You forgot it was pajama day at school — again — and your kid was the ONLY one walking around in his regular clothes, right? Time for a panic attack. Because of guilt parenting has become less effective.
“Guilt is the propellant for most of the bad decisions parents make,” says Kevin Leman, Ph.D., author of Have a New Kid by Friday (Revell; 2008). “As a result, today’s kids are all about ‘me, me, me,’ and ‘gimme.’ They are held accountable less and less and have fewer responsibilities in the family. Fewer children today consider others before themselves because they’ve never been taught to think that way,” he adds.
It’s the overwhelming number of things and choices that plague moms in relation to their kids that has bred an epidemic of guilt. The list of things we can beat ourselves up for are endless:
- You don’t make enough milk to breastfeed your baby … so you move to formula.
- Sunscreen! You forgot the sunscreen on your toddler!
- It’s cold at the night time soccer game and your daughter doesn’t have a jacket. Your fault.
- Overdue books for the library … where are they?
- You can’t make the music recital because of work.
- The circle of friends your child has worries you. It’s because you have such lame social skills.
- One of your kids is easier to get along with than the other one and you favor him for it.
- That tendency you have to cuss like a sailor is rubbing off on your teenager. Ugh.
- No, honey, I don’t want to play with you right now!
- We are not going to Disney World, OK? We can’t afford it right now.
- Fresh, green vegetables are not served with every meal, in fact, they’re hardly served at all.
- Your child’s sheets haven’t been changed in two weeks when you change yours every week.
- You grab your child’s phone in a fit of suspicion and try to find something bad on it.
- Your home is a dump. You’ve never cleaned your baseboards like your neighbor does monthly.
- You yelled at your child again … the minute you came in the door.
Guilt is Everywhere
Let’s face it. Guilt is everywhere and is a possible response to practically every situation. The moment you become a parent is loaded with guilt because as soon as you’re completely responsible for another human being FOR HIS ENTIRE LIFE, then everything that goes wrong is YOUR FAULT. How exhausting! It’s enough to send you to the wine … Moms tend to blame themselves — and judge ourselves and other moms — for the choices we make … or not.
So not all guilt is bad. In fact, guilt guides us to be better, letting us know when we need to check ourselves, or at least make a better effort. Guilt is a sign of how much you care, so it’s actually good if you let it guide you and don’t treat it too much like the enemy. The trick to managing your guilt and not letting it take over your life to the point of emotional dysfunction, is to separate the good guilt from the bad.
THREE TIP FOR MANAGING THAT GUILT PANG:
• Make a conscious effort to decide if what you’re guilty about is something you should really regret.
Do you REALLY need to feel badly that you didn’t volunteer to help with the school play? Do you really need to feel guilty that you want to exercise and so you drop your child in day care?
• Think things through in your mind the way you would advise a friend.
If a friend came to you lamenting how guilty she feels about her child having four cavities, what would you say? “Well, you SHOULD feel guilty!” or would you say, “Come on, that’s not your fault Ashlyn has cavities!” You would say some soothing things to help her out. Say soothing things to yourself to help yourself out. Don’t beat yourself up — you wouldn’t beat up a friend, would you?
• Learn to Let Go!
There are only so many hours in a day, days in a year, years in a decade. Everything passes. Try to keep perspective — on a daily basis — and try to let things go, moving on to what’s coming next.