When I worked the night shift—often several night shifts in a row—I would feel guilty over how much time I was missing with my kids. I would make plans for taking them somewhere fun the minute that I woke up in order to compensate for my absence. I felt that I needed to make up for being gone and prove my love for them.
My three twelve-hour days at work meant the kids had been having adventures with Grandma and no one had been home to buy groceries, do laundry, or clean the house. My husband did what he could, but he was working too. Running off on adventures was not the most constructive use of my time off. And it left us with even less time for housework, which left the house a mess and cupboards empty. My stress level was on the rise as I had worked myself into a destructive cycle.
There is nothing wrong with having fun together, and structuring time for fun together is important, so what was the problem?
My problem was that guilt was the motivating force in my parenting. My guilt led me to make poor decisions in caring for my family. When we act out of guilt, we focus on our own insecurities, distort the reality of the situation, and miss the wisdom in the big picture. Guilt-based parenting is indulgent instead of setting healthy limits.
Guilt-based parenting is never very productive. When we feel guilty for the time we missed in parenting our children, we tend to overindulge when we are with them. We don’t feel we have the right to discipline, so we overlook bad behavior and take a passive approach to discipline. This creates children who are over-indulged and resistant to parental authority, which is never a good combination.
That summer of working full-time nights probably made my kids wonder if life is all play and no work! It took me a while to be okay with having low-key fun days together at the house without trying to compete with the adventures Grandma had given them. We learned to have fun together doing the tasks and chores that we needed to accomplish. We had time together, and we made it a game, but we focused on the tasks at hand. I had to recognize that working was what had to be done in that season and guilt was only going to complicate the situation. I needed to forgive myself and accept the challenges of the situation.
We parent out of guilt because of many reasons. Like me, some parents carry guilt for working away from the home. Some parents want to ease the lives of children who have struggled with disease or disadvantage. And some parents carry guilt over the effects of their choices—for example, a job relocation or even divorce—have had on their children. When you understand the source you can evaluate honestly what changes need to be made.
Regardless of our reasons, making parenting decisions based on guilt will only cause additional struggles. When we parent our children out of love, we will look to their best interests, rather than just what will ease our guilt. If we love our ourselves and our families well we can forgive the hurts that cause us to feel guilty. Love is a much healthier motivator.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
God promises wisdom to those who seek it. Ask God to guide your parenting and give you wisdom for making wise choices. Study God's word and seek his direction for life.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
Remember that parenting isn’t about you. It’s about discipling (and disciplining) young citizens of God’s Kingdom, preparing to send them into the world to make it a better place. That is both a task to accomplish and a release from being a perfect person!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster