Jewish World Review June 8, 2005 / 30 Iyar
Guilt, the great motivator
She says she no longer is guilty when she bribes her kids as in, "if you stop coming out of the grocery cart you can have a candy bar" (we've all done that, but I do feel guilty about it); or about the fact that her house is a mess (anyone who knows me knows I don't feel guilty about that one); or that she sometimes ignores her kids (um, yeah); lets her children watch videos (I sometimes refer to it as time in front of the electronic babysitter), or that she rarely manages family dinners (I actually do try to do that several times a week).
I think most moms have such non-guilt lists. I just worry that in today's culture we're so overrun by our kids that the lists of what we don't feel guilty about are getting shorter and shorter. I mean, my mom, with her brood of five would have had a list of about 100 things she didn't feel guilty about. I do think the more kids you have the less guilt you have. Once you just can't do everything for everybody, it really frees you up.
In some ways, having four little ones makes my life easier, not harder.
And sometimes I think the lists of what we should feel guilty about and I think guilt is a great motivator and good parents should have such lists is all mixed up too.
So, I don't feel guilty about a lot of things. For starters, my work. Work is a good and wholesome thing. It was present in the Garden of Eden before the fall. I think it's great that my kids see me writing, knowing I love it, and that by extension my world is not all about them every single moment. Oh I've made all kinds of sacrifices to have my office at home, limit the time I'm out and so on, but I have no problem sometimes saying, "I can't, guys, I gotta get this done."
I don't feel guilty about saying "go play outside and do not come back into this house until I say it's OK." Or when they are out playing with siblings and neighbor kids, and one comes in full of indignation to try to tell me how he's been wronged by another, I'll typically say, "Honey are you hurt and do you need a ride to the hospital? 'Cause otherwise I don't want to hear a word about it." They turn on their heels and walk out pretty fast (and they're having fun again in about 15 seconds.) I don't feel guilty about saying "don't interrupt" or "I'm talking to the grown-ups now dear." I don't even feel guilty about yelling when my kids need yelling to get their attention.
I certainly don't feel guilty when I can't or won't protect my kids from every adversity, disappointment, frustration or difficulty. This is the stuff of character molding.
But the biggest thing I feel guilty about is time. That I can't somehow manufacture it and give us all more of it.
I feel guilty that sometimes when I'm just hanging out with my kids, just playing with them, or going to a movie with them, enjoying a little heaven on earth, that there's that voice in the back of my head saying "there are those bills I should be paying ..." or "that photo album I should be updating," or "gosh I need to make those phone calls."
I feel guilty that it's hard for me to just be at peace with that little bit of heaven of spending time with my kids, to revel in it, without somehow feeling like that time is being taken from something else. So, I guess I feel guilty about having the guilts in the wrong places.
But this is the great thing about guilt that I think our culture undervalues. It can be a wonderful motivator for change, and this is one area of my parenting life I'm determined to change. I mean, I'll feel guilty if I
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