Most of us aren’t thinking about guilt when we talk about having it all, but guilt plays a larger-than-we’d-like part in most of our lives. As if it’s not hard enough trying to balance homeschooling, parenting, housework, work responsibilities, and, you know, life, now we’ve got to do it all with Facebook and Pinterest showing us exactly how much better everyone else is at managing all those things than we are, says Gail Sullivan, M.D., a New York-based psychiatrist. A side of guilt seems like an inevitable part of homeschool life since we can never do everything all the time.
But guilt isn’t harmless. Too much guilt, and we have trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, and performing daily tasks. (Don’t even get me started on all the sleep problems caused by excessive guilt build-up.) And all those little twinges of guilt add up faster than you might think — most women are spending at least a couple of hours every week feeling guilty, says psychologist and author Kathrynn Horne.
Where does all this guilt come from? Well, there’s a good chance that some of it is educational guilt. However confident we are in our choice to homeschool, most of us occasionally face the nagging worry that our first-grader will never learn how to read or our high school sophomore will never get into college. Then there’s the classic mom guilt, that persistent feeling that we’re doing too much or not enough for our kids. Social guilt kicks in when we have to deal with letting down other people, whether it’s saying no to a volunteer project (it really would be great to have a co-op newsletter…) or a friend request on Facebook. And finally, there’s individual guilt — often the toughest guilt to shake because it occurs when we feel like we’re not living up to our own expectations for ourselves.
No matter what the source of your guilt, here’s how to send it packing:
Understand why. Thinking about things that make us feel guilty can be hard, but it’s important to identify the real reason why something is making you feel guilty. For instance, lots of people feel guilty about skipping their kids’ favorite park day, but your friend might feel guilty because she thinks her kids don’t get enough active play time while your guilt may stem from worries about other people’s questions about your homeschoolers’ socialization. Knowing why something is triggering your guilt reaction is the first step toward getting over it.
Address the issue. Whenever you feel a pang of guilt, ask yourself whether your guilt is a one-off or a continuing theme. If you skipped out on math for a week because you just needed a break but you’ve been vigilant about making forward progress in math over the past couple of years, there’s really no reason to feel guilty — everyone needs a break now and again. On the other hand, if you’re always feeling guilty about screen time or missing your workout, you need to adjust your habits or your priorities to better reflect what matters to you.
Be your own best friend. What would you tell a close pal who was feeling guilty about the thing that’s stressing you out? You’d probably be a lot kinder to her than you are to yourself: “A couple of drive-thru dinners aren’t going to permanently destroy your kids’ eating habits,” you might say, or “They’ll find someone else to do the co-op newsletter this year—you can’t do everything.” Give yourself the same grace and emotional support you’d give a friend, and it will go a long way toward loosening your guilt trip’s hold on you.
7 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER FEEL GUILTY ABOUT
- Saying “no” to a field trip/volunteer project/new curriculum/book club/anything you just don’t want to do.
- Hiding from your kids in the bathroom. Everybody needs a break sometimes, and there’s no shame in taking it where you can.
- Not checking your email. Or your Facebook messages. Or your phone. You’re allowed to unplug for a day.
- Having a movie marathon and calling it school. Maybe you wouldn’t want to do it every day, but even professional teachers break out the DVD player sometimes.
- Your life choices. You made them. They work for your family. You don’t have to justify or excuse them to anyone.
- Ignoring a friend request. You’re not socially obligated to respond to every possible Facebook connection.
- Not knowing the answer. Come on, finding out is the fun part.
This was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of HSL.