Jay Rifenbary

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Separation Anxiety – The Parent Guilt Trip

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If you have ever had a child display a lack of proper judgment, or will have a child exhibit poor judgment this column is for you. Is it possible to separate our children’s successes and failures from our own sense of self-worth or self-doubt as parents, and even individuals? If you are and have been a committed and loving parent I believe this is a very difficult question to answer with “yes”. A sincere and genuinely dedicated parent takes delight and pride when their children succeed, and frequently blame themselves and feel guilty when their children behaviorally falter. However, I believe there is a time to accept that our children/teenagers/young adults are responsible for their own mistakes, and not always a direct reflection of our own parental failures. That time comes when the children know, and acknowledge, what positive values and appropriate behaviors are expected from them, and they choose not to act on that knowledge.

There are many parents who work years to instill values and ensure that their children grow up to be successful and responsible human beings. Why is it then during that parental process illogical and ill-judged decisions are made by children being raised by wholehearted, resolute & capable parents? There are hundreds of potential legitimate explanations, but if the child is making the inappropriate decision on his or her own, with full knowledge of expected appropriate behaviors taught, it is not always a reflection of the parent. As someone who espouses core values, accountability, and is also a parent, does a time come when I must separate my emotional attachments to my children from the lessons they must learn themselves from their own mistakes? For example, if I put into practice the core values I champion, and I am accountable for my own behaviors, and in turn my child violates the principles I hold true, is it a reflection of me? It does not mean I do not care, or am not concerned about my child, but it does mean I need to understand I am not a shameful person.

It is not necessary, appropriate, nor emotionally healthy to shred ourselves when our children violate the very principles we have taught and exemplified. I understand this is much easier said then done, but it is essential for our own well being as individuals and as parents to maintain a level of emotional stability. The feeling of responsibility always remains, but hopefully not to the point where blaming ourselves results in emotional and physical deterioration. I share this to comfort the many responsible and devout parents who have gone through, or will go through, a mistake made by their own children. All parents experience the conundrum of a child’s mistake and it is devastating, sad, and so incredibly disappointing. We may beat ourselves up for hours in a malaise of frustration and disgruntlement, asking ourselves, what am I doing to myself and what did my child do to me? The answers are, we are emotionally damaging ourselves, and my child did nothing directly to me. It is our choice to allow the mistake made by the child to be an emotionally destructive force in the aftermath of that behavior. The child did not force us to take on that emotional burden. Of course, it does not diminish the potential seriousness of the situation, nor the responsibility as a parent to handle certain aspects related to the circumstance.

Any conscientious parent feels responsible for their children, but we are not responsible for the decisions made by our children that violate the very values we as parents have attempted to instill in them. We do not hang our children out to dry, but they have to discover their own sense of personal responsibility and credibility. Hopefully our children will learn from their mistakes, and I do believe the strength of a family’s core values will persevere in the long run. That strength is essential for the success of our children as future parents, and their commitment to instilling core values and personal accountability in their own children and our grandchildren. It is a challenge for all of us when we experience difficult times with our children, frequently creating self-doubt in ourselves, but it is a challenge that tests the strength our own character and commitment to our own core values. Let us all be confident in knowing we can pass the test.



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