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"If you keep on throwing tantrums over ice-cream, mommy may have a heart attack and go to hospital, or even die!", I remember an acquaintance saying to her two-year all too well.
This shocking statement is the worst example of guilt-based parenting that I have ever heard an actual, real-life, mother use on her young toddler son. Even far milder examples of guilt parenting, examples in which a parent simply says they're ashamed of their child's actions, have scientifically been shown to be bad for kids. The day after a day during which parents use guilt tactics to correct a child's behavior, a Finnish study shows, that child's levels of anger and distress sore. We all know that distress and anger don't do a whole lot to make kids behave more nicely, don't we?
In fact, many modern parents wouldn't hesitate to label this type of parenting emotional abuse. Guilting kids into behaving a certain way may be counterproductive, but it's also mean and wrong. Mean and wrong, yes! What's mean and wrong is universally mean and wrong, is it not?
Why Do Parents Feel Guilt — And What About?
Perhaps you lost your cool when your kid, too, threw one too many tantrums over something you consider silly, and you yelled. Perhaps you yelled too much in general, or spanked your kid or didn't when you think you should have, or had to work when your child had their dance recital, or weren't affectionate enough, or provided the wrong kind of food, or weren't present for as many hours as you would have liked.
Guilt can be a solely internal emotion, one that let's us know that we're not quite comfortable with something we did or didn't do. Guilt can, indeed, be just the wake-up call we need — it can be something signals us that we believe we need to change something. Guilt can also be the result of societal pressures, something that tells us that we're doing things a whole lot differently than other people believe we should. Being human, we second-guess ourselves, even when we ultimately believe that we did the right thing. As a parent, only you can work out whether your feelings of guilt are being caused by others or by yourself.
If your parental guilt results from society — because, for instance, you couldn't breastfeed and are surrounded by lactivists — you may be able to examine the factors that resulted in your mixed emotions, decide that you are right after all or simply did the best you could, and let it go. If, however, your guilt is the result of something within yourself, it may be time for an honest look inward, a look that can free you from an emotion that ultimately doesn't benefit you or your kids.