Saturday, November 20, 2010

The guilty parent

A few years ago I offered some childrens craft books to a friend, she accepted saying, "I will put them in my guilt box."  I asked what she meant, and she told me it was a box full of things she wanted to do with the kids but never did, which made her feel guilty.  Since that time I have become aware of my own feelings of guilt associated with raising my own children.  I knew why I felt guilty, because society said in order to be a good parent I needed to provide them with every opprotunity in sports, music, art, and education and if I didn't they would fail as adults.  Afterall this is a dog eat dog world, and we as adults know what it takes to get to the top.  If we don't start our kids off with every skill they will need to succeed they will never succeed.  Right?  I don't think it quite works that way. 

First, I think lots of parents try to make other parents feel guilt to justify their own behaviors.  This is such an easy trap to fall into.  Everyone does it.  I've done it.  Its really hard to remove our own feelings when giving a friend advice, just talking to someone about something to help them work it out or listen to someone complain when we would have done things differently.  But, its their life to live and their decisions to make.  Not ours.  Even though something has worked perfectly for you and your family, and you want to share that with someone, that does not mean it would work well for someone elses family.  For instance, I have seen kids grow up to be wonderful young adults from parents I really doubted were doing a good job.  They weren't parenting in the way I thought they should, things that to me were very basic principles of parenting.  And yet their children not only turned out fine, they turned out great!  And I don't think it was inspite of their parenting.  They are their parents children,  for them and their family it worked for them.  It was their genes and their heritage and they knew what they were doing. Its been humbling. 

Second, we have forgotten what it is to be an individual.  We have become a society of beige. Where everyone is supposed to be the same.  Yes, we are all equal, but equal does not mean we all have to be identical.  My husband and I are equals but we are totally different creatures.  I like mysteries and he likes cartoons, I like peppers and he likes cabbage, I am self motivated and he is a follower.  Not everyone is meant to be a Bill Gates.  We all need to have different experiences to make us who we are meant to be.  If everyone has the same experiences we won't have the wide array of people we should have.  Just because you gave your child every opportunity in life doesn't mean they were meant to use them, likewise if you didn't that doesn't mean your child won't succeed.  Not everyone is meant to be a great sports player or musician.  Some of us are meant to be geeks, sitting behind a computer all day.  And thats ok too.  Instead of trying to get your kids to do everything everyone is doing, why not focus on what your child is really good at and let them pursue that.  I remember putting my daughter in soccer in first grade.  I am sure she enjoyed it, but she was never very good.  Now I can see my children are not athletes. While the dh and I both loved sports I don't think we passed on any of those genes to our children.  Most of our kids are so uncoordinated they can't even walk through the living room without tripping on a shadow and hurting themselves.  The nerd gene is strong with us.

Third, money does not make someone a better person.  You can spend all the money in the world on education and training and still have someone grow up and want nothing to do with that sport or be in any sort of high profile job.  Some of the best things in life are free.  If you can't afford to send you kids to a private school or dance lessons or sports camp don't feel guilty.  Its better to have your children grow up in a home where proper finances are taught than grow up thinking they can get everything they want.  They will be a much more rounded individual if they know how to handle money then expecting everything to be handed to them. 

Looking back at my childhood I can say all the years of gymnastics and soccer were fun but I don't think it made me any better of a person.  And having the opportunity to travel to different countries, see great works of art and meet incredible people didn't make me any better of a writer or a mother.  My husband didn't get to have any of those things and I think he is a freakin awesome person.  So stop feeling guilty already.  You are doing the best you can.  Thats what I finally came down to believing.  If God thought my kids needed all those things He would have provided them.  And unless you need that guilt box for kindling, donate it to someone who could actually use it. 

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