Why parenting from guilt doesn’t help anyone

Maybe you’ve been going through a bad time in your relationship with your partner or you’ve been working long hours. Whatever the reason, often times we find ourselves parenting from guilt with negative repercussions on our child. So we tend to buy them extravagant things to make up for time not spent with them. We focus on tangible objects rather than experiences – expensive things bought rather than a fun day at the park with them. We do things for them than with them. This is the classic “Disneyland Dad” phenomenon. Instead of relaxed time spent together frequently, we tend to pack in a lot of experiences into a little time to make it memorable. These adventures often go hand in hand with buying extravagant things to make the memories sweeter.

What happens to your child?

Guilt parenting isn’t good by any stretch of imagination. But it has negative effects on your child.

  1. It teaches them that manipulative behaviour gets results – it worked with you, they think it’ll work with everyone.
  2. It sets them up for a difficult adulthood. People who’ve been indulged excessively as kids from whatever reason fail to realize that that’s not the way life is, even when they grow up. They expect from others what their parents gave to them.
  3. They end up thinking the parent who’s indulging from guilt “loves” them more. This leaves the other parent resentful and strains the family’s relationship.

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How to stop the cycle 

1. Be aware of the situation

Figure out when your actions are motivated by genuine need, love or affection and when it is motivated by guilt. Acceptance is the first step to change. If you realize that your actions are fuelled from guilt, try to stop immediately.  Tell yourself that guilt is a choice. Remind yourself that you are indeed doing the best you can for your family and that you needn’t overcompensate. Make efforts to change your situation – if you’ve been working late, try to get the whole weekend off to spend with your child. If you’re going through a divorce, make sure to assure your child that this doesn’t change his/her situation and that you will make it as bearable as possible for them.

2. Be instead of buy

 Love is unconditional. And this is what your child needs from you. On the surface, the extravagant gifts will seem to give him more joy. But as he grows, what he’s going to remember are those days spent with you trekking. Not that broken remote controlled car in some corner of the garage. Understand that what you’re trying is to in fact buy your child’s affection. Instead, spend a few minutes talking to them – about their day, about their relationships, what made them happy or sad, etc. This will strengthen your emotional bond with them.

3. Ask yourself why

If you’re plagued about your own guilt parenting, take a pause and ask why. Any fear is simply the unsettled feeling of the unknown or uncharted. Don’t fall into the pitfall of suspecting that your guilt is going to ruin your child’s childhood, etc. Instead talk to a trusted adult – your partner perhaps and work to put it at bay and enjoy a fulfilling relationship with your child.

Remember that experiences matter. Things don’t. Don’t parent from guilt. Get past it.

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