Hi everyone. Welcome back to my Reflection Thursday series in which I’m reflecting on happiness, wellness, and being your best self!
I often joke that I’m a guilty Catholic. I am in fact Catholic but I’m not sure if my Catholic upbringing is responsible for how much time I’ve spent over my life feeling guilty.
Often, when I’m not with my kids, I feel guilty. I feel guilty if I’m not the one to do something for them, like give them a bath or put them to bed on date night (I’m very fortunate to have babysitters that help me). If I’m with one kid, I feel guilty that I’m not with the other. I feel guilty when I’m working on my blog when my daughter wants me to draw Hello Kitty for her. Sometimes I even feel guilty that my kids are healthy, that my husband is kind, and that I am lucky enough to have the luxury to exercise. I can find myself wallowing in oceans of guilt over situations that could not have been avoided. You name it, I’ve felt guilty about it.
Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how to stop feeling guilty about everything. In fact, I’ve come to believe that overcoming guilt is a key part to happiness. I also think getting rid of guilt is making me a better mom and helping me raise my children to be independent people. Here’s why…
What is guilt? For me, guilt is a sense of regret combined with responsibility. For example, if you missed an event that is important to your child — say, his baseball game — because you simply forgot about it, you might feel guilty because you regret something you did not do (go to the game), and you feel responsible for the other person’s (your child’s) feelings.
I believe that there are times that we SHOULD feel guilty, such as in the case above. If we have carelessly disregarded someone else’s feelings or failed to take care of them, we should feel that internally. Guilt can encourage responsibility, it can liven us to take action, it can encourage entire countries to help other countries. In that sense, guilt is a negative emotion that can provoke positive results; it’s useful and important.
But there are other forms of guilt that lead to nothing but dampening otherwise joyful moments. With this type of guilt, as a person or a parent, you haven’t really done anything wrong, yet you are punishing yourself because you don’t feel entitled to enjoy something. No positive result is achieved; rather, you’ve only cut into what could have been a good or productive time.
Case in point: you put your kids in a day camp. You have some time to get stuff done around the house, do the shopping, work out, and then get some work done. Your kids are with other kids, learning something, being social, and generally having a fun day. Kids are smart and they can pull at your heartstrings. When you pick them up, one says: “Mommy, I missed you all day, why can’t I be with you?” You ask the counselor and she says your girl was great all day, laughing and enjoying herself.
Now, five years ago, I would have been wallowing in guilt and probably pulled my daughter out of the camp, or let her play hookie for a day, or picked her up early or dropped her off late, because I would have felt that as her mother, I should make sure that I am there for her.
And the mom I am today, what would she do? I think I would look at my daughter and say: “you had a great day and so did Mom, and now it’s time to have dinner, read and do some fun stuff. Mommy can do her own thing, and you can too.”
I think I would respond like this because in addition to teaching my kids to be independent, I’m trying to teach them not to make me (and others) feel guilty! I want my kids to understand that I balance a myriad of responsibilities. Often, I might not be with them, but I am figuring things out for them: signing them up for activities, making sure their clothes are ready for the next day, filling up water bottles, buying sunblock, sending in medical forms, planning a family movie night. This isn’t time with the kids, but it is time for the kids, to try to make their lives better. And of course, I try to be with them as much as possible, because I love being with them, want to teach them as much as I can, and want to share in as much of their lives as possible.
As my children grow up and enter into all sorts of different relationships, I think that it will help them to understand that they aren’t the center of anyone’s world and that each and every person has a lot on their plate. I’m thinking that this will give them reasonable expectations and make them independent and strong.
For us parents, there are certainly moments when we should feel guilty, when we could have done better by our kids. But there are also plenty of moments when we are entitled to spend some time with our partners or girlfriends apart from our kids, enjoy, and not punish ourselves for it. In fact, this time apart refreshes us and gives us more energy and enthusiasm with our kids. We can bring our positive energy and jest for life back to them. And as to those time when we have messed up? I say apologize, try to do better, and move on.
So what do you say, mamas? Let’s GET RID OF GUILT. You with me?