Expert Author Susan Leigh
The guilt that goes with being a parent can last a lifetime. Parents are often concerned that they are too severe, not severe enough, work too may hours, are a bad parent. The list of potential pitfalls is endless. And sometimes what works for one child may be wrong for another. There is no 'one size fits all' solution to being a parent.
The first responsibility of a parent is to raise healthy, confident children. Ground rules and discipline are part of that remit. Being fair and consistent is usually understood and appreciated by children. I have had clients who have recalled their own childhood with some distress, remembering that their parents didn't even notice them when they were naughty. That memory, of trying and failing to get attention, love and recognition in any way possible can stay with someone their entire life.
Let's look at some of the areas that can cause guilt:
- Discipline can be a contentious topic between parents. Often one parent is stricter than the other. It is part of the job description for a child to rebel against authority; it is part of becoming an adult and asserting their independence. Children appreciate discipline even if they protest against it. When I see parents who feel guilty at the way their children are behaving, are stressed and at a loss as how to treat their unruly children I suggest that they ask the child what they consider to be a fair punishment for their bad behaviour. Interestingly they nearly always suggest some something tougher than their parents had in mind. Agreement in advance between both parents as to appropriate discipline is important. Otherwise the child quickly learns to play one parent against the other.
- Bedtime can be traumatic. Fighting with children to get them to wash, brush their teeth and go to bed can be a stressful time every day. It can be tempting to let them stay up later and later, but then they are tired and irritable the next day. It can then be another trauma to get them up for school. Being clear about bedtime, perhaps having a family meeting where a bedtime is agreed for the school week and perhaps allowances made at weekends and holiday times can help to minimise the guilt of being firm and strict about the arguments and upset that often happen at bedtime.
- Good manners are an important part of a child becoming a functioning human being. When a child starts school, visits other children's houses, goes to public places like restaurants it is important that they know how to behave appropriately. Learning to eat properly, say 'please' and 'thank you', treat other people with respect and consideration are all invaluable skills for later life. Some parents can feel guilty at spending the little time they have with their children teaching them about good manners, but it is an important part of a child's education. Having good manners can also ensure that they are invited back again.
- Money is often a problematic topic. Many parents feel guilty at both working long hours and try to compensate by being more liberal with money and gifts. Teaching children to manage their money, treat it with respect and learn to budget is an important life skill. Many children can get into their teens and twenties and have no real idea of what things cost or how to earn the money to pay for what they want. Learning to respect money, hard work and budgeting is an important part of becoming independent.
Parenting is often a minefield. All parents want the best for their children and this is often where stress and guilt come from. We all think that we could or should have done something better, differently or the same as someone else. But giving children love, support and attention is often the foundation stone that underpins a child's happy, confident later life.