How to get past parenting guilt

By Amanda Morin

At a glance

  • Parents of kids who learn and think differently often feel guilty.

  • While feelings of guilt are common, they aren’t justified or helpful.

  • There are lots of ways you can let go of guilt and move forward.

Got guilt? Most parents do. If you often feel guilty because your child struggles at school or has behavioral challenges, you’re not alone. Feelings of guilt and shame are very common among families of kids who learn and think differently.

Maybe you feel guilty that your child has to deal with these challenges. Or you think you “gave” them to your child. Perhaps you feel bad about how you react to your child’s behavior or struggles. Or maybe you think you should have done more, or could be doing more now.

Understanding why you feel this way can help you let go of the guilt. Then you can take some positive, active steps to feeling better. Read on for more information and tips. But first, check out this video in which parents of kids who learn and think differently talk their own feelings.

Why you might be feeling guilty

There are many reasons why you might be feeling guilty. Some of the most common reasons parents express are:

Feeling that you “gave” these challenges to your child. If you have learning and thinking differences, you may feel like you passed them on to your child. (Read one father’s story of how he got past the guilt of “giving” his son ADHD.)

Feeling that you created or overlooked the earliest warning signs. If you’re a mother, you might even wonder if you didn’t take good enough care of yourself during pregnancy. Other parents worry that they didn’t see the earliest signs of their child’s struggles and didn’t get an evaluation soon enough.

Feeling bad because you wish your child didn’t learn and think differently. Sometimes you might view your child’s struggles as a struggle for you, too. This might make you angry that you and your child have to deal with them. You might think “Why me?” or “Why my child?” (Learn how one mother came to the conclusion that anger is exhausting and unproductive.)

Feeling like you’re a bad parent. Even if you know it’s not true, you may still feel that your child wouldn’t be struggling in school if you only tried harder. Or other people might say or do things that make you feel like your parenting is to blame.

Feeling shame about your reactions. You might feel ashamed that you haven’t been as patient, kind, or empathetic as you think you should be.

Ways to get over the guilty feelings

These feelings are normal. But they’re not helpful. And they don’t reflect reality. Knowing that can help you set aside your guilt and move forward productively.

Here are some tips that can help:

Know that you didn’t cause your child’s issues. There is a genetic component to your child's issues, but it’s not predictable. In other words, parents can’t know before kids are born that they’ll learn and think differently. Some kids with a family history of dyslexia may have dyslexia, but others won’t. And some kids with no family history of ADHD may have ADHD.

Build a support network. Knowing you’re not alone can help a lot and keep you from blaming yourself. Other families of kids with similar struggles can be a source of advice, information, and a listening ear. You might also consider talking to certain relatives and friends to let them know what you need and how they can help.

Learn as much as you can about how your child learns and thinks. Understanding more about your child’s particular set of challenges and your educational rights can increase your confidence. It can also help you advocate for your child at school. With the right support system in place, your child can thrive and be happy.

Have strategies for coping. Some days will be better than others. Find out how to keep from losing your cool and discover ways to respond to your child’s frustration — and your own. Being empathetic and calm can make you feel more in control and less guilty about how you react to your child.

Most importantly, have a plan in place to manage situations that trigger guilt. Think about how you’ll reply when people say things that make you feel bad or annoyed.

You may also want to consider joining one of our online community groups, where you can connect with other families who’ve been there.

Key takeaways

  • You did not cause your child’s struggles and challenges.

  • Getting support from other people reminds you that you’re not alone.

  • Understanding more about your child’s struggles and rights can help you advocate for them.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.