I AM A BAD MOTHER BECAUSE….
As parents we can feel guilty not only about the decisions we make but even about the things that are beyond our control. What parents need to understand, however, is that every decision offers opportunities for learning and/or for some advantage.
Let’s look at four situations a parent might feel guilty about that actually can be really beneficial to their kids.
1. I am a single or divorced mom.
Even if you grew up with a single mom or divorced parents, it can be really hard to give up the notion that family = mom, dad, sister, brother and maybe the family dog. As a single or divorced mom, you might feel like there is no way you can be enough of what your child needs.
Here’s the reality: Single and divorced moms are much less likely to fall into the trap of doing too much for their kids. They just don’t have the time. Stay-at-home moms, for example, tend to feel that they have to make their children’s breakfasts and lunches to be good moms. Doing so robs children control around food. For one, it tends to make food an ego thing (You like my food = you like me.) For two, children who have to make their own breakfast and lunch make what they will actually eat. Parents still get to set guidelines about the kind of food, but kids are the ones who actually know what they will eat when they get to school. That way a lot less food gets wasted, and it cuts down on parent-child conflicts.
2. I work full time.
Again, more than 50 years after the 1950’s there still seems to be this notion that good moms stay at home. Smooth running, calm households where Mom is always accessible (perhaps with her apron tied around her waist?) appear picture perfect in our minds as the goal to aspire to.
Here’s the reality: Working moms tend to give their kids more space. Busy with their own agendas, they are more likely to check in but then expect kids to get their work done pretty independently. Moms who are not working are more likely to get overly involved with their kids. I remember a mentor of mine saying, “Elisabeth, it is a good thing you work. You are pretty intense, and all that energy poured into your daughter would be a lot for her to stand up against.” You can imagine, I was a little stunned when she said that. Wasn’t the ideal to spend as much time with your kids as possible? But looking back, I can see the truth of it. I would have been wanting to teach her something all the time, to instruct her, to suggest a better way of doing things. As it was, I always had my next set of essays to grade and was much more likely to mutter, let me know if you need any help.
3. I don’t have enough money to give my kids what they need.
Whether you live in a poor neighborhood or a rich neighborhood, you are always going to be able to look around and find families who appear to be giving more to their kids than you are. Sometimes the pressure is worse in rich neighborhoods where it appears that there is no limit to the amount of money people will spend on their kids. Here in Silicon Valley, it is routine for parents to provide extra weekly tutoring even for students who are not struggling—just to be on the safe side. Parents who are not doing the same easily feel they are failing their child.
Here’s the reality: Kids need love. They need the security of knowing that no matter what happens their parent is there for them. Furthermore, kids are resilient. Kids who are told frankly, we don’t have money for a private tutor, can help by researching and brainstorming other possibilities such as teen centers or free tutors at the library. Being empowered to be part of the solution makes kids feel important and like they are part of the team. Besides, more important than any specific tutoring a child might get is the parent’s belief in the child. The will to succeed is more important than the skill of the teacher. Every parent can help a child develop a growth mindset by having him focus on effort, improvement and looking for a new strategy to try. A parent’s greatest power is holding fast to the vision of what is possible for the child.
4. I didn’t grow up here; my English isn’t very good.
I am still living in the area I grew up and I know that that made it easier for me to know about and access resources for my daughter. She went to a wonderful school I would probably not have been aware of if it weren’t in my hometown. She got her medical care at the same clinic I did as a child. I knew exactly what kind of education she would need for the path to college. I feared, however, she was in danger of being limited in her view of the world.
Here’s the reality: Yes, raising your child in a new environment will be harder for you in many ways. And at the same time, you have a richer, broader perspective to give your child. First of all, if you speak another language at home—though it may be more challenging for your child in the short run—in the long run the research is showing that bilingual children have many advantages when it comes to being successful. Bilingual students’ brains are able to handle more complexities—perhaps because they have always had to process information in two languages. Additionally, you will be able to teach your child lessons about life and culture in other parts of the world. They will be much more prepared for meeting people with different expectations and ways of doing things. This will make them more flexible and better able to adapt to different school and work environments.
What if you are a happily married, rich, stay-at-home mom who grew up in the town you live in? Should you now feel worried you are not being the best parent you can be? Please don’t play that game with yourself! My point here is that every life situation has advantages and disadvantages. Every child will learn important lessons from you and still have to go out in the world and learn a lot more lessons that it wasn’t in you to teach. Trust that whatever your current situation, there is value in it for your child. Worry more about what you can give your child rather than what you can’t.