6 Ways Parents Cope With Shame
“The difference between guilt and shame is very clear—in theory. We feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.”
--LEWIS B. SMEDES, Shame and Grace
In therapy, caregivers share their parenting dilemmas. In addition to challenges with their children, they are also bombarded with another problem --advice from family members, friends, school officials, teachers, day care providers, and the list goes on and on.
The following are some examples of these comments:
- “She’s having problems because you don’t work outside the home. If you were leaving her all the time, she wouldn’t have these issues.”
- “Oh, he’s very smart and he’s just playing you. You need to be stricter with him.”
- “The reason she has trouble going to sleep at night is because of naps. If you stop the naps, she’ll do much better.”
- “That’s just boys being boys . . . ”
Is it any wonder that adoptive and foster parents feel overwhelmed, confused and . . . shamed?
Shame is our inner voice telling us hurtful things about ourself. This inner voice becomes amplified when we are criticized by others, even if their intention is to help us or fix the problem. Shame can feel unbearable and lead us to isolation. It causes parents to feel worthless, unloveable, inferior, helpless, defeated, and different. Some shaming, negative self-beliefs parents hold are:
- I’m not good enough
- I’m a bad mom/dad
- I’m failing as a mom/dad
So, how can parents weed through their shame and the plethora of advice to find the truth? Parents have to manage their feelings, only accepting advice that is truly applicable and letting the rest go. Below is a list of suggestions to cope with shame:
- Healthy shame results from doing something wrong or making a mistake. Have you made a mistake or done something wrong? If you have, correct it, apologize, and plan to make different choices in the future.
- Celebrate your courage and strength to parent a child with early trauma or loss. Praise your parenting victories through words (I handled that situation well!) and actions, i.e. enjoy a massage or manicure, or pick some flowers for your table.
- Recognize that you do not have to be perfect. Honor your parenting successes and mistakes. In mistakes, know that a similar situation will eventually appear, offering you the chance to try again.
- Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings. You may realize that you are not alone in these feelings!
- Keep a parent pride journal. Write a list of accomplishments, or compliments from others; add uplifting scripture, quotes, or pictures. When you’re wrestling with feelings of shame, take out your journal and remind yourself of your triumphs.
- Write a list of 10 things that give you a sense of well-being or joy.
Do you struggle with shame? If so, what strategies help you cope?