I’ve had countless conversations with parents (mostly mothers!) about the guilt they feel while raising their children. Guilt about not spending enough time with them, guilt about an outburst of anger and frustration, about divorce, or of sibling rivalry.
I’ve always said the best parents question their own parenting, but without raking themselves over the coals for mistakes they’ve made. Or perceived mistakes. Recognize it, talk about it with someone you trust who won’t judge you, and then move forward. (Easier said then done.)
Before my daughter, Sara, was born someone said to me: “Children are only guests in our homes; they grow up and move away.” It sounds a little strange to me now, but I understood it to mean we only have a finite period of time with our children; make it count, cherish it.
Guilt can motivate us in unconscious ways. When Sara was seven years old, her father and I divorced. An anguishing time as a parent and a very painful time for Sara. I soon started to recognize my own tendency to overcompensate. I think it kept me from being real with her at times. Maybe I’d let her stay up too late, stay home from school, not pressure her to finish her homework, or let her have too much candy. There is a lot to be said for “breaking the rules” from time to time, but being aware of your motivation is paramount.
Parents who both work outside of the home, or a single parent who has to work long hours to make ends meet, often feel guilt. I’ve witnessed so many different family situations: parents who both work full-time; who split the parenting/work hours between them; work part-time; or are at home caring for their children full-time – with or without help from a nanny, babysitter or family member. The common denominator of what works is: their children’s needs are being met. The person or people caring for their child/children care deeply about the quality of time they spend with him or her. And when parents are with their kids, they are present – even if they are simply in the same space, doing separate activities. Children always feel your authenticity. They know without always being able to articulate it whether or not you’re there for them.