Managing feelings of parent guilt

Blog Image for article Managing feelings of parent guilt

Making the decision to put your child in to care can be an emotionally challenging experience. You will naturally feel concern about whether the centre you have chosen is the best possible option for your child, you may be worried about being separated from your child for such long periods and you will undoubtedly feel guilt.

According to the 2013 Annual Childcare Survey many parents feel 'parent guilt' is the hardest thing about returning to work.

Comments from survey respondents showed that parents feel guilty about putting their child in care, about putting their own professional needs before their family needs and about the standard of care their child is receiving and whether it would be better at home.

It is completely normal to feel a little concerned and guilty when you first put your child into care. Feelings of guilt signal the deep emotional attachment and sense of responsibility you feel towards your child.

Managing that guilt is what will help you and your child make a successful transition to childcare. The first step in learning how to successfully manage guilt is to learn to be happy with the decisions and choices you make.

By focusing on the outcomes of the decisions you have made and not feeling guilty about the opportunity costs of those decisions you will significantly lessen your feelings of guilt.

I am sure many of you will relate to the following statement which one respondent made in response to our survey:

I returned to work when my first child was six months old and my second child was six weeks old. I was extremely concerned about the qualifications of childcare, especially when I did not want either of them in long day care centre and instead wanted them in their own home.
This option became impossible to support financially and we soon had to resort to long day care. Our boys are now wonderful young men of 15 and 21 and in hindsight long day care wasn't really an issue. Maybe something needs to be done to help new parents understand that they are not neglecting their children or being bad parents by using this system.


Finding high quality childcare that both you and your child are comfortable with will go a long way towards helping you deal with your feelings of guilt. By making the time to visit a childcare centre, talk to the carers and show your child around you will get a great sense of whether the centre will work for you.

Good childcare services pride themselves on creating an environment that nurtures a child's emotional, physical and intellectual development and leaving your child in a service like this should be viewed as a positive outcome not as a source of guilt or anxiety.

Even when you do feel guilt about putting your child into care, try not to reveal these feelings to your child. By alerting your child to the fact you feel as though there is something negative about them going into care you may increase your child's anxiety levels.

Try and create a positive buzz in the days leading up to the first day of care and as you settle your child in to their new care routine as this will give your child a sense of excitement. You will feel a lot less guilty about saying goodbye to your child if you leave them with a big smile on their face!

This rule is equally as important for young babies as it is for older children as babies rely on their primary caregiver for all their emotional cues.

If you continue to feel mother guilt after returning to work and settling your child in to a high quality care environment, think about the positive things you could do to proactively deal with the guilt consider:

  • Spending a whole day with your child at the weekend doing nothing but fun stuff, ignore the household chores and spend the time doing things you all love.
  • Negotiating to work more flexibly, for example, ask whether you can start work earlier and finish earlier so you can pick your child up in time to spend a few hours with them in the evening.
  • Creating special family routines around your work schedule to give you some firm personal commitments and some events to look forward to in the working week.

Although, it may sometimes feel like guilt and parenting go hand-in-hand try and remember that guilt is simply a negative manifestation of the deep emotional bond you have with your child.

By finding high quality and reliable childcare, whether this is a nanny, a long day care centre or a family day care centre, you are giving your child a very good environment in which to thrive and grow.

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