This week I’ve had a lot of parental guilt crossing my path. So, I thought I’d encourage us all to reflect on that and a few related issues. .
I believe that all of we engaged parents are crazy people, which is why I prefer the term parent-lunatic to parent. We love our kids SO, SO much that it hurts sometimes. We want only the best for them and often (and sometimes without thinking about it) hold ourselves 100% accountable for their happiness and success. But, inevitably we run into obstacles. Here are six common ones:
1. Research suggests that we are not sculptures of our kid’s personality but are shepherds. Much of who s/he is depends upon the spin of the genetic roulette wheel. This regards things like his or her temperament and vulnerability to physical and mental illnesses. (Temperament refers to biologically based personality attributes that, among other things, heavily influence our kid’s capacity to experience happiness.)
2. Research indicates that over 90% of kids will suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem by adulthood.
3. Secondary to inevitable statistical realities, our kids end up sucking at some important stuff. When they do it hurts them and us (I speculate us worse).
4. Getting into conflicts with us is an inevitable part of healthy trajectory to adulthood. Sometimes these conflicts can be sustained and quite wearisome (e.g., my 17 year-old refers to me as a “micromanager”…by the way, there is a t-shirt that we micromanagers can acquire. Just click here).
5. Other adults have a great deal of influence on our kid’s outcomes. And, like all humans, sometimes they do a poor job at it (e.g., I recently had the experience of having a group of teachers acknowledge that it wasn’t possible for kids to do three things in their high school: a. do a quality job on homework, b. have one extracurricular activity and c. get the amount of sleep that science indicates a teen brain needs).
6. We screw up a ton, including those of us who have authored an award winning parenting book 😉 It is just the nature of being one of these human creatures.
If we embrace being over responsibility for our kid’s outcomes these are some of the results that can occur:
• We feel excessive guilt and shame. (I say “excessive,” in that appropriately dosed guilt can be useful for correcting things that warrant such.) Excessive guilt leaves us taking responsibility for that which is outside our control and/or beating ourselves up to no good purpose. Certainly our kids are not served when we go toxic on ourselves.
• Denying our kid’s pain. Because we hurt so much when our kid hurts, it can be so easy to deny his or her pain. Indeed, our research suggests that we parents often miss the boat when it comes to recognizing our kid’s internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression and anxiety). Of course, denial interferes with forming helpful remedial plans (e.g., pursuing helpful mental health services).
• Not providing sufficient psychological space for our kids to experience failure. Like the previous point, this vulnerability is fueled by our crazy love for our kid. But because we hurt so much s/he fails, it’s so, so easy to either try to recast the failure as not being a failure (e.g., somebody cheated my kid) or to try to rush past the pain to Pollyannaish statements. The path to wise and helpful reassurances lies through the pain; trying to rush past it, or do an end run around it, dampens our ability to be helpful.
• Turning to our kid for reassurances to quell our parental guilt or insecurity. We can sometimes look to our kid to make statements that we hope can act as a healing ointment for our psychological wounds. However, doing so can put undue pressure on our kid and feel very uncomfortable and weird to him or her.
Here are seven (hopefully) helpful antidotes for excessive parental guilt or shame:
1. Do an hour a week of special time with each of your children that live with you. Click here for a free download on how to do this exercise, or read Chapter One in my book for a more complete account.
2. Meditate on your parenting successes: moments when you were selfless, times when you made an altruistic decision in service of your kid’s wellness, moments when you skillfully applied wisdom and insight to your kid’s benefit and so forth. Evaluate yourself as you would have your child evaluate his or her parental effectiveness in the future should s/he become a parent (that is after you enjoy images of your prospective grandchildren torturing your child).
3. Meditate on your kids’ successes: s/he got the well-deserved award or recognition, s/he got that important high grade, s/he carried the team to an important victory and so forth.
4. Credit yourself for being able and willing to have such a crazy love for another person. Is there a higher expression of our humanity than love? Is there a purer or truer form of love than that manifested by an engaged parent? Well then, kudos to you!
5. Share your insecurities or doubts with another kind, wise and experienced parent. That person may help you to get relief from irrational thoughts and give you a little air under your wings.
6. Review home movies or pictures. Gosh, we spend so much time and energy creating these suckers. We all do well to pause and actually enjoy them, preferably with our family.
7. If your kid is hurting in some sustained way, seek out the services of a lean-mean-healing machine. For a referral, click here.
In closing I’ll share that, to me, parenting, with all of it’s bumbling and stumbling, is living art and that you, when you do your best by your child, are a beauteous beauty. I hope you can give yourself that from time to time, even if you’re a micromanager like me 😉