By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

Unrealistic Expectations & Parental Guilt

Unrealistic expectations and Parental guilt

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is U is for Unrealistic Expectations & Parental Guilt.

Parental guilt is part of having kids. It comes with the job. You first feel it when you make decisions about feeding, Breast or bottle? You may feel guilty about your decision to either go back to work or to stay home with your baby. Education decisions such as where your child will go to school (or if they will be homeschooled) make matters even more complex, And, almost always, finances tug at those “guilt strings.” It’s hard to balance life in the best of times. Adding the roller coaster of cancer to the mix makes it nearly impossible. At the root of this parental guilt are unrealistic expectations.

When you or (your spouse) get cancer

Parental guilt hits an all-time high on the guilt-o-meter. You’ll feel it every day.

Here are just a few of the things that add to that parental guilt :

  • Finances are even tighter than before.
  • Time is stretched to its limits.
  • Your new schedule, filled with appointments and blocks of time overtaken by fatigue, completely alters your family’s way of life.
  • Your child may need to change (or even drop) certain activities because of finances, fatigue and scheduling conflicts.
  • You’re exhausted and often, crabby. Sometimes you say things you wish you could take back.
  • Little Mary can’t have friends over very often because you need the house to be quiet so you can rest.
  • Baking brownies for little Johnny’s scout troop won’t happen anytime soon.
  • You forget to plan dinner more often and end up eating take-out four nights out of seven.
  • As if that’s not enough, you begin to wonder about what your child’s future will look like after living with a parent who is fighting cancer.

More to Mum

Louise at More to Mum wrote a post called “Mum Guilt: Revealing the Standards You Impose on Yourself.” In it, she defines guilt:

“Guilt is the feeling we get when we don’t meet the standards we’ve set for ourselves.”

If that’s true (and it is), we have a lot more control than we think, over whether we feel guilty, or not. The control lies in examining and changing our unrealistic expectations. How do you do that when everything feels so overwhelming?

Louise at More to Mum has graciously allowed me to share her infographic called, “Working Through Mum Guilt,” (or parental guilt). It’s self-explanatory, but to get the most out of it, check out her site, and especially this great post.

Mom to Mum Guilt



Find your routine

Building a regular routine is one of the best ways to give your children a sense of security and stability. This can be very comforting for all members of your family. You can utilize something as simple as a weekly board game or a TV show that you can share as a family. It could be a meal that you share on a regular basis. Praying as a family is a wonderful tradition that will not only comfort your family but will also pass on your faith values and be a reminder that you are not alone. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as planned.

Sometimes unexpected detours take you right where you need to be.


When it’s hard to commit

It’s hard to commit to an activity when you worry you might let people down if you can’t make it. Seek out low-commitment opportunities for your family. Talk to whoever is in charge of the activity. Let them know your situation. They will be able to put your mind at ease. They’ll also understand if for some reason you miss, or need to drop the activity altogether, in the future.

A full calendar?

Every member of your family is involved in activities outside of your home. From church activities to music lessons, these are all good things. But, there are times when these things are more of a burden than a blessing. During different seasons, reassess your activities. Some activities should be cut, some continued, and some replaced by other activities that are a better fit for your family.


When there’s an activity your child wants to participate in, but it doesn’t fit your family’s schedule, there’s a possible solution. Ask family and friends for help. This can be hard. That’s where the next tip comes in.

Kick pride aside!

In the beginning, it can be hard to accept help when it’s offered. Know that this is a temporary situation. When anyone offers to help you out say, “YES!”

It can be even harder to ask for help. I learned to ask for specific help when things were particularly difficult (like when Dan was on an especially hard chemo regimen). This included asking for meals and help with transportation for our kids when there were scheduling conflicts. It was an enormous blessing for our family to experience the generosity of friends and family. By being direct, you are helping friends and family who want to help you but don’t know what you need most.

You don’t need to be perfect—no one is.

It’s important that you cut yourself some slack. It can be difficult to balance the needs of you, your spouse, and your kids. You’re doing the best that you can, and whether they say it or not, your kids realize it. Kids are resilient.

My prayer as a caregiver and a parent: “Lord, don’t let this be wasted.”

Bonus Tip!

Let go of the little things, like having a tidy house. If you’re used to having everything in its proper place, this can be tough. If your house looks like mine does, right now, you’ll love this one! Housework can wait.

Let go of the belief that your house needs to be tidy. Instead, be satisfied with keeping it clean. There’s a difference. Right now, I have 3 baskets of clean laundry sitting in the middle of my living room floor. My desk has so many stacks of paper on it that I write in the living room with my laptop. There’s nothing tidy about that! But, at least it’s clean. Clean is important, especially when you consider the fact that cancer treatments often suppress the patient’s immune system. So, germs aren’t a good thing to have to hang around. But, the toys on the playroom floor aren’t hurting anyone (unless you step on one). The same goes for yard work. Let it wait or let someone else do it.

By setting realistic standards that are right for you and your family, you can let go of the unnecessary guilt that interferes with your joy and freedom. You have enough to worry about. Don’t add parental guilt to it.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!


In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

Also, check out Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer.

Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

4 comments on “Unrealistic Expectations & Parental Guilt

Both of my children had deadly illnesses as children, one was akin to cancer. She was young enough, they felt if she remained free of the disease (Histiocytosis X) for 5 years, she would be fine. There is a lot of guilt and pain associated with that for me but not my daughter. She simply took it in stride.


Hi Jacqui. I’m sorry. That must have been so difficult. Sometimes I think kids are more resilient than we adults are, emotionally. My mom carries a lot of guilt about things that happened when I was a kid. my sister and I made it through just fine. It must be a mom thing. We want the best for our kids, and it’s hard when things go so wrong.


Great message, Heather, and good graphic from More to Mum. I think moms continue feeling guilt about missed opportunities for their kids long after the kid has moved onto something else. The extra time at home may end up being the better option in the long run anyway.


I agree, Emily. And the things they remember years later are often the little things.


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