When I arrived on the Swarthmore campus in 1986, there was a popular t-shirt that many undergrads were wearing, “Guilt without Sex”. My dad laughed out loud when he saw it. Truly at the time, I don’t think I understood it.
As my time went on at Swarthmore, I came to understand it quite clearly. There was the guilt that we all walked around with any minute that we weren’t studying or on our way to studying. The workload was crazy and too much and there was never enough time to do it all. My time there acquainted me with those feelings of constant worry that I wasn’t doing enough, and yes, guilt. (And it was also true that there was not much sex either.)
Fast forward to becoming a parent.
Guilt is a very pervasive emotion. It accompanies so many moments after our children are born. Every phase of their childhood provides us with multiple opportunities to feel guilty.
They aren’t having enough play dates.
I shouldn’t take them to McDonalds.
They watch too much TV.
I shouldn’t leave them with a sitter to go work out.
I shouldn’t buy them another plastic toy just to get through this shopping trip.
I am too hard on them.
I am too easy on them.
I should really be only feeding them organic produce.
I really shouldn’t be using screen time as a reward.
Oh, why do I love that the iPad can keep them so busy for so long?
Am I doing enough?
There is that circular internal conversation loop that we all play. It comes from the best of intentions. It comes from caring and loving and wanting the best for our children.
But I have come to a place of recognizing it and realizing that there is no need for that kind of guilt. It serves no useful purpose. And it drives us crazy. It creates an atmosphere of clouds and worry around all the love that we are desperately trying to give to our children. It doesn’t make us better parents. It makes us anxious parents. And anxious, worried, “am I doing enough?” parents are not allowing themselves to just be in the flow of living.
The “Mindfulness” movement is something that is ancient – so to call it a new idea or a ‘movement’ is very silly. However, it has gotten a lot of recent attention and within our current cloud of parenting resources, it comes up a lot. And I like it. A lot. The concept of slowing down and breathing is exactly right. It takes us out of our self-talk and doubt – and even guilt. It brings us to the present. To the now. That’s where life happens. And if you practice it, the guilt has a way of floating on. Away. Where it belongs.
Guilt doesn’t make us better parents. It only makes us second guess ourselves and regret decisions that we have already made. Don’t allow guilt to take away this moment. You are here. Doing your best. That’s what makes you a good parent. The caring. The awareness. Feel the confidence in that. And just remember this, when it starts to unravel and guilt works its way in (and I know that it will despite all intentions), breathe. Just breathe.
And remember, that all they need is love.