What “Should” Good Parenting Look Like?

Albert Kwok

Albert Kwok

MEd, Registered Clinical Counsellor #1734

And It’s Not What You Think It Is

12 years ago, we were blessed with my newborn twins. Everything went exactly as planned. Two healthy babies were delivered exactly as expected, and then they were dropped in our laps. We were suddenly overwhelmed with what was to come next.

We were new parents, without any experience except what we’ve been reading in the vast world of parenting books, social media, and societal expectations. We were doing great or so we thought.

There are a ton of resources out there flooding us with a wealth of information on how we “should” be doing things. We expected to breastfeed for the first 6 months because the books told us this was best for our kids. Of course, it was also free!

We soon learned that it was monetarily free, but it would be the incarceration of guilt and shame that would haunt us for the next few months.

We had challenge after challenge trying to get the babies to breastfeed. Latching, crying, not getting enough milk. We were supplementing with donor milk, which was costly, all because of the expectation that breast milk is best, right?

Friends, family, and doctors were telling us to keep trying, it’ll be awesome. But it wasn’t awesome. We were drowning in the guilt and shame of not being able to breastfeed successfully. Moreover, it was taking a toll on our mental health. Soon after, the thoughts started coming…

  • What are we doing wrong?
  • We are bad parents.
  • We’re not good enough.
  • Why are others having such an easy time with this?


We were really struggling. My partner was exhausted from pumping and feeding, while I was feeling helpless and useless. I would pick up as many pieces as I could to make up for the shame of not being good enough, while my partner was struggling with the guilt of letting the kids down.

I learned later that my partner felt guilty because she thought I would be disappointed in her if she quit breastfeeding, so she braved on despite the mental and physical toll it was having on her.



Parental shame is the emotional response parents experience when they perceive themselves as failing to meet certain standards or expectations in their parenting roles.

It arises from internalizing societal pressures and unrealistic ideals of perfect parenting. The relentless stream of idealized parenting images in media and judgment-laden advice from various sources amplifies this burden, making parenting a gauntlet of self-doubt and guilt.

  1. The Impact of Parental Shame

Working through parental shame is crucial for both parents and children. Here’s why:

Emotional Well-Being: Parental shame can lead to negative self-worth, anxiety, and depression. When parents constantly question their choices, it affects their mental health and overall well-being.

Parent-Child Relationship: Shame influences parenting practices. Parents who experience higher levels of shame are more likely to engage in psychologically controlling and dysfunctional parenting styles. By addressing shame, we can foster healthier family dynamics.

  1. Removing the Shame

The key to working through the shame is to remove the “should” from the way you think about things. In my example, we “should” be breastfeeding because it’s the best according to everyone. The question is, what happens when “should” is not possible, or viable?

“Should’s” result in the shaming that we experience, because when we can’t do what we think we “should” do, we feel “shame”.

The advice online, and from well-meaning caretakers, friends, and family lock our expectations in place, and we have no way out except to linger in feelings of guilt and shame.

My wife and I finally hit a brick wall. We were exhausted, frustrated, and blindly supporting each other without ever communicating our real needs. She felt guilty for letting me down, and I was encouraging her to continue because I thought that’s what she wanted.

I don’t remember how it happened, but my partner finally said, “I can’t anymore”, and I said, “ok, that’s the best thing”. We went straight to formula, and our lives changed. I was able to help with feeding, and she was able to get some rest. We let go of unrealistic expectations, and slowly the guilt and shame left as well.

  1. Embracing flexibility and self-compassion

It’s important to listen to yourself, and your body. Your body sensations will often tell you the truth of what’s going on. When we’re feeling anxious, guilty or shameful, there is another side of you that’s telling you there’s something not right.

Embrace flexibility, not rigidity. Flexibility will give you the freedom to adapt and be open to other possibilities. It helps you to show yourself compassion and understanding when something is not working out or feeling right.

Rigidity on the other hand, keeps you stuck in shame, as you continue to force yourself to go against what your body is naturally telling you to do.  


I’m happy to report, my kids are thriving and healthy after 12 years of figuring out what works best for us.

If you’re a parent who is struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, reach out to our team at Brentwood Counselling Centre today and we’ll help you overcome your obstacles. 

Parent holding two kids in their arms and seeing the third one run away towards a tree in a field. It’s Not What You Think It Is

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