I did so unwittingly, trying my best to raise my son on my own the best I could.
Not the type to give in to whining or attempt to buy his love, I didn’t get what I was doing wrong for a long time.
Then one day, I was watching a program on TV that discussed how parents can do things that are harmful to the development of their children, out of their own guilt.
For example, a parent that is not home much may allow children to break the bedtime routine every night they are home. Or a parent scolds their child too severely, and then buys them a treat to make up for yelling at them.
Stunting Growth in the Name of Love
I had layer upon layer of guilt – I had divorced my son’s dad, battled addiction, was distracted by the dating scene, and am sick with a chronic illness that limits my ability to do a lot of activities. My guilt led me to overcompensate by lowering my expectations for my son. I felt bad that he had to deal with so much from me, on top of having to go through life with his own struggles with Autism. I tried to make things easier on him by doing stuff for him that he certainly could’ve done himself at those ages. I didn’t ask for him to learn, grow, and be a more self-sufficient person.
It was mind-altering when I learned that parenting out of guilt was not loving my child, but rather crippling him for any kind of success in life. Instead of pushing him to grow, I was holding him back from maturing. It might have made me feel ‘less guilty’ at the time, to do everything for him, but it certainly wasn’t being the parent he needed me to be.
Once I swallowed that uncomfortable message, I began to make changes, little by little. What my child needs most is consistency, my attention on what he is saying, follow-through on what I say, and structure.
These seem to be some of the first things we drop when we parent out of guilt. We modify the structure, become inconsistent with rules and messages we give our kids, and don’t follow through on our agreements. This then leads to a loss of authority and respect from them.
How to Parent Past Your Mistakes
What works better, I have found, is the following strategy when we feel we have let down our kids:
- Offer a sincere apology.
- Provide an explanation of why we let them down (as appropriate for their age and maturity).
- Listen and attempt to understand their point of view.
- Commit to handling the situation better in the future.
They may enjoy having us ‘make it up to them’ in the moment, but that is not what they really want and need. It certainly doesn’t move them towards maturity. When we slip, it is not a reason to allow everything to slip. Keeping up the expectations and standards for our children, and ourselves, pushes us to become better individuals. Communicating about our weakness, keeping the respect of our children, and demonstrating a new resolve, strengthens the entire family.
* “Happy Bunny Not Listening” is a design by Jim Benton. The image was adapted from the poster featuring his design, sold on Amazon.com (affiliate):