Guilt Need Not Apply

I hear the word guilt get tossed around a lot with respect to parenting.  

A Working Mom's Guilt.

A SAHM Mom's Guilt.

A Single Mom's Guilt.

A Divorced Parent Guilt. 


Guilt.  It is such a heavy word.  For me it makes my forehead burn, makes my palms sweat and makes my insides feel hollow.  There is no doubt that it is a negative feeling, an unmistakable feeling.  So much so that I often find myself feeling the feeling, asking myself why, and realizing that it is guilt that I am feeling. 

But I've gotten better at it.

Someone once corrected me on my guilt feelings, and I am so grateful that she did.  And so I want to share it with you, because I feel that if we correctly define what is guilt and what isn't, we may find that there really isn't so much to feel guilty about in the first place.  

According to Wiki:

Guilt (emotion) is an emotion that occurs when a person believes that they have violated a moral standard that they themselves believe in.

In other words, to correctly feel GUILTY, you have to have done something WRONG. In parenting terms, specifically, you have to have violated your own moral and ethical ground on which you set the standards for your family.   

I challenge you, the next time you feel that powerful feeling that you associate with guilt, ask yourself, "Did I do something wrong?".

Sometimes the answer will be yes: we all make mistakes as parents, we all say things we wish we hadn't, we have all handled situations in less than calm ways, we have all yelled at our kids to stop yelling, we have all been the exact example of that thing we don't want them to do.  

...If you are guilty of doing something wrong -- doing something against what you believe to be your moral standard of parenting, of partnership, of life -- then do what you need to do to feel better about it and move on.  Say you're sorry.  Talk with your child.  Spend the extra time.  Do the work.  Do differently next time. Give yourself a break.  Understand that you did your best given the circumstances, and find your new best. 

But I bet you will find something interesting take place.  I bet you will find that you are answering "No" more often than "Yes".  

NO, I did nothing wrong.  Me standing my moral ground as a parent, lead to an undesirable reaction from my kids.  And I am left feeling _____.  Fill in the blank, but not with the word guilt.  You stood your moral/ethical ground.  Guilt need not apply.  

Define it for what it is.  

I am left feeling frustrated that they don't understand.  I am left feeling exhausted from their persistent and inappropriate reaction to my simple request.  I am left feeling discouraged that they don't seem to be getting the lesson.  I am left feeling saddened that are not fully capable of understanding how hard I am fighting for them to be good in this world. 

Frustration, exhaustion, discouragement, sadness … these are powerful emotions commonplace in parenting, too.  They deserve to be acknowledged for what they are, and not tossed into the pile of guilt that doesn't seem to completely go away.  Call it guilt, you will feel all that you feel when you feel guilt.  You will try to make it right by correcting the wrong thing.  

Make clear to yourself your moral standard.  Stand by it.  Own up when you are wrong and move on.  Stand tall when you are right, even when no one else thinks so.  Everything else in the middle, define correctly and act accordingly.  Don't just call it guilt because it gives you a bad feeling; guilt deserves to be used appropriately and only when indicated.  

Share your examples below of how you are mislabeling "guilt".  We can all learn from you!

 © Houseman 2013