How to Deal With Adoptive Parental Guilt

All parents sometimes feel guilty about how they treat or are able to provide for their children, especially adoptive parents, which is perfectly normal. Perhaps this manifests as you feeling bad for having to work long hours or being unable to give your daughter access to luxuries her peers enjoy. You are not alone in experiencing adoptive parental guilt.

If you let yourself get weighed down by negative feelings, it will affect how well you function as a parent. Prioritizing your daughter’s health and happiness by remaining present and building a strong parental bond will make up for most things you cannot currently give her.

Identifying the Cause of Parental Guilt

Being a caregiver to an adopted child or young adult with mental health issues comes with its own set of complications. Many parents focus on the things they cannot change, like a diagnosis or symptoms , instead of the many positive ways they can improve their child’s life. Parental guilt is not always logical and often involves things that are entirely outside your control, including:

  • Peer pressure your child may be experiencing
  • Academic stress
  • Social stigmas and expectations
  • Limited access to nonessential recreation, fashion, or entertainment
  • Effects of past trauma
  • Mental health issues
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices
  • Mental or emotional pain stemming from adoption

Sometimes guilt is suppressed fear of losing touch with your child as they get older and become their own person. Look at the situation objectively—observing things from an outside perspective can relieve some of those negative emotions. Identifying the source of your parental guilt will make it easier to find ways to counter it and move forward. You will be a more healthy parent for your adopted child if you avoid letting yourself become overwhelmed by guilt, shame, regret, or other negative emotions.

How Guilt Affects Your Mental Health

Guilt can motivate healthy changes when it involves things that are within your control. However, obsessive or maladaptive guilt can cause significant issues. To have a healthy attachment with your child, you must understand how guilt and other negative emotions impact your mental well-being. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Some studies suggest that guilt motivates healthy behaviors, yet others show that guilt impairs the self-control needed to abstain from unhealthy behaviors.”

Try to avoid guilt that is not going to motivate healthy changes. Do not underestimate the positive impact you can have on your child’s life. If you focus on the ways you fall short rather than things you do well or ways you can improve, you run the risk of developing your own symptoms of mental health disorders.

Parental Guilt and Child Internalization

No parent is perfect. If you try to avoid making mistakes, the pressure you put on yourself can lead to depression and anxiety. Your child will pick up on mood or behavioral changes caused by unaddressed guilt.

The Journal of Child and Family Studies reported that “Children exposed to maternal depression prior to the age of 10 have been found to be twice as likely to develop [major depression disorder] or dysthymic disorder and to be at an increased risk for the development of anxiety disorders.” You can ensure your child has a safe and supportive environment in which to grow and form healthy attachment by ridding yourself of unnecessary guilt.

Communicate Honestly With Your Daughter

Adoptive parental guilt can lead to symptoms of depression that might cause your child to withdraw and internalize their problems instead of coming to you for help. Make sure that the line of communication stays open. You can do this by having honest discussions with your child about how your feelings are not a reflection of their self-worth or your love for them.

Many parents try to avoid showing weakness to their children because they want to shield them from potential pain. However, “shielding” can look like a cold wall of indifference from your child’s perspective. You can take steps to bridge that gap and overcome negative feelings.

2 Ways to Counter Unhealthy Parental Guilt

By reading this page, you have already begun to help your adopted child by seeking out resources and educating yourself about how to identify issues and make positive changes. Below are two ways you can counter unhealthy parental guilt.

#1. List Positive Milestones

If you feel like you’ve let your child down, choose to focus on the positive instead of the negative. List the many milestones you and your child have reached and reference that list whenever you feel like you are not doing enough.

#2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Parents

Not all parents have access to the same information and resources. You might feel unable to provide your child with specific opportunities, but that does not make your parenting less valuable. You love your daughter and have made sure she knows it by showing compassion and parental support. Your child does not need you to be the same as other parents; she only needs your love and understanding.

Many adoptive parents feel guilty about how they treat their children or the ways they may feel they failed to provide enough. You do not have to live with that feeling. Holding onto negativity like guilt, regret, or shame over events you cannot change or control will only harm your adoptive child in the long run. You can protect them and improve your mental health by learning to forgive yourself for mistakes and let go of situations outside your control. Maintain an open and honest line of communication with your child that allows them to come to you if they have a problem or feel like they need anything. Every day is an opportunity to educate yourself and to build an even stronger bond with your daughter. Havenwood Academy offers education for parents who want to help their children grow. Call us today at (435) 586-2500.


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