Sunday, August 7, 2011

You Literally Should Never Feel Guilty: Here's How and Here's Why

Guilt: it's a nasty thing and a nasty feeling. Of course, all people feel guilty about one thing or another at some point in their lives, some more often than others.  Some societies or cultures even thrive and depend on the guilty feelings of the people living within them.  Whether you live in a society or culture or practice a religion that tends to perpetuate feelings of guilt, at some point in your life, you'll likely feel guilty about something.  As a parent, I see other parents feeling guilty about things all the time, for example:

- Not being able to or not wanting to breast feed
- Letting their kids watch tv or do some other thing that is frowned upon by other parents
- Letting their kids have sugar or certain foods
- Giving in to their children's tantrums

Etc, etc. You get the idea. I, too, have had moments where I've felt guilty about choices I've made as a parent.  For example, I was out shopping a few weeks ago and Aias wasn't having a great time.  In fact, he was moments away from exploding.  He didn't want to be in a shop, he wanted to be at the park or at home playing with his toys.  About halfway through the shopping trip, Aias saw a rack full of Lay's potato chips so he started chanting "chippa! chippa! chippa pleaseeeee!"  What did I do? I gave the kid the chippas!  I mean, I wanted him to be quiet and a few chips can't kill him, right?  Of course, I felt slightly sheepish about giving him chips, even about other parents or people in the store seeing him eat them.  After finishing our errands we went to the park where we saw a few other kids and their parents.  One of the kids asked for one of Aias's chips and his mom said "oh we don't give him things like chips because of all the salt..."  All of a sudden I felt even more guilty than I had before, but why? Was it because I was giving Aias chips or was it because this other woman was suggesting that it was a bad idea to give a toddler chips?

The fact is, if I really thought the chips would hurt or deeply damage my kid, I would absolutely not have given them to him.  If he had been asking for a bottle of paint thinner or a bag of rusted nails, I would obviously have told him no way and I wouldn't have felt the slightest bit wrong about it.  Chips on the other hand, I was obviously comfortable with, at some level or another.  Of course, the judgment of other people was something I feared for whatever reason, and that small seed of guilt only grew upon hearing what I perceived to be a person judging my parenting choice. 

I thought a lot about this experience on my walk home.  The first thing I realized was that this woman wasn't actually necessarily judging my parenting choice at all; what she was actually doing was telling me how she does it differently and my own internal existing guilt about giving Aias chips was agitated by this.  Because of my existing self doubt about the choice to give him chips, I felt annoyed with the woman and felt like she was judging me, when in fact she wasn't necessarily judging me at all.  In fact, she was absolutely right that the chips have lots of salt in them and that someone Aias's age should probably not be having so much salt.  Why would it annoy me that she mentioned it? Well, because she was right and it made me feel like less of a parent for choosing to do what was arguably not the best thing for my kid at that moment in time.  The second thing I realized was that I'd probably be happy to give Aias chips again, just probably not in front of this woman.  How guilty could I possibly have felt if I was perfectly happy to do the same thing again?  Not very, I suppose.

Further thinking brought me to this conclusion: people should literally never have to feel guilty.  Not ever.  Maybe this is oversimplifying it, but there are two types of things a person will or can feel guilty about:

1. Things they cannot change
2. Things they can change.

There's no use in feeling guilty about something you can't change, after all, you can't change it so feeling guilty about it makes no sense.  You shouldn't assume guilt for something that is beyond your control in the first place.  That being said, if there is something you can change, and you feel guilty about it, CHANGE IT!  If it's too late to change it, then it's out of your control, so you shouldn't feel guilty about it in the first place (see above) and the best thing to do the next time you are staring down a similar decision, is just do it differently.  If you choose (again) to make the choice you were feeling guilty about in the first place, you probably don't really feel that guilty about it after all. 

OK, I know.  If only it were really this easy, right?  All I know is, I'm going to try and implement this sort of mentality to my daily life and see where it gets me.

One last point: there's nothing noble about guilt.  If you make a parenting or life choice that doesn't follow the mainstream or that you find is being scrutinized by others, constantly expressing or even feeling guilt about it doesn't leave you any better or worse in the long run.  Stand proud and confident in the choices you make whether they are the same choices others would make or not, and if you don't feel like you can, then maybe you should think about making a different choice next time.

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