Maria had wanted a freer teenage life than her parents had, and had allowed her to have. When Maria rebelled and hung out with other rebellious kids her age, her parents used harsh threatening and punative measures to scare her into following their rules. This deeply scarred Maria, who never forgot how it felt to be fourteen.
Her underdeveloped social-emotional and critical thinking experiences by this age caused Maria to experience an arrested development: she continued to see the world through the eyes of her fourteen year old self – a world that was unfair and withholding, even until and throughout the time she raised her own children. As they grew up, she could not see past this lens of parenting from a position of remembering her own desire to be friends with her parents, and of not getting what she felt she deserved. So, Maria parented as a friend who felt guilty when her children begged her to go here and there, to have this gadget and that outfit, and stay out until this time, and go clubbing at this age, etc. Maria parented from a place of her own fourteen year old needs not being met and not being understood by her adult self, and therefore, out of a place of the wrong kind of guilt.
Maria felt guilty that the kids didn’t have every thing they asked for. Maria felt guilty that she and their father divorced. Maria felt guilty that her children witnessed their mom being treated poorly by a man in a subsequent relationship. Maria felt guilty that she was, in her eyes, such a bad parent. So she made up for this guilt by letting her children walk all over her. Maria set limits all the time, but never followed through on them by making sure the consequences she issued were really made to happen. Maria let her frustrations build up without addressing them for fear her children would hate her. This frustration would build up until she screamed at them, sometimes cursing and calling them names. Later, she bought them things and let them do whatever they wanted to make up for the guilt she felt for what she had done. And not done. Still wishing she could give them everything they wanted, and that they could all be friends.
And her children resented her for all of this, for they wanted the structure that made them feel cared for by a stable parent with consistent limit setting and follow through. Whose parenting stance and rules made them feel emotionally safe. They wanted to have limits set for them by emotionally stable parents, and wanted them to follow through with consequences when they crossed the line. Despite what their behavior sometimes suggested, they wanted to feel the emotional safety of being cared about and loved by parents who risked being unlikeable and unfriendable, and even temporarily hateable.
Setting limits and walking the talk means that Maria risks not getting her own teenage needs met vicariously through her children. It means that she must recognize her own guilty self-recrimination and seek self-understanding as an informed, mature adult. To do this it means Maria must seek support to learn to lovingly “visit, see, and hold” all aspects of herself, including her fourteen year old self, with loving kindness and compassion as a fully mature woman with objective, sensitive thinking skills. It means she must learn and develop healthy relationship skills with herself so that she can be the balance and structure her children need most from her. For the safety and security of her children, and that of their children whom they may likely parent as she does.
The right kind of guilt is the kind that gnaws at our self interests and actions when they seem to over ride the greater needs of our and our children’s development, of our own and their chances for capacity building, and of our own and their experiences of stability, health, balance, and safety.
Actions taken from the right kind of guilt demonstrate recognition of our responsibility rather than an entitled victim mentality. If we’re lucky, the support we receive to get there can assist us in achieving deep compassion, a wisened humility, and gratitude for what blessings we already have.