Am I a Bad Parent?
The parenting world has shifted drastically. Most parents today can no longer simply carry on doing what their parents did. In a changing world, with changing social norms, this often leaves us confused. Are we doing it right? Whom do we ask? We find ourselves wishing we were there more, that we listened enough, that we focused more on our children, that we pushed them further, that we were less selfish or hurtful or critical.
It’s important to know that every parent will disappoint their children at some point, often even unknowingly. This is all part of a normal parent-child relationship. Sometimes we may even end up hurting them in the same ways we were hurt as children, because we’re yet to heal from our own childhood experiences. In every human relationship there is pain and hurt as much as there is love and forgiveness. This is why it’s important to listen to what your children are saying, and to keep an open line of communication between the two of you, to prevent further misunderstanding.
Guilt in itself is not a bad thing. It helps us identify that something is wrong and pushes us to correct it. But guilt is only good in moderation. When guilt becomes constant and leads to chronic worry, you could actually be causing even more serious issues both for yourself and your children. Guilt and guilt-related stress are intense negative emotions, and allowing them to build up can lead to unexpected consequences ranging from blaming the child for your pain, withdrawing, raging, anxiety or even completely giving up as a parent.
These signs of distress are often visible to the child even if the parent tries hard to conceal them. The child in turn may develop their own unhealthy coping strategies and internalise the feeling, believing that they are the cause of their parent’s guilt. They may push themselves to do what they think their parents want even if it’s not what is best for them. On the other extreme they may completely shut down emotionally, distancing themselves from their parent’s negative emotions. When a parent is blinded by their own guilt, the child is forced to bottle up their own struggles and pain, and support the parent instead.
The tendency to feel guilty is often exacerbated if you have a child that acts out. Repeated incidents could lead to a chronic sense of shame or failure. At this point, you could practise mindfulness. Acknowledge your feelings, but recognise that they will neither help you nor your child in dealing with this behaviour. By feeling guilty, you are placing the blame for your child’s behaviour on yourself, and by extension, teaching your child that they need not take responsibility for their own behaviour. As long as you are making a dedicated effort to improve your child’s behaviour, questions of blame are irrelevant. Focus instead on what you can do, moving forward, to change their behaviour. Even in the face of public scrutiny and questions from others, remember to give your child your best effort. Focus on specific situations and set goals to change them.
To empower yourself as a parent, remember that no one else sees the side of the story that you do. Listen to the opinions of others, and if you find them helpful, acknowledge them without letting them overwhelm you. Instead, use them to further fuel your addressal of your child’s issues. For example, if someone says that your child is often messy or late because you can’t find the time to help them get dressed for school, they may not know that you work late each night and have little help from your spouse. Instead try and speak to your spouse about helping out, and to your child about taking more responsibility. Always remember, the aim is not to take blame but take action.
The release of parental guilt is liberating and empowering. When you listen to your children without letting your own feelings get in the way, you’ll be able to validate their feelings. Your bond will begin to heal and strengthen, giving you both support and comfort. You’ll begin working as a team. To allow your children to feel safe in making their opinions heard, without having to fear a backlash, is one of the greatest gifts you can give them as a parent. Work together as a family to improve your relationships. After all, it’s time your children also learn that you’re only human. We all make mistakes, what’s important is to acknowledge them and move forward towards doing better.
If you are experiencing parental guilt, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
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