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Family Guilt & Expectations

As a caregiver, worrying about how well you are raising your child or impacting their future is typical. Some feel family guilt, thinking that they are not spending enough time with their kids due to work, while others may worry that their child is missing out because they cannot secure accessible, high-quality early learning opportunities. There are countless reasons.

Then, there is the component of comparing your situation to another family, heightening these feelings of family guilt. It can become overwhelming. So, why do we feel this way, why is it wrong, and what should we do?

Why do families feel the need to be perfect?

You can partly blame your electronic devices. Social media tends to encourage families to compete, whether it’s Instagram, X, TikTok, or Facebook. Through beautiful lunch boxes or braiding your child’s hair so it’s perfect for picture day, a version of parenting is presented as the ideal model. Avoiding this is almost impossible, as nearly 90% of millennials are social media users, 76% of Gen X-ers, and 59% of baby boomers.

This flood of images, videos, and reels can make families feel as though they are onstage at all times, with their performance being judged by people they don’t even know. Self-imposed guilt from being unable to perfectly recreate Halloween spooky cookies on Pinterest or create a sensory bin to keep your toddler engaged for hours on TikTok can make people feel inferior and ashamed — and that they are letting their children down.

While social media, blog sites, and even the opinions of others outside of these platforms worsen the issue, families’ unrealistic expectations fuel the fire. Perfectionism is more than just striving for the best; it can be categorized into three buckets:

  • Self-Oriented Perfectionism: this is what families expect of themselves.
  • Other-Oriented Perfectionism: this category relies on demanding perfection from others.
  • Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: this type of perfectionism is based on living up to others’ expectations.

What’s wrong with trying to be perfect?

Everyone wants the best for their children regarding education, health, and welfare. But falling short is a terrifying thought for families who demand flawlessness from themselves, with fanfare at breakfast, bedtime prayers, or even yoga.

Some families have a history of demanding perfection, and it’s hard to break out of that cycle if that is how your family reacts. It can also mean you demand perfection from your child, who can begin to feel that they will never be good enough.

What should I do then?

As parents, it’s great to strive for ‘excellence,’ but constantly climbing a mountain with no end in sight can lead to burnout and other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These, in turn, can cause even more guilt.

Despite what social media shows, there’s no such thing as a perfect family, and life comes with mistakes and advances, setbacks, and successes. It’s these challenges that can develop character and build resilience in children.

No matter the dynamic, embrace the diversity within your family, as it will contribute to developing a loving and nurturing home. It’s the differences in a family that make it unique. It is being the best you can be and showing and teaching your children to do the same. You are your child’s first teacher. Give yourself grace and embrace it.

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning are subsidiaries of Milton Hershey School and will be staffed and operated independently of the Milton Hershey School core model.

Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.