Keeping Guilt in the Family: Why Parents Shouldn’t Toss out the Guilt

What is so good about guilt, and why I am the seemingly lone parent out there that thinks we shouldn’t banish guilt?

Guilt. What a word! There’s a movement within modern parenting that seeks to banish “mom guilt.” But should we get rid of guilt all together? The answer isn’t easy or straightforward. The answer is yes and no.
Banish the “mom guilt:” This movement tells us that we should no longer feel guilty about showing up to the carpool lane with a messy bun sans makeup. Great – wear a messy bun all the time. I certainly don’t put on a whole face of makeup each day – and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt over it either. Moms are also told to stop feeling guilty for needing “me time” – and they shouldn’t feel guilt over that. Studies show that individuals need “me time” to recharge – it’s the whole oxygen mask theory. I also want to point that we shouldn’t feel guilty for choosing to stay at home or choosing to work, choosing to breastfeed or formula feed. Moms shouldn’t feel guilty for making informed choices for their kids. Mom guilt tends to focus on moms second guessing the choices they make for their kids.
But guilt – as a whole – shouldn’t be discouraged. Families need some degree of guilt.
I recently read an article where the author encouraged other parents to lighten up on the subject of yelling, to lose the guilt about getting loud around the house. But I couldn’t just accept that; yelling is one parenting move that we should never stop feeling guilty about. Although – just to be fair – I am not perfect and I unfortunately can say that I have yelled at my kids, but I don’t like it. The point is not to shame anyone who has yelled in the past; the point is to strive towards not yelling and never condoning it by covering up our feelings of guilt about it.
Before we discuss why we need to keep the guilt, let’s take a look at why yelling is undeniably wrong.

  • Children who are yelled at are more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior and anxiety-induced behaviors
  • It can scare children
  • Creates an insecure home environment
  • Lowers self-confidence
  • Concentration problems: This develops as a result of children learning to “tune out” during yelling; the long term result is overall concentration problems
  • Health consequences for the yeller: increased stress levels, increased blood pressure

Studies show time and time again that yelling just isn’t effective. And our collective guilt about yelling hints at that.
So what is so good about guilt, and why I am the seemingly lone parent out there that thinks we shouldn’t banish guilt?
Getting down to the root of it all, guilt comes from the Old English word gylt, which means delinquency. That sure sheds a whole new light on the subject. Are you a delinquent for packing your kids a lunchable instead of a homemade bento box? Hardly. Are you a delinquent for yelling more than talking to your kids? That’s not such an easy answer, is it?

Why do we need guilt?

We need guilt to help keep our conscience sharpened. Think about any situation in which you felt guilty. What is your conscience telling you? Maybe you felt guilty for skipping your brother-in-law’s birthday party. Maybe you felt guilty for cutting in line at the grocery store. Guilt is a handy little tool that lets you know when your conscience is sending you a message. When you start to feel those creeping feelings of guilt, ask yourself what those feelings mean. Don’t just ignore it or bury it. Let the guilt help you amend the situation.

  • Feeling guilty about getting too much fast food for your kids? Why? Because you know they deserve better, more balanced meals? Don’t just bury your guilty feelings; let it inspire you to make the necessary changes for the sake of your kids.
  • Feeling guilty about not spending enough time with your kids? Don’t just keep the status quo and bury the guilt: let the guilt motivate you to find ways to squeeze in more family time.
  • Feeling guilty about yelling? Again, let the guilt motivate you to find other alternatives to yelling.

So what is the takeaway from this? Not all guilt is bad; sometimes we need to keep it around to help motivate us to do better, be better.