The Useless Emotion
- Joellen Monson
The Parent's Lament: "I feel guilty...that I work too late to tuck my kids in at night, that I can't afford piano lesson/a tutor, that my kids have to go to day care, that my family doesn't eat meals together, that I can't help out my child's team/teacher..." Fill in your own blank for what you feel guilty about. The list can be endless. Parents have a huge capacity for feeling guilty.
Everyone loves their children and wants the best for them yet it seems that parents never feel they're doing enough. Parenting has become the ultimate "keeping up with the Jones". Though the truth is they probably aren't keeping up either. None the less when we can't, we feel guilty.
Guilt is actually a huge de-motivator. Guilt just makes us feel bad. It also has the effect of keeping us stuck where we are - doing the same things as always. However what guilt does do is give us the illusion that we're doing Something, "I don't like this situation but at least I feel guilty about it." It makes us feel a little better to have that illusion - that protection from responsibility by feeling guilty. From a productivity standpoint - it's pretty useless.
Where does this leave parents? Just one more area to feel Bad about? NO!
There are two ways to look at these instances of recurrent parental guilt issues: Regret or Responsibility.
With regret we also feel badly about a situation i.e. sad, disappointed, frustrated yet there is built in room for improvement. If we truly regret the past and the way a series of events transpired we can look at them and see where we can make changes - AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME. We have the capacity and power, in many instances, to make different choices which result in different consequences - for us and for our children. If we are motivated to want something different, regret is the catalyst for change.
However, there are many times when we allow or we choose to do the same thing over and over. Our actions reveal that doing the same things is more important than making the change. We try to get people to stop complaining to us by telling them how guilty we feel so we can keep doing it but get off the hook. If you do not truly feel regret and therefore motivated to change - ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY. This is very hard and family members will probably be initially upset with you - but less so than the continuous and ongoing disappointment of thinking something's is going to be different when it isn't.
If you truly can't change your circumstances (or even if you don't really want to) acknowledge to your family what the wish is i.e. "I know you wish I could be home to tuck you in at night", acknowledge their feeling, "I know it makes you sad" and then acknowledge the reality of now, "maybe someday it will be different but for right now..."
Most people can deal with reality much better than perpetual deflated hope. People can take the feeling of disappointment - even children - when they truly know what's in store for them. False hope is just a way of avoiding those feelings of disappointment or sadness or anger.
As a parent, one of our most important jobs is to help our children deal with strong emotions. So we're really not doing them any favors by giving them false illusions of something that isn't going to happen. It's ok for us to sometimes disappoint - we're not perfect no matter how hard we try and some things are beyond our control. It's much more empowering for everyone to either change what we can or honestly acknowledge, accept and take responsibility for what's happening now. As Yoda says "Do or do not - there is no try." So get rid of the guilt.