Before You Sleep, Trash the Guilt


Supreme Irony: I am dead tired as I begin this blog article on sleep and other forms of parental self-care. <<<hysterical laughter>>>

The Button

When I think about parental self-care, I think back to a Beyond IQ Conference held in Chicago about a decade ago. For no apparent reason, the young woman running the teen program passed out buttons for us mothers of teens to wear. The buttons read, “Be who you desire your children to become.”

My button’s message touched me deeply, for although I had never spoken those words, I lived them as a career-oriented mother and later as a graduate-student mother embarking on a second career.

The button gave me permission to focus on being a “role model” mother, rather than a “primary caregiver” mother. The button taught me to reject the guilty feelings that arose whenever babysitters put my children to bed. Why did I have to fight off guilty feelings, feelings that arose even when my husband was the person back at home putting the children to bed? Why do guilty feelings torment women in this day and age, even after men have proven themselves perfectly capable and loving parents?

The Baby

When I think of men as parents, I remember my good friend, whom I will call Matt. Starting just two weeks after his son was born, Matt brought the baby to our religious services while his wife enjoyed some time alone at home. Matt did an excellent job with the baby. Everyone could tell he loved that baby with all his heart, and responded intuitively to every move and quiet sound the baby made.

The unkind whispers began softly, but increased in severity week-by-week. More than a few people wondered, “What’s wrong with Matt’s wife?” Some speculated, “Maybe she hasn’t bonded properly with the baby.” A few whispered, “Maybe she didn’t want the baby.”

I surprised some gossipers by bellowing, “The question is NOT what’s wrong with Matt’s wife; the question is what’s RIGHT with Matt.”

Almost all the gossipers were women. I wonder whether feelings of guilt and jealousy underlay their gossiping about Matt’s wife. What new mother has not dreamed of having a husband as baby-friendly as Matt? What new mother has not wanted a few hours off duty every week, or even every day? Where have the Matts of the world been hiding all these years?

The Cartoon

Another seminal moment in my parenting life (pun unintended) occurred when I saw a cartoon of a mother and father sitting in bed and sharing their feelings about housework. The man explained, “The reason you feel guilty is because you do half as much as your mother did, and the reason I feel good is because I do twice as much as my father did.”

Although the cartoon was about housework, I immediately extended it to parenting. I wish I had a time machine to fly backwards to ask my grandmother if she ever felt guilty when leaving her children for an evening, and fly forwards to ask my granddaughter if she ever feels guilty when leaving her (currently non-existent) children for an evening. Does not guilt depend on the culture of the time? And the culture of the place? In societies where children are raised by a village, do mothers feel guilty when they leave their children in the care of others?

The cartoon made heaps of sense to me, and helped me fight off guilty feelings in order to attend to my own needs.


I believe that guilt is an enormous factor in the parental self-care equation. Although I have written this blog article from the point of view of a woman, I realize that some men experience similar feelings of guilt.

Before parents can improve how they care for themselves, they need to find ways to overcome guilt. Parents need to truly believe the button manifesto: “Be the person you want your children to become.” Parents also need to truly believe that parenting is not a one-person job, but rather a job to be shared with one’s spouse, and perhaps even with one’s village. Lastly, parents need to understand that parenting evolves over time—we cannot possibly parent in the same way our parents or grandparents did.

Ending Note

Did I write this entire article in one sitting while dead tired and laughing hysterically? Nope. When I noticed the supreme irony (in italics above), I laughed myself to bed, knowing that tomorrow is always another day, and the sun will always rise regardless of whether I ever finish this article.

Many thanks to Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for including this blog article in its blog hop on “Sleep and Other Forms of Parental Self-Care” even though it’s been more than a decade since I homeschooled my children. Now I watch my grandchildren from afar, sometimes longing to return to my child-raising years, and other times praising menopause.

For a complete list of blog articles in this blog hop, see below or visit

Before You Sleep, Trash The Guilt – Wenda Sheard, J.D. Ph.D. Thoughts on Life & Learning

Buy Yourself Something Pretty – Sceleratus Classical Academy

Homeschool and You – Homeschooling Hatters

I Want to Sleep – Building Wingspan

Just This Side of Narcolepsy – Chasing Hollyfeld

Parenting: Uncovering our Hidden Expectations – Gifted Matters

Self-Care: Do I As I Say… – Defying Gravity

Self-Care While Homeschooling – Laughing at Chaos

Taking Cover from My Gifted EF 5 – Crushing Tall Poppies

Teaching with Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia – Gift of Home

The Most Important Type of Self-Care for Parents –

Who is the “me” who needs “me-time” today? – Christy’s Houseful of Chaos

Why adults should nap for sanity – Lynn Elizabeth Marlowe


5 Comments on “Before You Sleep, Trash the Guilt”

  1. Wow…the timing on this is unbelievable, as I sit reading and wiping tears from an intense parenting conversation with my husband, where in the end I was aware of the guilt and needing to let it go…and yet I can’t. Maybe with enough reminders that bond will begin to break down. Thanks for the push. 🙂

  2. JL says:

    Actually the button said “Be who you desire your children to become” — I know because mine is still stuck up on my bulletin board above my desk all these years alter. Thanks for the reminder, Wenday

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