When an individual is a parent to a child with special needs from having developmental disabilities, guilt takes on a different meaning. The most common feeling of guilt when parenting a child with special needs is the feeling that you failed your child as a parent. The questions ‘Did I cause this?’ or ‘Could I have done more to prevent this?’ may linger in the brains of the dedicated parents of the child with disabilities. Not only can a parent feel responsible for his or her child’s condition, but they may feel guilty because they are grieving over the diagnosis. This type of parental guilt is incredibly complex and multi-dimensional, as there are often other emotions tied to the feeling of guilt such as grief, sadness, anxiety and often anger.
However, parental guilt may not be exclusive to the child that was diagnosed with a disability. Parents may start to feel guilty about putting more effort into their child with disabilities, feeling as though their other children and responsibilities are slipping through the cracks. For example, parents feel guilty about the lack of quality time that the feel falls short of what they should be achieving. This is a normal feeling and is often coupled with feeling overwhelmed by the amount of responsibilities he or she has, but it is important to recognize this feeling and to understand that the feeling is valid. By validating the feelings, it can help an individual move forward. The first step is to recognize the feeling and what is causing it, followed by taking the appropriate course of action that can help parents with their feelings and emotions.
As stated above, the feeling of parental guilt is not one-dimensional, which means that the ways to deal with parental guilt will vary from person to person. There are several ways to cope with and heal from parental guilt. Healing practices include but are not limited to:
- Finding the right support group to help navigate through this transitional time in your life. This is a solution that may be best for those who thrive off of energy from others who are experiencing something very similar, if not identical to them.
- Finding a therapist who can either cater to one parent, both parents or the family unit as a whole may be beneficial for those families that need mediation or are looking for professional guidance. Once a very taboo topic, therapy can be incredibly beneficial for those who are willing to let the therapist help them.
- Reach out to your local Regional Center (https://www.dds.ca.gov/RC/RCList.cfm) to understand services that might be available for your child and gain access to resources and other families who may also be going through the same experience.
- Setting aside time for each child individually. If a parent is feeling guilty due to the fact that one child is getting more attention over the other, it is important to make sure that all children feel included and loved. Perhaps scheduling a parent-child ‘date night’ each week can help each child feel as though they are getting their parents’ attention, without having to fight for it! If you are in need of assistance with your child with developmental disabilities while spending time with the other children, to supplement care for your child! Families with special needs deserve special circumstances and quality care that they can count on!
- If you or your loved one responds better to literature and feels as though working through parental guilt is possible with the help of educational books, consider seeking those out through the local library or book store. It is also possible the local chapters of support groups have suggested reading lists that they may be inclined to send someone in need.
- Meditation and solitude can bring a sense of clarity to a very chaotic or clouded mind. By seeking out professional meditation, a parent can tap into their feelings and how they can resolve their feelings in a productive way.
As a parent of a child with special needs, or the support system of a parent who has a child with disabilities, it is important to remember that the feelings of guilt are completely valid. Working through the feelings of parental guilt and feelings of guilt may be messy, complicated and challenging, but in the end, it is important to seek out resources that will be beneficial to each individual and their family unit.