Shame on You! Using Parental Guilt to Change and Be Better.

Working with children and teens for the past few years, without exception the issue has been that their parents are screwing up. Their parents are screwing up in the way they are living – in front of them or behind their backs. Often through divorce or separation but not always. People who don’t treat others well, grow more people that do the same. The people that are suffering are the kids – in the moment and into their lives.
Your kids are smarter than you think. They know how you’re living either consciously or unconsciously. What you do in your private life, they pick up on – if not now, then as they get older. Most parental conflict comes from a lack of respect for parents and many parents don’t realize that they aren’t living a life worthy of earning that from their kids.
There’s a conflict with the sense of parental betrayal. They are noticing the difference in how their parents are living – often with a sense of entitlement of selfishness that they aren’t supposed to have but their parents are exhibiting.
If you are in friendships, relationships, business partnerships – if you are lying, cheating, playing people, stealing from people, if you’re not treating people well, your kids pick up on it, even if just energetically – on some level they know.
If you’re not living a life that you don’t want your kids to replicate then you need to make changes. You can’t feel sorry for yourself or wallow in self pity or blame your upbringing, traumas, your parents or life circumstances – your job is to work on yourself, get yourself into therapy, get your life right, and get better so you can show a better example for you kids.
Use this guilt to change instead of throwing your issues onto your family or expecting them to rise about it without your example.
Particularly in romantic relationships – our kids learn by what we do, not what we say. Are you treating people in a way that you wouldn’t want for your child in a relationship? Are you allowing yourself to be treated in a way that isn’t ok or good enough for them?
You need to smarten up. The bar for your conduct and relationships should be as high as you want it for them both in giving and receiving. This teaches them what is acceptable or not acceptable and have the same boundaries or lack of boundaries. If you aren’t ok with them repeating what you’re doing then you need to do some work.
I am very intentional and thoughtful when it comes to the decisions I make for my own life because I am a parent. I don’t live for my kids, but I don’t live in exclusion of them either. I filter what’s appropriate of course and am allowed a private life, but ultimately, I’m ok with any part of my life being known to them – mistakes and all.
I don’t give them a list of family values or tell them how to live but we talk about relationships and integrity and communication on an ongoing basis. We talk about how to treat other people, how to treat people, why it’s important to work hard, why we don’t lie or cheat, and how to make things right and how to hold integrity no matter how others treat you in return. This is ongoing teaching with examples from all of our lives. This is how we teach children how to be intentional and thoughtful in their choices and impact on others.
The greatest success of my life is that my kids are proud of me. They are proud of me because of how I behave in front of them and behind their backs. If you’re not living in that way, you need to start. Start changing how you are, if not for you then for the sake of these kids
These kids are suffering and are hurting so bad when they come into my office and it’s usually because their parents are screwing up. The selfish decisions their parents are making are affecting their ability to feel emotionally and mentally safe and stable.
Your kids are being impacted by the way you live – they see and they FEEL how you are living your life and it’s hurting them. Making big decisions for your life and dragging your kids along through major moves, break ups, financial disasters, new relationships, multiple relationships – these are all areas of impact on growing kids where they need consideration, support, and stability. Many feel dragged around in their parents choices without adequate care or support.
I don’t make a decision anywhere in my life where I’m not considering the impact of my decisions on them at all times. One of our core values is to be treated with as much integrity as we treat others.
What are your core values for your family? Together or separately as parents, what are you intentionally doing to imprint on your children, to increase their sense of emotionally and mental stability and wellbeing, integrity and intelligence.
If you’re not thinking of these things, if you’re living a different life behind their backs, shame on you. Start making changes. You can make this better right now. Change the way you think, the way you live, live with integrity and do better – if not for you then for these kids.
It’s not about being perfect, you get to make mistakes. Learn how to make them right, own up to them. Teach them how to do that too and have grace and forgiveness and then use it as a way to get better – more thoughtful and intentional with your life as a parent. You do get to live your own life, but you’re a parent now which means that what you do and how you are in the world you should be relatively ok with your children witnessing or practicing also. Are you?
Stop being selfish. Take this guilt and do something with it. Get better. So that I don’t have so many broken children in my practice.

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