Guilt – that feeling that often hangs over you as a parent where you wonder if you are inadequate, lost, and really the answer to…
Guilt - that feeling that often hangs over you as a parent where you wonder if you are inadequate, lost, and really the answer to your child’s needs. It comes with an unspoken desire to find the right parenting book to at last show you the way through and provide answers. There is a belief that something must be terribly wrong if you feel so guilty? Right? Actually, no … not necessarily, sometimes guilt is the best evidence that you are the very answer your child needs.
The reality is that parents are a work in progress when it comes to maturity and there is nothing like having a child that calls to the fore our shortcomings and areas of immaturities. Having a child is a growth experience whether you wanted one or not. For example, trying to hold onto the frustration and tantrums of a preschooler will mean we holding onto our own frustration and keeping reactions in check. It is our love for our children that calls forth within us this motivation and desire to be the parent they need. And so to this desire we give ourselves fully, and in it’s wake our guilt appears, showing us where we have fallen short of these goals and how we have served to sometimes harm the ones we strive to take care of. It is this guilt and conflict about who we are and who we want to be to our children that actually helps us form intentions to do differently.
The other side of guilt is the existential reality that in seeing yourself as your child’s answer you can experience guilt for everything … from the bruised knees to the sadness they experience when you leave for work. It is only because you see yourself as responsible for them that you experience this guilt at all, and it is the very best manifestation of it. If truth were told, I worry most for the children whose parents don’t ever feel guilty. If you consider it from a child’s point of view, they can graciously and willingly forgive when their parents make mistakes. What children can have a harder time understanding is a lack of guilt when harm is done.
We live in a culture that doesn’t support tears and guilt, but they are both part of what serves to keep us human. When you are able to find your tears about the ways you fall short as a parent - then, and only then - can you begin to find your way through. All of the time we run from our demons we are at their mercy and are threatened to be swallowed whole by them. Guilt is a message, an unwelcome one sometimes, but one worth listening to if one has the courage.
Guilt keeps us honest and points us in the direction of being the parent our children need. The only guilt that is worth getting rid of is feeling guilty about feeling guilty. Its very existence is the expression of our deepest yearning to be our child’s best bet, and to that I say, guilty as charged.
Dr. Deborah MacNamara is in private practice, on faculty at the Neufeld Institute, and author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like on). For more information see www.macnamara or www.neufeldinstitute.com.
DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE translated into PRACTICAL LOVE.