Monday, August 12, 2013

Parent Guilt Is Limiting Your Parenting Potential

"I'm such a bad parent.  I let my kids watch two hours of television today."
 
"I feel selfish for getting a sitter and leaving the kids home."

"It's hard being home sometimes.  I always feel like I should be doing something".
 
"I like my job and feel bad about it."
 
"I don't like admitting that I didn't breastfeed my child."
 
"God help me.  I fed my kid blue yogurt and an alphabet shaped chicken finger."
 
Sound familiar?
 
This is parent guilt and I'm telling you, it is limiting your potential as a parent.
 
Look, I get it. 

Parenting is a big job and you always want to make sure you're doing it right. Your parents have opinions.  Your friends have opinions.   The blogosphere is filled with information, jargon, tips, and tricks. 

I know I contribute to that noise in this little blog of my own here.
 
They all seem to imply the same thing--there is a right way to parent and there is a wrong way and if you go against the cultural norm, whatever that happens to be at the moment, you're doing it wrong.
 
Take it down a notch

Reboot your perspective.

Use a different lens.

I don't say this so I can blow smoke up your behinds and get all kumbaya on you.  No, I say this because while you are focusing on your coulda, shoulda, wouldas as parents, you are likely missing out on what is right in front of you.

Guilt, on some level, implies a knowing or an unknowing intent to harm.  The idea is that your conscience is telling you that you did something wrong and that you are causing damage.

When you live in this feeling as a chronic state, you are losing out on the ability to be present and in tune to your child. You are so busy wondering what the right thing to do is that you are missing out on moments of connection, memories, and teaching.

Guilt has its place.  It tells us we made a mistake. It nudges us when we go against our values despite knowing better. 

It's our moral compass.    
                                    
It is a powerful instrument and when we use it as regularly as we use a smartphone or our cars, we forfeit its power and it just becomes a humming noise in the background that no longer gets attention. 

If you're busy making dinner and you put a screen in front of your kid for a while, you are setting both you and the child up for success.  You have peace and quiet during dinner and the meal does not start with your irritation and their frustration at being in trouble.

This is not a reason to feel guilty.  It's a realistic parenting decision given the task at hand.

If you're out with friends, working out, doing a hobby and taking a break from the kids, you are refreshing yourself so you can be more authentic in the moment with your kids.

This is not a reason to feel guilty. You can enjoy your time with them more authentically because you have tuned into your authentic self.

A constant pressure to be "doing something" is something I hear from parents all the time.  What a setup for kids and adults alike!  How do kids learn about balance, relaxation, and self-care if it isn't modeled for them?  What kind of message do we send if we're always supposed to be "doing something?"

Sometimes in these guilt-ridden moments we are hearing our own voices or the voices of our parents.  More often though, it is the voice of "What will people think of me?"

How unfortunate. 

We want kids to react differently to that question while we, ourselves, obsess about it.
 
Instead of tuning into what others think, I encourage you to tune into what you think: 
 
What is your value
What are your intentions
Are you moving toward them in your choices or away from them?


Look, we all have minds of our own and as such, we are going to have different values. 
 
That isn't personal and you don't have to take it personally.
 
Sure, people may judge and they may disagree.
 
Yes, that will hurt.  It may even be a deep hurt.
 
However, if you are tuning into your values and living close to them, there is nothing to feel guilty about.
 
The real harm would be living any other way.  Some day, your kid will come to you.  He or she will feel bad because they didn't do something the rest of the group wanted to do and they will be judged and made fun of.
 
Sad but true.
 
After you talk yourself off the ledge of wanting to pummel that kid who hurt your child's feelings, you will want your son or daughter to tune into what they think is right, even if no one else does.
 
How are you supposed to teach this to your kids if you don't live it yourself?
 
How are you supposed to be in tune and mindful of your kids if you are buzzing about what others think you should be doing?
 
Everyone wants to preach about mindful parenting while slathering on guilt for being anything but.
 
I just don't think that works.
 
It's a set up for parents to fail.
 
In order to be in tune and mindful with their kids, parents need to be in tune and mindful of themselves and their values.
 
It doesn't work any other way.
 
Why?
 
Because some day, despite best efforts, you are going to make a mistake
 
You're going to snap and yell. You might even swear.  You might forget and not listen.
 
You'll want your conscience to ping at you so you can tune in, make an adjustment, and make amends.
 
That can't work if your parent guilt is pinging you every ten seconds!!!  You won't be able to tell the difference and you'll lose your focus.
 
That's when you really risk getting off course.
 
So, check in with yourselves here.
 
What are your values?
 
Are you working toward them more often than not?
 
Are you more tuned into what you think is best for your kids or what others think is best for your kids?
 
  • If you're too busy yelling at yourself, you're missing out.
  • If you keep hearing others' voices in your head instead of your own, you're missing out.
  • Reboot.
  • Shift lenses.
  • Get in tune with yourself and your intent. 
  • You know your heart
  • You know your kid. 
  • Leave the guilt aside for the moment. 
  • Believe that you are doing the right things. 
  • Tune in.
 
Now, what do you see
 
What do you hear?
 
How does your view shift and the picture change when you let guilt stand aside for the time being?
 
I'd love to know about your experiences and welcome you to share.

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