Guilt is a feeling that I always believed to be associated with doing something wrong.
However, as a parent, all I ever tried to do was what is right—my best. But in my own mind my best was often nowhere near good enough.
The guilt sat comfortably like an old, tired friend who didn’t always have my best interests at heart. It followed me around, attached to me and became a part of my life. It was the one constant that was with my each step of the way.
The truth is that from the moment of conception guilt had eaten away at me. I cannot blame much of the guilty feelings on societies pressures and demands to be a good parent.
The bulk of my guilt had come me and me alone, from within. It entered my thoughts day and night.
Am I spending enough time with my child?
Am I doing all that I can?
Am I good enough?
Am I worthy?
Am I being the best possible parent I can be for my child?
The constant questioning, doubting, mistrusting and judging myself had become normal. And it was nothing to do with whether or not what I was doing was right or wrong—it was all to do with my own insecurities.
A part of the guilt I admit was due to the fact that I was a lone parent. I was trying to do the job of mother and father and often not succeeding at either.
There are no definitive handbooks or written rules to help—each child and each parent is entirely unique, and so, I was making much of it up as I went along.
The only thing I wanted for my child was inner happiness. I believed that I was entirely responsible for this and my quest to provide it drove me to the depths of despair.
I provided food—with what little I had—and a secure home to keep us safe and a warm bed to rest in.
Toys and games filled cupboards and the latest gadgets or technology were always at hand. Books adorned every shelf and opportunities were given for any interest. I provided, provided and provided some more.
But the guilt continued.
While I was at work providing, I was missing out on quality time together. When I arrived home, tired and exhausted, I often did not have the energy for adventure. When I cooked ready-meals and processed foods when it was late and I was hurried, I felt I was sacrificing my child’s health.
When I did housework, I felt that my time should have been given to playing instead of cooking, cleaning, ironing, preparing school uniforms and the other one million and one jobs that also demanded my attention.
I could not relax and spend time alone as I felt I was missing out on time with my child and then would feel so guilty that I was never fully refreshed.
If I disciplined my child, I worried I was being too harsh. When I was lenient I worried I was not setting good boundaries. And when I settled on middle ground, I also found reason to criticise my decisions. There was no winning.
I could multi-task and exhaust myself and survive on a few hours sleep, but still, it was never enough to silence the inner agony. And then, when I was so completely burnt out and sleep-deprived I would feel irritable and snappy, the guilt would compound ten-fold!
Guilt just seemed to grow stronger and more powerful as the days continued. And I allowed it to happen.
I would even feel guilty when I tried to stop feeling guilty!
I soon realised that while I was giving way to these guilty feelings, I wasn’t fully appreciating anything that life was offering. I was giving a small percentage to everything I did—including my child. And there was no percentage at all left for myself.
How could I expect my child to grow up feeling fulfilled and happy, when their role model was not fulfilled and happy? The only option was to find a way out of this and fast. I had to realise that feeling guilty was a role that I had become quite accustomed to playing. It was time to turn things around and instead of feeling guilt, replace the emotion with one that reflected back the true reality of the situation:
Guilt = Care.
Swapping these words in my mind was enough to get me thinking differently, to stop berating myself and to realise that every thought and action was solely for the very best for my child, because I loved and cared for them so much. The guilt was just a by-product of that and something that was weighing me down. It had to be released.
The first step I took was to acknowledge that I couldn’t possibly ever live up to the perfect parent image I had created in my mind. I was striving for the impossible.
I had to stop feeling guilty for being too busy. Life was busy. It was up to me to reshuffle, prioritise and to start giving my full attention to everything I did.
Quality time was what was important, not quantity time.
I was with my child a lot, but not connecting properly as I was too busy rushing around, trying to fulfil my role as supermom.
I also reminded myself that every time I felt guilty, it was only because I cared so much about my child that I wanted to do the right thing. Everything I did was from a place of love. Whether right or wrong, it was always with the right intention. I had to keep reminding myself of this constantly.
I had to fully accept that I would make mistakes, get things wrong and from time to time be impatient, frustrated and feel stressed, I am human, I will mess up, but I will always make things right.
I realised that while I may not be able to provide the very best that life has to offer, what I do give has come from blood, sweat and tears and I would go to the ends of the earth if I had to, to keep my child safe.
I remind myself over and again that the material things in life are not what matter, and passing this on to my child is more valuable than any gift or possession on the planet. Happiness, love, joy, compassion, companionship, adventure and care are all free. These are the things that give us the greatest pleasure.
I remember that being a parent is not always easy.
Being a parent means being responsible for another human being and wanting to give them the very best start possible. Guilt is just nature’s way of reminding of the importance of this, so that I check in regularly to be sure I am on the right track. I now acknowledge the emotion and then, let it go, knowing I am doing my very best.
I may not be the greatest parent in the world, but I am the best that I can possibly be given the set of circumstances surrounding me.
Most of all, the last thing I would want is to live by example and have my child weighed down with guilt when they eventually become a parent. I realised that I had to let it go to be sure that I do not pass it on. Parenting is something too valuable to be tainted by negative emotions, especially one that has been caused by myself.
I look back and of course I could have done things differently. But I look at my child and I am proud of who they have become. Like the effect a butterfly has, the flicker of its wings can cause changes right across the world.
I would not risk changing anything, and so, I reflect and then let go of the guilt.
And for all that I could have done differently, I always have a new day to begin again and make amends.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Alex Sandra Myles
Editor: Renee Picard
Image: Valics Lehel at Pixoto