Guilt Parenting

In order to help the family unit run smoother and for the better emotional health of all the family members we need healthy boundaries. Breaking boundaries does a disservice to everyone involved, even if the broken boundary feels good at the time. The results that broken boundaries brings in the long run can be devastating to a family or an individual.

One harmful outcome of having broken boundaries is guilt parenting. This can happen with both a mother and a father, it can happen in nuclear families as well as blended families. It is more common than it used to be in nuclear families since both parents usually work and parents may feel guilty about that. It happens a lot in blended families in both the cases of the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent, although it is more common with non-cutsodial parents.

WHAT IS GUILT PARENTING? Guilt parenting is when a parent chooses to parent his or her children out of guilt or fear rather than doing what is right or best. It can take on many shapes and forms and usually involves rewarding poor behavior and the guilty parent has many excuses. A guilty parent may feel guilty about not seeing his or her child every day, about putting the child through a divorce, a new marriage or a new sibling, about moving the child from a place they are familiar with, or many other reasons. A guilty parent may be afraid of losing the child -- he or she may be afraid the child won't want to come visit anymore or that the child won't like the parent or think the parent is cool.

Another aspect of guilt parenting is that the parent can only see what is right in front of him or her. He sees his child is upset and feels guilty or fearful and reacts to these feelings rather than what is best for the child and the enire family. If the parent really wants what is best for the child and the family she will need to step back and look at the big picture. What is this teaching my child? How is this helping or hurting my child's future? How will this make the other children in the family feel? What does my spouse think of this?

HOW CAN YOU RECOGNIZE GUILT PARENTING? As already mentioned it can take many shapes and forms, there are probably as many different ways to guilt parent as there are guilty parents. An obvious example is when a child wants something and starts to throw a fit or start crying and the parent gives the child what they want. Another example is if a child starts yelling at or bossing the parent, the parent complies with the child as if the child were the parent and the parent were the child. If a child is given more of a say in household matters than the adults that is a good sign of guilt parenting. Often a parent who guilt parents will give the child equal or top say in how things are run in the home. Buying presents for the child on an unusually frequent basis is another symptom of guilt parenting. One guilty dad used to take his child shopping every time that he picked her up for a visit, which was 1-2x a week.

You will often hear many excuses for guilt parenting. Here are some, but certainly not all, excuses that you will hear: "I just want her to feel at home here," "I want her to know how much I love her," "I don't want him thinking that I am mean," "I don't want him to not want to come and visit anymore," "I have to protect my child," etc. If you are the spouse you are likely to hear the following: "You hate my child!" "You don't care about my child!" "You are out to get my child!" "You don't want my child to have anything good!" "You don't want my child to be a part of this family" etc. If you have children, too, you will likely feel that it is his children versus your children. Often the guilty parent will come across as having a strong victim mentality, nothing is their fault or the child's fault.

WHY IS GUILT PARENTING BAD? It is bad for many reasons, one reason being that it rewards bad behavior and teaches the child that they get what they want through manipulation. Imagine a child who is used to getting their way by throwing fits or bullying others, what do you think life will be like for that child when they are grown up? When they get a job they will expect the boss to jump in and give him or her what s/he wants once they start to throw a fit or bully co-workers. In a romantic relationship the child will expect the same things. As the old saying goes: "What a mom doesn't mind doing, a wife surely will!"

The parent who guilt parents is setting their child up for a very difficult adulthood. One of the main jobs of parents is to teach children how the world works and what reality is like. A child who was guilt parented is at a severe disadvantage because the world will not give the child everything that they want when they want it. The child will end up going from job to job and relationship to relationship unsatisfied with life. They may even end up in jail if they think they can get what they want by bullying others. What children need more than presents and rewards is a parent who is both strong and loving, one who can set firm and loving boundaries.

Aside from what guilt parenting does to the child guilt parenting is extremely destructive to the marriage and family. I have never met or heard of any spouse of a guilty parent who is happy with the situation. When a parent chooses to guilt parent they are putting the imagined needs of the child ahead of the real needs of the marriage and family. This is extremely destructive to the family unit as well as to the child. Guilt parenting makes the other members of your family (spouse, your spouse's children, children that you have had with your spouse) feel like you care more about the child that you are guilt parenting. This leads to resentment and a loss of respect for you. Your other family members also feel like your child has more control over the house than anyone else because you let the child's mood and behaviors run the household. The breaks down communication, trust and love all of which are necessary for a healthy family.

HOW CAN WE BREAK THE CYCLE? If you are guilty of guilt parenting then acknowledging it is a great first step. Once you realize that you need to change your behavior for the betterment of your child and your family and marriage you will need to be on the lookout for ways that you guilt parent and what triggers you to guilt parent. Learning about healthy boundaries is great step to take as well, looking up articles online and buying books will help you to learn about appropriate boundaries. If you are truly serious about changing, ask your spouse what they think you need to change -- because they are the one who has been living with you and has seen your guilt parenting like nobody else!

If you are the spouse of a guilty parent, you have your work cut out for you -- even if they admit that they guilt parent and need to change. You can do some things to help your spouse change his or her ways, even if they don't think they have a problem. Be prepared that it will take work and patience on your part, but it can be done! You can help by kindly pointing out what the long-term effects of guilt parenting is doing to their child. You will also have to go out of your way to show your spouse that you care about his child and that you really do want what is best for the child. Likely, you are very sensitive to the effects of the guilt parenting and have built strong boundaries around yourself to protect yourself from the situation. You will need to loosen up some of those boundaries in order to do the things listed above.