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Parents: Letting Go of Guilt

By Dr. Margaret Paul
November 14, 2007

Do you feel guilty for the problems your children have? Discover the uselessness of this guilt and how to move beyond it.

parenting, guilt, self-blame, children, adult children


How are your children doing? If they are doing well, then I'm sure you feel good about your parenting. If they are not doing well, what are you telling yourself about your parenting?

"I should have been there for them more."

"I should have been harder/easier on them."

"I should have been a stay-at-home mother."

"I shouldn't have spent so much time at work."

"I should have set better limits."

...and so on.

Yet most parents did the best they could, and continue doing the best they can. Statements such as those above only server to create guilt. And the fact is that if you had known how to do it better, you probably would have, so beating yourself up for not knowing better is a useless waste of energy.

Even if you had been an "ideal" parent - if there is such a thing - your child might still have problems.

The belief that perfect parenting creates perfect children is a false belief based on another false belief - that we have control over other people.

There are two problems with thinking that you can be a perfect parent and that this will create perfect children:

  1. All of us are in the process of evolving ourselves - we are a work in progress. Unless you are a totally enlightened being, i.e. someone with no ego, no woundedness, no issues at all (I have never met this person!), you bring your own issues into your relationship with your children. You bring your own conditioning, false beliefs, fears and desires for control over getting love and avoiding pain. Given that we are the role models for our children, there is no way that they will not absorb some of our unhealed issues. Even if you manage to treat them with unconditional love, are you able to treat yourself with unconditional love? And if not, they are likely to learn to treat themselves the way you treat yourself - no matter how wonderfully you treat them.

  2. Children do not come into this life as blank slates. They come in with their own unique souls. Anyone who has had more than one child knows that each child comes in totally different, with his or her own unique ways of being in the world. Therefore, what you do with one child that seems to work so well, may not work well at all with another child. Unless you are very sensitive and able to be acutely tuned into each child, it is likely that you may miss the cues of what an individual child needs. Therefore, while we need to take full responsibility for our choices and for being as loving as we can be, we cannot take responsibility for a child's choices regarding who he or she wants to be.

If your children are not doing well, it is certainly important to do all you can to help. This means:

  1. Supporting them in receiving the help they need if they are available for help.
  2. Embracing your own Inner Bonding journey. The more responsibility you take for your happiness and wellbeing, the better role model you become for them, regardless of their age. Even adult children can still learn from you how to start to take responsibility for themselves.


Feeling guilty for your children's problems not only does nothing to help them, it can even harm them.

Your guilt indicates that you feel responsible for them, and they may be more than willing to blame you for their problems. Feeling guilty is a form of enabling, which is never helpful to anyone. While they are living with you, you are certainly responsible for providing a caring and healthy environment for them. But you cannot take responsibility for the choices they make - you do not have this control. If you learn to take loving care of yourself in the face of their choices, you provide them with the opportunity to learn to take loving care of themselves.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay


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