In my first response to the NIB State of the Nation Parenting Survey, I wrote about the major result from the survey that identified that 76% of parents are worried that they don’t spend enough time with their children. An opinion piece was written regarding guilt that parents may have regarding the time they spend with children (see link above).
The author talks about a time she attended a Positive Parenting Programme.
“The facilitator, a wise old nun, had a remarkable and surprisingly simple piece of advice for us all: banish guilt. She told us that guilt is self-focused; it's a negative feeling that ties a person in knots and doesn't allow them to learn or grow. It was liberating to hear.
Guilt is a wasted emotion.
I see parents everywhere putting their work faces on each day; dropping children at day care centres even if the children protest or feel off-colour.
I see these parents catching yet another flight, or spending an entire pregnancy feeling queasy behind a computer. Busy parents don't want to be away or out working; it's the way things are now. And guilt is leverage for children to manipulate their parents.
If parents could back themselves, trust in the job they're doing and be present for the time they are with their children then the pressure from their families mightn't seem so important.”
So let’s talk about guilt…
Guilt is not a bad thing to feel as such. In our society today we have a great fear from any negative thoughts or emotions. No doubt we would outlaw them if we could.
The point of having guilt is that it is a way that our body tells us something is wrong. To say that we should “back ourselves” and “trust” that the guilt we feel is not relevant is to ignore the messages our body and mind are telling us. This is neither healthy nor beneficial. Surely we would not give the advice to disregard guilt in any other sphere of life? When we say or do something mean or inappropriate to someone else we feel guilt, and so we should. Guilt is what hopefully causes us then to also repair the relationship with the person we have hurt.
Feeling guilty doesn’t stop us from learning or growing, in fact, it does the very opposite! If we ignore our guilt we will also lose the opportunity to learn and grow from our actions. Feeling guilt gives us the opportunity to change our actions and to repair relationships. When we feel guilt the main question we should have on our mind is “Why do I feel so bad about this?” To disregard guilt also means to stop the opportunity for curiosity.
In showing curiosity with a question of why we can then work out if our guilt is well founded or not and how we want to resolve the dilemma within ourselves. In this example of parents spending time with their children, parents must work out how much time they do want to spend with their children so that the issue and the guilt is resolved. If you have the conviction that family interaction and conversation is important to you but your actions are not in-line with this conviction, then something needs to change. Simply suppressing the disconnect between your convictions and actions will not work.
If you are feeling guilty, not only should change occur but there also needs to be a repair of the relationship. We should not be afraid to be vulnerable with our children and say we are sorry. We often seem to fear that people will lose respect for us if we say sorry and change our minds about something. Yet for those people who are close to us, this is generally not the case. In fact, we often respect people more when they show humility, a change of mind, and a commitment to living a more consistent life that is in keeping with their principles.
So if you have guilt regarding the time you spend with your children or anything else for that matter, don’t suppress it. Be curious. Resolve it. Work it out. Have conversations so that you can live a life that works in harmony with your principles and convictions. Having these types of conversations that can help make this a reality for you is what I do through my website www.frankeducation.nz I would love to chat to you further about this if this is an issue that you are going through. But first and foremost have open and honest conversations in your family, with your children and with your spouse. Then, and only then can we alleviate the pain of guilt instead of trying to bury it.