Childrearing

Splitsville: Is Parental Guilt Spoiling Our Kids?

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

As concerned people everywhere enjoy pointing out, children born to single parents tend to have a more difficult time. Recent studies say that it has more to do with education than marital status, but three years ago, I was constantly reminded by super well-meaning individuals that having my daughter by myself was damning her to a difficult life. Since all of this advice was doled out after I was already pregnant and my daughter’s father was effectively missing-in-action, I really appreciated it.

Instead of being helpful or even appropriate, all these comments did was make me feel extremely guilty for bringing my little girl into the world with only me for support. For a while, I tried to make my relationship work with a man who was not capable of or interested in being a father. After waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby and finding her father missing from the house, I finally called it quits, but not without even more stress and guilt. Choosing to raise my daughter in a single-parent household was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make as a mother.

Parental guilt is nothing new. We all experience it. For parents who have split up, that guilt can be doubled and tripled. We have to share our children’s time, which makes every minute seem more valuable. Many parents feel competition for their children’s affection, which makes them eager to give in to even the most ridiculous demands. Guilt can lead parents to make concessions and excuses for even the worst of our kids’ behavior. So how on earth do parents curb that ever-present guilt?

We have to acknowledge that its not helping our children. Spoiling our children to make up for our own guilty conscious will never help our children. It will tell them that they are the very center of the universe, because they are the center of their parents’ universe. Your children might be your top priority, but they can never be your only priority. And its your job to teach them that, along with so many other things. Its your job to introduce them to independence, even if that moves them further away from you.

As parents, we have to realize that when your children need you, its not the same as loving you. Our work as parents is to teach our children how to stop needing us. Even when we aren’t taking care of them, they can still love us. In fact, if personal history has taught me anything, they’ll probably love us a lot more once we stop taking care of them. I think the myriad of ways that we try to prove our love and dedication to our children, mostly to assuage all that pent-up guilt, end up hindering their growth. Hopefully, we’ve all read Lori Gottlieb’s How To Land Your Kid in Therapy, but I think this was a big part of her argument. We can’t protect our kids from everything. And trying to, simply to ease our own fears about a broken home, won’t help anyone.