There are times in our parenting lives that seem like natural moments to step back, take a breath, and evaluate how life is going. I find they usually arise around big birthdays, graduations, at the beginning of a new year, or at the start of a new phase of life. I’m in one of those phases.
My youngest child has a big birthday coming up – she’s turning five and will soon be heading off to school. While I know this is a normal and healthy stage of growing up (one she’s ready for), I can’t help feeling that there are only a few golden months left before she goes from being my little girl to an independent school kid. It’s had me reflecting on her preschool years – have I prepared her well for school? Have I done all I can in her critical first 1000 days? And the big one – have I spent enough time with her? If I’m honest, the main thing I’ve been feeling with that last one is guilt.
“Enjoy every moment”
Some classic advice I’ve been given multiple times from more experienced parents (usually the ones with grown children) is, “Enjoy them while they’re young and make the most of every moment – they grow so fast.” I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing one day too – because it’s true. I check on my kids sleeping in bed every night and wonder how they grew so big right before my eyes. Where did the time go? Have I made the most of that time so far?
Have I spent enough time with her?
I recently read an article that referenced nib’s State of the Nation Parenting Survey, noting “three out of four parents worry, to some degree, that they are not spending enough time with their children”. The author wisely brought up the point that ‘enough time’ isn’t quantifiable, so three out of the four of us are asking ourselves a question that we can’t actually answer.
How can I give up that guilt?
The author of that article also referenced a parenting course that she had been on, in which the facilitator told the group they should banish guilt, saying it is a ‘wasted emotion’. The author commented that hearing this advice was liberating, and reading it, I felt similarly liberated. Yas! I’d love to give up my parental guilt – and here was the permission I needed to do it.
Emotions are useful
After reading that article, I tried for a few days to banish my ‘wasted emotion’, to just let it go. The thing is, it didn’t work. I don’t think there are any wasted emotions. All emotions are valuable and they’re there to tell us something. Ignoring them is not the answer, even if it were possible.
It’s kind of like when you feel guilty about how messy your house is. You ignore that feeling for a few days, but at some point, it motivates you to pick the clothes off the floor, get the vacuum cleaner out, and give the house a good tidy. Once you’ve finished, you usually don’t feel bad anymore. The feeling of guilt was useful, and once you listen to it and act on it, it goes away.
Acknowledging feelings and listening to what they’re trying to tell us is better than trying to ignore them. We can’t just stop ourselves feeling something because we want to. We banish feelings by challenging them or dealing with them. Challenging them is asking ourselves if our feelings represent the truth or not. Dealing with them is getting to the bottom of what our feelings are telling us, and making changes if necessary.
Acknowledging my uncomfortable feelings of parental guilt was the first step. Once I’d faced them and stopped trying to run from them, I could move on to exploring my feelings further. I could stop trying to deny that I had a messy house – I could get on with cleaning it up. I’ll be exploring the next stage of dealing with my guilt in my next article. Stay tuned.