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'My biggest parenting regret is that when things were bad, I never asked for help.'

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Headlines every parent has clicked on once. Just to check that we're, you know, normal. And that nothing we've done is as bad as whatever these other people did. Or maybe to make sure they weren't worse.

Early parenthood is a swamp of insecurity. It's always best to check in with the Internet to see where you stand on the scale of Sub-Par Parent. Today.

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Of course, parents don't actually need any of this kind of encouragement to berate themselves for all the things they should have done. I don't know any mother who walks around patting herself on the back for doing a stellar job. That's not how the game is rigged.

You've likely noticed that 21st Century parenting is all about an unattainable ideal. As a mother parent in 2020, you're never giving enough, never sacrificing enough, never being selfless enough, never noticing enough, never fixing enough, never relaxing enough, never being enough. That's the game, from the moment they're born and you're failing them in your very arms.

I'm calling bullsh*t.


Twenty-first Century parents have enough going on. Especially this year. The legacy of the parental overwhelm that accompanied COVID-19's lockdown might just be a trend back to 1970s parenting. 

You know, the kind where you loved them, tried not to kill them and shrugged off all their complaints for a therapist of the future to deal with. All care, no responsibility. That kind of thing. Life's pretty overwhelming at the moment, kids, just strap on the helmet and let's try to get through it.

Listen to Holly on Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

We're not there yet. And because we haven't invented that guilt-free time-travel machine yet, I read those stories and immediately considered my parent regrets, And I realised, I only have one. One that matters.

Not asking for help.

I regret not asking for help when I was a brand-new mum, hiding in the bathroom in floods of tears, listening to the muffled chatter of well-meaning visitors who had come to "see the baby". But all I could think was that they'd come to see me as a mother and the failure I was as a new mum was written all over my face.

I regret not asking for help on those nights my partner and I could barely look at each other, what with all the baby resentment in the way. Why aren't you doing what I'm doing?

I regret not asking for help when my little boy didn't sleep.

And didn't sleep.

And didn't sleep.

I regret not asking for help when I was zombie-walking through my life, having a little cry in the office kitchen, constantly berating myself for not being able to cope on just a couple of hours of sleep at a time.


Like a weakling. Like a loser. Like a bad mum.

I regret not asking for help when he didn't eat.

Or when he vomited all the time. Like, all. The. Time.

It took us months to consult a professional, who told us it was all pretty normal anyway. And then I regretted going. Because it cost $400. And he still vomited all the time.

I regret yelling at him for seven years straight until we found out that no amount of yelling was going to connect the dots — so overt to us — in his head. In fact, yelling just made him agitated, angry and confused.


I regret feeling so ashamed and worthless when we received a diagnosis for our beautiful boy. Not about his diagnosis — that has opened up a hundred different doors to previously boarded-up rooms — I felt that way because of the enormous realisation that we had been trying to force him to be like his sister, like the impossible ideal of a “normal kid”. I was so embarrassed that was me. The kind of parent who lets their child down.

I had no idea — or perhaps, more accurately, was not ready to face — that if I reached out to parents who were walking the same road, that embarrassment would begin it slow fade.

So yes, I only have one parent regret that matters. I should have asked for more help. Had less shame.

And maybe that's you, reading this. Struggling in silence through the hard times that just keep coming, in a hundred different forms, at every stage of being a parent.

And maybe it's not, but you're constantly berating yourself for all the small ways you're not getting it "right".

Regrets are normal. We're all building the plane while we're flying it. We're all going to make mistakes.

But we don't have to live in shame about them.

We need to reach out, and ask.

Feature Image: Supplied.

This story originally appeared in Holly Wainwright's weekly newsletter For Humans With Kids. Holly Wainwright shares her parenting nails and fails, and stories from the glorious mess that is family life. You can sign up here.