What is more crippling as a parent than when your child is hurt or you perceive that they are hurt. Whether it is mentally, physically or emotionally, as a parent it can tear you apart. Parent guilt is real and if not kept in check can be debilitating. I do not know of many parents that have not experienced it at some point while raising their children. Today, I want to discuss parental guilt, causes, and how not to end up in the parent guilt trap.
Causes of Parental Guilt
One of biggest causes of parent guilt, in my opinion, is working too much especially for moms. Culturally and traditionally, we are taught that the husband/father/male role model is the one who goes out into the world and works to provide for the family. Meanwhile the wife/mother/female role model is the one who stays home to care for the children. However, in the majority of families have to have two incomes to survive. Sometimes one or both parents work more than one job! With that being said, the definition of the traditional family is changing as well. Personally, I have to work in order so that we can pay bills but also so that we can have double insurance coverage on Scarlett. Still, I feel so guilty working. I would much rather be home and raise my child. The other aspect of this is the fact that we tend to be at work half of our week and feel that we do not have adequate time to spend with our children.
Divorce is another big one. By divorce, I want to include not being with the other parent any longer because as I said the definition of the traditional family is changing. There are many reasons that a couple decides to separate. While that alone can cause parent guilt, when your child/ren ask why or comment how they wish you were back together can cause it just as much. Often children do not understand until they are in their late teens or even into early adulthood the reasons for their parents not being together. It’s very hard to explain to a seven year old something that is beyond their comprehension. Although, being a child of divorce, I feel it is so important to have conversations regarding this to children of all ages at an age appropriate level of what they are able to understand. This too can add to that guilt because you know that your child still does not fully understand the why behind the separation.
One cause that hits very close to home, for both my husband and myself, is having a child born with a congenital birth defect or disability. Whether it is Down’s Syndrome, Autism, or a tiny, blind eye, I think that each parent wonders what they could have done to cause their child to have it. Although, there are tests that can be done during pregnancy that give you a probability of your child having a certain condition, such a Down’s Syndrome. Some parents opt out of this testing. My husband and I chose not to do it because we knew that no matter what we would love our child and wanted to enjoy the pregnancy without the anxiety of what ifs. When it comes to congenital defects, some have known causes while others do not. This was a source of guilt for both us. Scarlett’s congenital conditions are in the unknown cause defects at this point. We both went through a period where we questioned what we did to cause this to our child.
While these are just a few causes of parent guilt, there are many more. From fighting with another parent, having too busy of a schedule as a family, feeling like you’re a bad role model, being selfish, saying hurtful things… this list could go on and on.
How to Keep It From Being Toxic
While guilt is a normal emotion in life, you have to make sure that you keep it in check. If not it can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug use or other issues. Believe it or not, I am talking about not only for the parent but for the child as well. Even if a child does not know the guilt you feel, they can see your behaviors and feed off of your emotions. Even a baby can sense if a parent is tense and it will make it harder for the baby to calm down. For older kids, the may act out, defy authority figures or engage in self blame. A child may even internalize their thoughts and feelings and wonder why they are not “good enough.”
We have to understand that we all deserve compassion, both parents and children. We are individuals with different ways to cope with emotions and the situations around us. As parents, we may be mirroring the way we saw our parents as we were growing up. If you are in that cycle, counseling may be required to make a change. Counseling is not a bad idea either way, especially if you are unable to resolve your guilt and accept your situation on your own. If you cannot afford counseling, reach out to a friend who is a parent that you can openly speak to. If you see signs of distress in your child, you need to be able to speak with them and reassure them that your guilt is not their fault.
In The End, This is What Matters
Raising out children the best we know how. Learning how to communicate with them at each age and stage. Loving them unconditionally even when they are driving us batty. Personally, I may not have grown up in the most well adjusted homes, between my mom and dad, but I always knew that I was loved. There were plenty of times that I questioned, sometimes openly, the choices they were making but I never doubted their love. We are here to provide them shelter, food, love, acceptance, and a shoulder to cry on when needed. We are here to guide them to be the best human being they can and show them that we all make mistakes and have guilt. It is how we teach them to handle that guilt that can make the difference. In order to do that, we must first learn to let go and accept that we are doing the best we can for our children.