Tag Archives: guilt

Dealing with Parent Guilt: Some of the Best Advice I Got

Speaking of guilt: I’m a very avid advice seeker.  I mean, why not prevent things from happening by getting the advice to do just that, rather than fall into the same trap as others have?  And so, right after we got married, my husband and I started reaching out to our generous and loving friends who had children to ask them about their learnings and insights.  To each, we always asked: what is the one piece of advice you wish you could have given yourself?

My husband and I are also huge nerds; we have been following a couple of the major parenting blogs for quite some time now.  And the case of both our friends and of parent bloggers, one theme seems to rule them all: that of Parent Guilt.

I think any parent, however new, deals with this feeling pretty early on in their journey.  It seems inevitable, and it seems at times that Parent Guilt can even break a marriage long after the last child has long flown the nest.  It seemed to my husband and I that it was something that we had to deal with—and the sooner, the better.

We were lucky enough to get this brilliant piece of advice pretty early on during our own journey as parents, and our friend is kind enough to let me share it with readers.

Parent guilt has to be fought from the bottom up from the very beginning, which means, even before you’re pregnant, on a firm foundation of striving for excellence.

In other words:

  • Make sure that you are doing your best as soon as you decide you want children, and keep that up as much as you can. Compare yourself to only yourself; make sure you are doing a little bit better each day.  What better gift to give your child than that of your best self?
  • Don’t feel guilty about anything.   All.  Even the smallest thing can fester and become a big, gaping, emotional wound.

It sounds great, but in a world that seems to thrive on guilt, what does this process look like in a parents’ day-to-day life?

“Data,” our friend said without hesitation.  “Evidence-based guilt fighting.  You feel that you are a bad parent because of this one thing you did wrong?  Make a list of all the things you did right on the same day.  See which list is longer.  My bet is, the latter will be much, much, much longer.”

This is great advice not just for parents, but for anyone who deals with guilt.  Whatever you do, you will feel guilty if that’s the pattern of thought you choose to engage in.  So don’t let guilt in, even–or perhaps especially–with the small stuff.  It’s just not worth it.  Just think about it — do you remember the times your own mom zoned out in front of the TV, or all the times she was there playing right beside you?  My bet is you remember the latter more than the former.

Dwelling: Reflecting Without Movement

Breaking news: everyone makes mistakes.  What a great thing, since mistakes are a great way to learn and to advance at all levels of our lives, be it materially, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  The tools we need to make the most of our mistakes include the art of reflection, i.e. to analyse deeply what we did, what happened, and what we can do differently when faced with a similar situation again.  Mistakes, then, as way to inspire change in our behaviour, can become a powerful contributor to the process of individual transformation.

But what if we get caught in the reflection phase?

I think that’s what dwelling is: reflection without the subsequent, essential movement of acting on what we have learned.  The challenge is that when we dwell, the reflection becomes dark, dreary, and depressing.  We focus too much on the actual mistake and we forget about its positive aspects.  And it’s something that a lot of people around me do.

How can we not get caught dwelling and instead reflect?

Regarding Goals

One big stumbling block we ourselves place on our road to change is to make massive, sweeping goals that are impossible to achieve.  For example, we shouldn’t decide to “become patient.”  After all, there is no such thing as someone who is perfectly, 100% patient—everyone has a breaking point.  So the goal to become patient is inherently impossible.

However, breaking down that goal into smaller, achievable ones makes them achievable.  In this case, one trick seems to be to train yourself to reach your breaking point later and later.  So the reachable equivalent goal becomes “I lost my patience after ten minutes.  Next time, I will try to last fifteen minutes at least before snapping.”

Now that you have a measurable goal, you can actually achieve it.  And because it’s just tough enough to make you uncomfortable but not that difficult, soon you will find that remaining patient for 15 minutes is as easy as it was to stay patient for 10 minutes, so you can then see the progress you made and set a new goal of 20 minutes.

Letting Go Of Guilt

Guilt seems to be the coffee of this generation’s emotions.  We seem to love wallowing in it, despite the fact that it makes us suffer so much.  But see, it’s vital to let go of it.  Once you have made a mistake, reflected on it, and set a goal, the guilt needs to go.  I mean come on—the mistake has been made.  What’s done is done.

One way of letting go of guilt is to find something else to think about when the guilt moves in.  One of my friends thinks about the latest piano piece he is learning to play; another thinks about recipes and dinner parties, which he loves to throws.  I think about the next blog post I am going to write.

Mantras are an easier, pre-established way of distracting one’s thoughts of guilt.  Purchasing a print copy of one’s mantra can also serve as a powerful and beautiful remind of what we are trying to achieve.

Tracking Progress

The abovementioned quantitative progress should be tracked, as the numbers can serve as a healthy reminder, on our darker days, that there is hope for us in the future if we keep trying.  But the numbers are a reflection of much deeper work that we are doing in our minds and hearts.  To keep track of those changes, journaling remains the best tool available to us.  Going back and reading my old journals has made me realise how much I have changed over the course of a handful of years, and helps strengthen my determination, even on the toughest of days, to continue forward rather than giving up.

Living Our Life to the Fullest: Choosing What to Focus our Thoughts On

It feels like an increasing number of my friends are battling the blues. Having the privilege of being a confidant to many of them, I have had many occasions to reflect on what causes said blues. Reflecting with my friends, we realized that often, they become blue because they dwell on unpleasant things.

We know that we shouldn’t dwell on the unpleasant things of life. While it is essential for our survival to know what can go wrong so that we can avoid it, dwelling on these things entrenches pattern of negative thoughts in ourselves, patterns that sap our energy. And yet, as recently posted by Things We Forget, “for every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Dwelling wastes precious time we could instead spend on being happy.

A subset of things we dwell on seems to be the wrongs, real or perceived, others have wrought on us. The abovementioned applies: why dwell, which saps our precious, limited energy, and waste time being hurt instead of happy? Furthermore, when relationships become difficult, it is usually related to a lack of maturity on both parts. We should perhaps then remember that “an infant must not be treated with disdain simply because it is an infant.” Dwelling on negative things related to bad friendships wastes precious time we instead could spend on good friendships.

Learning not to dwell on the unpleasant things in life seems all the more important in the context of community building. A community is not built by a group of people dwelling on unpleasant relationships. Rather, it is built on a group of people who have strong bonds of friendship; these allow for consultations geared on addressing the needs of the times they live in.

So, how can we adopt a healthy mode of learning that balances the need for “survival” with that of not wasting time dwelling?

I personally think it starts with oneself; we should stop dwelling on everything we do wrong. “We must be patient with others, infinitely patient! But also with our poor selves.” Not that we should pat ourselves on the shoulder, far from that. Rather, in a spirit of constantly striving to become better, we should “persevere and add up [our] accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and a bright side.” Dwelling on what we do wrong is not going to help us become better. But by building on our strengths, we can slowly overcome our weaknesses. If instead we choose to dwell on our weaknesses, it can be lead into very dark places. But, as Helen Keller said, “[k]eep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”

Something else I realized through these amazing conversations with my friends is that if one manages to learn how to focus on what is important, the rest will fall away and will become easy to shrug off, even self-doubt, self-guilt and dwelling on other unpleasant things in life. Think of yourself walking on a path. The slower you walk, the more you have time to notice details on the sides of the path that will distract you from getting to your final destination. But the faster you walk, focusing on the quality of each step, learning to walk more and more efficiently, focused on the end goal, the more the side paths, the distractions, the unimportant things become a blur, and the sharper and clearer your goals become.

And so, which path will you choose? And how will you walk it?

Scared of the dark… Inside of us

I was this reading this article on the CBC website and it hit me.  We are most vocal about the things that scare us about ourselves, the things we perceive as the darker side of our nature that we refuse to acknowledge. It is as if being against it in the public sphere will just magically make us forfeit it in our private sphere. Perhaps it is a form of guilt-tripping – guilting the problem out of ourselves by guilting it out of others.

What if we stopped this guilt-tripping culture? What if we embraced who we are, stop fighting it, and instead spend our energy on becoming who we want to be?