The Burden of Guilt

Today I went for a run and I saw a mom and daughter running around the reservoir. We were going opposite directions so we passed each other twice. The first time I saw them, the little girl who was probably 10 or 11 was NOT into it. Her mom was, though, coaching her to take bigger strides. “One, two, three” her mom counted out. “Did you do it? Did you try?” She was trying so hard to be a cheerleader for her daughter, who was red-faced and tired. I eventually passed them again, once again, Mom was her biggest supporter, “Yes, you CAN do this. You really can. I know it!” Her daughter walked/ran with her. I never saw how the run ended, but the moment stuck with me.

My mind started wandering, trying to guess what was going on. Mom was trying so hard to get her daughter invested and excited about going for a run. If we are driven by needs, what was the mother’s need? My guess is that she was trying really hard to get healthy, had made progress, and wanted her daughters to get healthy with her. But it somehow seemed like a punishment.

Parenting is tough. I know–that’s an understatement. But what I saw while running today made me think of the parents of my clients. Whether it’s a parent of a kid with developmental trauma, a parent of a child who has been victimized by the other parent, or maybe this mother who was running with her daughter today and possibly blaming herself for not making health a priority sooner, the burden of guilt can be crippling.

As a parent, you’re responsible for another life, so when things happen and your child is affected, it’s really hard not to be crushed by the weight of the guilt. I’ve seen the tears well up as we coach parents on how to respond to their child in a new way. I’ve seen the hypervigilance in keeping their child safe after a trauma has been reported. And I’ve seen parents afraid to upset their child by disciplining them because their child has already had it so hard, or maybe they buy gifts to compensate for the guilt. It’s like they’re walking around with a sign that says, “It’s my fault.” But it isn’t. It really isn’t.

I’m convinced at any given moment, we’re all doing the best we can, with the tools and knowledge we have. How on earth could it possibly be your fault that you didn’t know? Or that you were running on empty? We’re all learning. We’re all growing. We all get tired… really, really tired. You’re not the same parent you were five years ago, or even 1 year ago, or shoot, even 5 minutes ago. You know more. And with that, you can be the support and parent your child needs. You’re not digging yourself out of a hole. It’s not about placing blame. It’s about moving forward better equipped for whatever comes your way. My last thought is this: good parents are the ones who keep trying and keep learning. Good parents are the ones who keep looking for answers…from blogs (nudge, nudge), professionals, friends, or loved ones. Good parents are the ones who are determined to live up to the responsibility of caring for their children.

That’s you—you’re a good parent.

*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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