I parent a set of eight-year-old twins and let me tell you, the feeling is an agonizing cocktail of worry, happiness, excitement, confusion, and guilt. Am I doing the right thing? Will my child grow up to dislike or worse, hate me? Am I conveying the right messages? Am I a good role-model for them to have? Have I been too harsh? Am I setting unreachable benchmarks for them?
With eight years of parenting experience behind me, I am now starting to get a hang of it. I have now come to terms with being the unapologetic, non-negotiating, fearless, badass mom who swears by guilt-free parenting. Why? Because I know my job best! Period.
Guilty parenting doesn’t do any good – neither to the parent nor to the child. It is very critical for parents to let go of guilt, in order to be able to raise their young children into disciplined, well-behaved, sensitive, empathetic and involved adolescents and adults.
Guilt is a dangerous emotion, and more so when it becomes the propellant for most of the bad decisions parents make for their children.
How to let go of guilt? Did it come naturally to me? Well, no. I learned like most parents do over time. I have my own little checklist for that. Initially, I had to constantly remind myself to parent without guilt. It has now become natural. It is an art worth mastering, for your own sanity.
Here’s my little checklist.
- Stop feeling guilty for being an office-going parent (more so if you are the mother): Most parents are stressed with their jobs and have less time to engage meaningfully with the child. To manage the guilt they indulge the child with expensive gifts, vacations and, less or no responsibility giving and less disciplining. When at all they have to discipline the child it adds to their guilt reservoir. Stop. Don’t be guilty of normal things like leaving the child at day-care, or for missing an event at school. It is not a reflection of you as a parent or person. Find more meaningful ways to engage with the child, instead of indulging unreasonably.
- Disciplining is different than punishment: An effective parent has to learn the difference between punishment and discipline. Discipline is a positive method of teaching a child acceptable standards of self-control, confidence, conduct, and responsibility in accordance with rules or a code of behavior while punishment is about controlling or regulating a child’s behavior through the emotion of fear. Disciplining a child may be a tough take and it is easy for a parent to confuse it with punishment, causing guilt. Once you get this right, you will no longer feel guilty for sometimes having to be a little tough (or at least appearing to be so) to discipline the child.
- Peer parenting pressure: You don’t have to adopt someone else’s parenting technique, just because you belong to the same social circle or workplace. It’s ok if you cut your child’s screen time with for using offensive language. It’s ok to cut back on pocket money if the child skips homework regularly. Your children have different behavioral issues and psychological needs which call for customized responses from you. You don’t need to give in to the “so-and-so’s mother allows him to do so and so thing” crap. It’s your show. Call the shots like a boss.
- It’s not your business to please the child: If you feel your child is your best friend (a fashion statement nowadays), you definitely need to go out and make friends your own age! The friendship can wait to happen when they turn adult. You are the parent and have a God-given job to raise the best child possible. Don’t beat yourself for making decisions and choices that are in the best interest of the child, even if he not like it.
- Stop being insecure: Stop giving in to the fear of your child judging you as a bad parent for some hard parenting choices you make for them. Stop giving in to the thought that they might disown you or start hating you if you don’t please their fancies. None of it is going to happen. Children might not acknowledge this often, but they wouldn’t trade you for anything in the world, just like you won’t trade your child for any other.
- Stop feeling guilty for not being able to give them all: Raising a child is an expensive proposition. Double it in case of twins! Despite my best efforts, I may not be able to match up with other parents who take their kids to Disneyland or the World Tour or gift their kids with expensive gadgets. I have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for. My priorities are clear. I am doing my best where it counts most – giving them the best possible education within my means.
- Stop feeling guilty for giving time and resources for yourself: Some parents believe everything good should be directed to the child, and to the child alone. That’s not a good idea. You don’t need to be guilty of going for a movie with friends, or going to a hobby class or buying yourself the expensive gown you set your eyes and heart on.
- Stop feeling guilty for your child’s awful behavior in public: Your child might throw a tantrum at the supermarket, speak offensively at a party, pick up a fight at school, lie to the teacher or even worse, steal things. Most of these are normal and occur in varying degrees in every child irrespective of the parenting style. These are behavior issues that need attention and patient dealing. Don’t hold yourself responsible for such behavior, for they don’t speak anything about you as a person, as a parent.
- Stop feeling guilty for saying NO: When you say no to something your child asks for, don’t feel the urge to back it back a valid explanation to convince the child. You don’t always need to explain. It could be buying a thing, seeking permission for a sleepover, asking for more pocket money, or whatever if you believe the response should be in the negative (for whatever reason), go ahead and say NO, without being apologetic.
- Embrace imperfection: Accept is a poor choice of word here because accept would mean grudgingly making peace with something. Embrace is a more positive and powerful word instead. Have realistic expectations of yourself and your child. Allow the child to be grumpy after a hard day at school. Don’t feel let down if the child does not score highest grades. Don’t strive to be the perfect mother or superwoman who can do wonders for herself and her child. Don’t judge yourself against other parents. Instead of feeling guilty or self-pity, celebrate small wins, normal days, average marks and even grumpy behavior.
I see guilt and self-doubt as watermarks of a sensitive and thinking parent. Parenting is not something that must force us to push ourselves to the background and stress us out, leaving us in a perpetual state of guilt.
Being a parent is about knowing the strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.
That’s what I call “50 Shades of being a parent”! There is no right or wrong. There would be many times when you’d think “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” and that’s normal.
Let’s raise a toast to badass guilt-free parenting!