How to Get Past Parenting Guilt

By Amanda Morin
Email Email
Chat's logo Chat's logo

At a Glance

  • Parents of kids with learning and thinking differences often feel guilty.

  • While feelings of guilt are common, they’re rarely justified or useful.

  • There are things you can do to set aside guilt and move forward more productively.

If you feel guilt around your child’s learning and thinking differences, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Feelings of guilt and shame are common among parents of kids with learning and thinking differences.

You may feel guilty that your child even has these issues, as if you “gave them” to him. You might feel bad about how you react to your child’s behavior or struggles. Or you may think that you should or could have done (or be doing) something differently.

Understanding some of the reasons parents feel this way may help you set your guilt aside and take some productive steps to feel better. Read on for more information and tips. But first, you may be interested in watching this video. In it, parents of kids with learning and thinking differences talk about their own feelings of guilt and shame.

Why You May Feel Guilty

There are a number of reasons you may feel guilty about your child’s learning and thinking differences. Some of the most common reasons parents express are:

  • Feeling that you “gave” learning and thinking differences to your child. If you have learning or thinking differences yourself, you may feel bad that 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 issues. If you’re a mother, you may wonder if you didn’t take good enough care of yourself during pregnancy. Other parents worry that they didn’t see the early signs of learning and thinking differences and didn’t get an evaluation soon enough.

  • Feeling bad for wishing your child didn’t have learning and thinking differences. Sometimes you might view your child’s learning and thinking differences as a struggle for you, too, and be angry that you and your child have to manage them. You might think “Why me?” or “Why my child?” (Learn how one mother came to the conclusion that her anger is exhausting and unproductive.)

  • Feeling like you’re a bad parent. Even if you know it’s not true, you may still feel as though if only you tried harder, your child wouldn’t be struggling in school. Or other people might imply that your parenting is to blame and cause you to wonder if this is the case.

  • 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 to your child.

Ways to Move Past Feeling Guilty

All of these feelings are normal. But they’re not helpful or warranted.

Knowing that may help you set your guilt aside and move forward more productively. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Know that you didn’t cause your child’s issues. There is a genetic component to learning and thinking differences, but it’s not predictable. 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.

  • Resist the urge to blame yourself or your child’s other parent. Instead, consider the benefits of being able to talk about and understand your child’s issues from a personal perspective.

  • Build a support network. Knowing you’re not alone can help, too. Other parents of kids with learning and thinking differences can be a source of advice and a listening ear. You might also consider talking to certain family members and friends to let them know what you need and how they can help.

  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s learning and thinking differences. Understanding more about your child’s issues and your educational rights can increase your confidence. It can also help you advocate for your child with the school. And it can help you realize that with the right support, your child can be successful and 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 your reactions to your child.

Most importantly, have a plan to manage situations that may trigger guilt. Think about how you’ll reply when people say things that make you feel guilty or annoyed. Discover ways to maintain a strong relationship with your partner or tips for working with your ex. And read how one mom learned to say “no” instead of “I’m sorry.”

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

Key Takeaways

  • Learning and thinking differences are not caused by bad parenting.

  • Getting support from other people can help you express your feelings and feel less alone.

  • Knowing more about your child’s issues and rights can help you be an effective advocate.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Mark J. Griffin, PhD 

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

Did you find this helpful?

Stay Informed

Sign up for weekly emails containing helpful resources for you and your family.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Please wait...

By signing up, you acknowledge that you reside in the United States and are at least 13 years old, and agree that you've read the Terms and Conditions. Understood.org does not market to or offer services to individuals in the European Union.