You have a full-time job and a family you love. From the outside, it looks like you have it all, right? Well, for parents grappling with guilt or shame as they struggle to balance parenthood and professional life, this can be the furthest thing from the truth.

For many parents, this is what a day-in-the-life looks like:

From the time your alarm goes off until your head hits the pillow, you dedicate your life to pleasing those around you. You strive to be the best entrepreneur, co-worker, or supervisor at work while also making sure your family is happy and cared for the second you get home. Your calendar is always full, your phone never stops ringing, and yet, despite everything going on in your life, you can’t help but feel like something is missing. What could that be?

I may have the answer. But before I tell you, answer me this. When was the last time you did something for yourself? Not for work, or your family, or even friends, but a fun activity dedicated solely to bringing you joy? Can’t remember? That may be the problem.

When you commit your energy to making sure everything around you is taken care of without taking care of yourself, you’re walking on a direct path to burnout, guilt, or resentment. Before you know it you look back at all you’ve done and make some startling realizations. Why isn’t anyone around me helping me? Am I missing out on my kid’s lives by working this much? Am I ever going to get that promotion if I prioritize my family? Suddenly, the only answer you have is, “Wow, I guess I’m doing everything wrong”.

No, you’re not.

What you’re doing is attempting to live up to unrealistic expectations without considering how you feel. Reread the questions I just asked you. Did any of them have to do with your happiness or well-being? No. Because you’ve become so caught up in trying to be perfect for your spouse, children, and co-workers that you’ve lost sight of how you’re doing. My guess? You’re utterly exhausted.

I’m going to help you change that. When you start doing what makes you happy and ditch the idea that you have to be “perfect”, you’ll be shocked at the results. You may think self-care is selfish, unnecessary, or something you don’t have time for, but it could be the very thing keeping you from becoming the best version of yourself.

Here are 5 ways to replace your guilt, anxiety, and fear with peace, validation, and joy.

Acknowledge the Importance of Alone Time

Child kissing mompreneur on cheek
Child kissing mompreneur on cheek

When speaking with psychologist and co-founder of Trauma & Beyond Psychological Center, Dr. Joanne Barron, I was given valuable insight into why it’s crucial parents prioritize caring for themselves. Dedicating alone time to recharging, relaxing, or doing things you enjoy is a key part of that process. “As parents, one of the most important things we can do is to take care of ourselves because we’re modeling for our children that we’re important,” says Barron. “The more filled up, grounded, and present we are, the better we’re going to be in relationship with our kids.”

For parents who struggle to see the importance of alone time, Dr. Barron recommends reading Erica Komisar’s book, Being There. In her novel, Komisar dissects what it truly means to be present with your children, and how a parent being in touch with themselves can play a detrimental role in the connection they have with their children.

You can access Dr. Barron and I’s full interview here.

Plan Quality Time with Your Kiddos

It can be hard to know when you’ll be able to spend time with your kids when everyone in the family constantly has things on the agenda. However, sitting down and finding a day where everyone is free takes five minutes and can lead to you forming a connection with your family that’s stronger than ever.

To kick things up a notch, plan something fun that your family doesn’t normally do. This can be as simple as going bowling or as extravagant as going on a weekend getaway, but making a regular habit of doing this will make your family excited to spend time with each other and grateful for your intentional efforts.

Also, for parents with multiple children, I  recommend planning these days with each of your children individually as well. It’s a great way to give them the one-on-one attention they need and it allows you to spend quality time with the unique personalities you’ve created.

Cut Out People Who Make You Feel Guilty for Not Being Superhuman

Entrepreneur holding baby while balancing on one foot
Entrepreneur holding baby while balancing on one foot

There are always going to be those parents who seem like they’d win the “Parent of the Year” Award every year but thank goodness that’s not a thing, right? Everyone parents differently, and just because one parent may be packing their child gourmet lunches every day or signing up to volunteer for every school function does not mean they’re a better parent than you. So, quit comparing yourself to other parents and instead applaud yourself on all the things that make you an amazing one (I guarantee you there’s quite a long list).

The more confidence you have in your abilities as a parent, the less guilt and fear you’re going to feel and seeing that your kids are going to grow up in the blink of an eye, why waste your time worrying you’re not enough when you can instead place your energy in being confident you’re the best parent ever? Because, in your kids’ eyes, you probably are. Aren’t those the only eyes that matter anyway?

Communicate Openly With Your Children

Many times, parents get caught up in wondering if they’re being the best parent they can be. How can they improve? What have they done wrong? The list goes on. The problem with this is, it’s often done in silence. How can you truly know how you’re doing as a parent if all you’re doing is beating yourself up internally? Why not have an honest conversation with your children instead?

Now, I’m not saying to blurt out, “am I a good parent?!” at the dinner table on a Tuesday night, but I am encouraging you to start constructive conversations. Ask your children how they’re doing, if there’s anything fun they want to do with you, or if there’s something you can do to make them feel loved or appreciated. Their answer may be silly, but it shows them you care about them and what they have to say. You’ll also probably find that you’re kids think you’re doing a much better job than you’re giving yourself credit for. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help if You Need It

There may be a little voice in your head telling you you’ve failed if you can’t take care of everything on your own, but news flash: you’re only human. We all need a little help sometimes, which is why you should feel no shame in asking for it. 

Whether that’s needing more help around the house from your spouse, a less hectic workload at the office, or a nanny to help you care for your children, verbalizing your needs and seeking help from those around you can take a colossal weight off of your shoulders. 

You’re not meant to end every day utterly drained, and when you get the help you need and aren’t constantly running on empty, you’ll be shocked to see how much more equipped you are to be the most attentive, loving, patient person you can be — for your family, co-workers, and yourself.

What other tips do you have for balancing kids and a career? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.