The Secret to Dumping Parental Shame and Stress

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Mother and daughter in park. Mothers Day.

One of the first things I tell parents in my TRU Parenting Classes is, “The sign of a great parent is not the child’s behavior. The sign of a truly great parent is the parent’s behavior.”

If the above statement is true, why is there so much judgment and shame that surrounds this job of parenting. I hear comments in my counseling office, in my TRU Parenting classes and read comments in Facebook discussions all the time from Moms and Dads that feel like “terrible parents” or like they have “failed as a parent.” These statements often follow a story of something their child did that frankly was usually normal and age appropriate.

Before you became a parent, there’s a good chance you said those all too famous words, “My kid will never act like that!” after witnessing a child’s tantrum while in a public place like a store or restaurant. But once we become the parents of a tantrumming child, we begin to worry about onlookers lurking eyes and approval. I’ve heard many mothers say, “They probably think I’m a terrible mom!”

When counseling parents, I have found that having strong personal boundaries is the secret to dumping parental shame and stress. Boundaries are the lines we draw that tell our child, and others, where we end and they begin. In my previous article “How to Peacefully Set Limits, Boundaries and Consequences” I talked briefly about the importance of setting boundaries with our kids. However, boundaries are not just for others. Knowing and understanding our own boundaries can set us free.

Responsibility For vs. Responsibility To

The strategy of establishing our own boundaries is recognizing the difference between responsibility for our children vs. responsibility to our children. As parents, we have a responsibility to love, teach, nurture, and provide for our children, but we are not responsible for their individual choices or actions.

Responsibility For:

Many hold the deep seeded belief that they have responsibility for their children’s actions, responses or outcomes. This belief is control based and suggests that parents, as the benevolent dictators must make our children behave or conform to our “right way.” It suggests that we should mold and manipulate every area of their lives and that they do not have a mind of their own with which to decide and act according to their own will. Only in the vacuum of complete control over our children’s mind and body would this concept of “responsibility for” make sense. This of course, is a fallacy and illusion. When we give in to this fallacy, it often results in feelings of shame for what is past and out of our control. “Responsibility for” makes our personal happiness and success dependent on them, or on outside sources. It is passive in nature because it focuses attention on what others should do rather than on living our own lives in accordance with TRU principles and values that ultimately promote healthy teaching, relationships, and upgrading self. Under this tyranny of thought, our mistakes become final resting places that feel unforgivable and unfixable.

Examples of Responsible for:

Parents often think that they are responsible for MAKING their children happy. They believe they are responsible for how their child treats others. Some feel responsible for the tone and volume of their child’s voice. They think they are responsible for their child’s compliance at all times.

Responsibility To:

To be “responsible to” our children or to others means to feel a responsibility to act with personal integrity towards them. It is acting in ways that promote the best interest of your child and yourself without condemnation of blame or liability for their response and results. Rather than robbing children of personal responsibility by taking shame or guilt upon ourselves, we can help our children deal with the consequences of their own choices and actions by proactively teaching limits, personal boundaries and natural consequences, all within the context of kindness and a healthy relationship. When we hold a “responsible to” philosophy, we know our own boundaries of what we will and will not do or allow, and we focus on ourselves and protecting our boundaries without violating other’s boundaries.

We have a TRU responsibility to teach our children and give them the tools to act in healthy ways for themselves. We have a responsibility to act with kindness and in ways that build the relationship rather than tear it down. We also have a responsibility to continue to upgrade ourselves emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, When we understand we are responsible to others rather than for them we solidify our accountability for ourselves rather than for others. We recognize that we have a stewardship to help our child grow and learn. We do our best to foster that growth while simultaneously recognizing that we are not “responsible for” making it happen.

“Responsibility to” allows for change. While we may feel guilt and sorrow for our mistakes and lack of diligence in our personal efforts, with this mindset we can focus on things within our control and influence what we are capable of acting upon. These feelings of guilt, as opposed to shame motivate us to change and improve ourselves going forward, rather than afford blame. A firm “responsibility to” our kids makes our happiness and success independent of their individual behavior. It is active, rather than passive. Our mistakes are viewed as experimental learning experiences, rather than final destinations.

Examples of Responsible To:

As parents we assume certain responsibilities to our children, when they are born. We have the same responsibilities we have to others around us, but we also acquire several others along the way. We have a responsibility to Teach them the tools, skills and values they need in order to lead a productive and happy life. We have the responsibility of caring for their basic needs until they are capable. We have a responsibility to treat them with kindness and show them love. We hold an important, even sacred responsibility not to abuse them with cruelty or violence. We have a responsibility to act in patterns of healthy relationships. We have a responsibility to show them what self-regulation looks like and show them a model of healthy living.

Reasons to adopt a “responsibility to” philosophy

  • Frees us from self-defeating shame.
  • Promotes positive change.
  • Focuses on what we can control.
  • Maintains healthy personal boundaries.
  • Promotes an environment of autonomy and personal responsibility.

Too many parents walk around with the weight of their children’s choices on their shoulders as well as the weight of the judgment of the passer by. Not that you need my permission, but I’m going to give it anyway; dump the shame! Get rid of your feelings of “responsibility for” everyone else’s thoughts and actions. That doesn’t mean that we shun our “responsibility to” those that we love and to those around us. It simply means that we do not assume ownership of something that is not ours.

[Tweet “Dump the shame! Get rid of the “responsibility for” and adopt a “responsibility to.””]

Take advantage of the beautiful benefits of adopting a “responsible to” way of life. Let go of all the other stuff and finally see yourself clearly and act as the TRU parent that you are.

Question: What do you struggle to let go of “responsibility for” and why? What do you feel are some of your most important “responsibilities to” your children?

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”

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