The Power of Guilt Parenting

Like many families in the 21st century both my husband and I work. We work long hours. Even the 9 to 5 workday seems to be a thing of the past. The vast majorities of the families I work with are also ‘two parent working’ families.

Our time is particularly tight. I remember pre-kids, working a late night, or finishing a project over the weekend was a non-event. Perhaps slightly irritating, but there was still no need to clock watch.

Enter the modern day parent dilemma – guilt.

Not just any guilt either, this is a unique kind of guilt – the Parent Guilt. Whether you work because you want to or because you need to the outcome is still the same. I love my job. I would go spare if I could not go to work.

Working has always been a huge part of who I am, and I have no problem with that. However, post kids things shift.

Parent guilt occupies its own space in the brain.

It is an amalgamation of intense love, the balance of work, family and societal pressure, the pull between self-identity and parental duty, and the deep desire to do what is best for your child.

Parental guilt is real, and different from any other guilt you have ever experienced.

Parental guilt is of special significance to me and the work I do. This is because, when a parent is time poor and wracked with guilt, they often don’t make the best choices regarding their child’s behaviour.

I see it with my own family. The last thing you feel like after 9 hours in the office, is to spend the only 1.5 hours you have with your child negotiating over what they will or won’t eat for dinner.

You most definitely do not want to spend your precious bonding time with your 2-year-old dealing with a complete meltdown over them getting into bed. So what we tend to do is give in, or make special dispensation to keep the peace.

Oh ok - you can have wheatbix for dinner. Sure you can stay up and extra hour and watch Frozen. Mummy bought home some chocolate to have after dinner (or instead of). Daddy won't make you have a bath if you don’t want it.

The list goes on.

You hardly want to spend the short time you have with your children arguing. I very much get that.

So why is this an issue?

My push is for effective, efficient parenting.

What decisions can we make in the time that we have available to us, to actually effect change in our children’s lives?

What will actually lead to them being more successful adults?

And what does this have to do with me keeping the peace at home so I can spend quality time with my kids?

Well, strong evidence is emerging which points to self-control being the single most important factor for success in adult life. If you think about it, most of your ‘I wish I was….’ moments could be achieved with some self-control.

Much of this research started with a very simple study done on four-year-olds. It is called the ‘Marshmallow Test’, and many of you may have already heard of it.

Four-year-olds were given a marshmallow and told that the researcher is going to leave the room for a few minutes. If the marshmallow was still there when the researcher returned – they could have a second marshmallow. If they ate the marshmallow they would not get any more.

These children, and many more since, were followed through to adulthood.

Those who were able to hold off having the marshmallow until the researcher returned were more likely to do well in school and succeed in their chosen areas in adulthood. Those who couldn’t hold out were more likely to end up in prison, on unemployment benefits, have health problems, and be divorced.

What does this mean for parents?

Well the good news is you don’t have to spread yourself thin trying to be perfect. Children need to feel safe and loved, and to be taught self-control. So with everything you do you need to ask, am I teaching my child;

  • That they are safe.
  • That they are loved.
  • How to have self-control

Try and make each decision with those 3 principles in mind.

Is letting your child get their own way with meal times teaching them those three principles? Is allowing them to stay up past their bedtime providing the above principles?

Just remember, it is not all about the latest activities, the amount of time you spend with your children, or buying the most expensive gear – it can be kept simple and best of all following these 3 concepts is absolutely free!


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