Guilt! Guilt seems to be an intrinsic part of parenting, at least for the good parents (and that's the good news—if you feel guilty, then you may be on the right track to improvement).
We all have things we feel rightfully guilty about—things we could have done better but flaked off on, or times we blew it big-time and did something against our values or family rules. There are times we feel guilty for working too hard or too little, or for where we work. And sometimes we just feel guilty. Guilt can incapacitate, and guilt can also teach.
At its best, guilt can be like one of those obnoxious car alarms that talk to you when you get too close— “Warning! Step back!”—demanding your attention and letting you know that you do, indeed, need to step back and look at the whole picture. If you can use guilt as a way to gain and improve your perspective, than it's a good thing. Healthy guilt can lead to more self-respect.
The Millennium Lifestyle: A Cause for Guilt
We are all stretched too thin, trying to work too many hours, care for our kids' physical and emotional well-being, and still become self-actualized. The day only has 24 hours, and, as much as you might skip sleep, you still may be falling behind. On top of all this time crunching, you no doubt feel guilty that you're not able to put in more effort. You feel guilty when you're lazy, you feel guilty for relaxing, you feel guilty for not relaxing. If you're a mother, you feel guilty for staying home or working in the home or working out of the home. If you're a dad, you feel guilty for working too little or not making enough money or working too much. Is there anybody here who doesn't feel guilty?
Well, maybe you don't, but most moms and dads do. Look, a lot of this guilt is a function of the current society we live in. “Busy-ness guilt,” as I call it, is useless, hurtful guilt because, though you need to find the lifestyle that will work for you and your family, there may be no easy solution to your situation. You are doing the best that you can.
When Guilt Destroys
Guilt is like ivy, once it begins climbing up a tree, its little sucker roots dig in tightly, its strands tightly cling, and it won't relinquish its hold. It's hard to let go of guilt, because guilt won't let go of you.
Some parents feel guilty over everything that goes wrong for their kids. If Tiny Teena's teeth need braces, they feel guilty that they gave her such lousy bite genes. They feel bad that they're not rich or, if they are rich, they worry that their Little Lord Fauntleroy isn't learning street smarts. No matter what the situation, they feel guilty that they aren't perfect parents.
What is a perfect parent? Who do these guilty parents want to be? Whoever it is, it's probably an unobtainable ideal. Close your eyes for a moment, and think of your image of the word mom or dad (choose the title that matches your own gender). Now, do you feel guilty that you aren't that perfect image?
Guilt, Be Gone!
Much of the guilt that parents feel can't be tied to specific actions or issues, it's just a vague sense that you're doing everything just a little bit wrong, or that you're just slightly inadequate for the tasks set before you. Free-floating guilt is a little message from the universe that it's time to take a break. Check out the self-nurturing suggestions later on in this chapter and, while you're at it, take a guilt-break.
Guilt Is Lousy Modeling
“Oh, that's okay; I'll just sit here, in the dark.” Too much guilt, and you'll beat yourself so hard you'll turn into a martyr. Don't model martyring (please!). The more you martyr yourself, the less respect you'll get—from yourself, from your kids, from the world. Remember that kids learn what they experience. Do you really want your child, 60 years from now, to be telling her grandkids, “No, that's okay, walk all over me, I deserve it anyway.”
Guilty of Guilt?
Feeling guilty is a habit that may take time to break. Don't feel guilty about feeling guilty. Just don't feel guilty. You can't go back. Concentrate on doing better next time.