This article explores how to reduce parenting guilt, and why it develops in the first place.
In today’s frantic world where parents are trying to figure out how to protect their children from a world full of danger, how to be a “good parent” and “not mess up the kids”, a tremendous amount of heavy guilt piles up sucking the life force out of mothers and fathers…
A reason to live, life-goals, and dreams that, a day not so long ago, were just at your fingertips have slipped into oblivion, and become unrealized potentialities buried in the funeral ground of life worth living.
I know that this sounds pretty morbid, yet it is the reality of many parents, which is why I am writing to you today so you may stop feeling guilty because it is not your fault!
Let me take you on a bird's-eye perspective on parenting, a fairly new concept that has been distorted and glorified by society causing unnecessary suffering for both parents and children.
It all began when the word “parenting” appeared in the U.S. in the 1950’s. Yes! Before this, parenting wasn't even a thing! (Allison Gopnik)
Parenting became a verb describing a set of behaviors and things that parents should do. Curiously, no such thing exists for “friending”, “husbanding” or “wifing”?!?!
As a consequence, parents were put on a pedestal of importance with the sole responsibility to raise children, and launch responsible citizens into this world. This is how the pressure cooker started!
Adding on to this scenario, a new field of “parenting” emerged as guidebooks on how to raise children properly started to pop up like mushrooms making parenting a huge business with companies preying on insecure parents who feel like they don’t know what they’re doing…
Simultaneously, research started to emerge about the importance of attachment, and the special bond the child has with their mother and father, along with the detrimental consequences of disrupted or toxic attachment.
Over time, we started to believe that all the problems we face in life, the way we relate to the world and how we move through relationships was the fault of our parents.
The image of an overbearing stay-at-home helicopter mom appeared in the media unconsciously influencing the identity formation of mothers. Alongside that, the classic absent over-working father emerged which imprisoned men into a destiny of being disconnected from their family…
We get to not underestimate the power of these societal trends and images of who parents should be, and how they should behave. There is a powerful unconscious influence on our identity that ends up driving our decisions and the way we live our lives. Unless, of course, we become aware of the brainwashing power of the media, and cultural forces that strive to “domesticate” us (a term coined by don Miguel Ruiz) so that we may conform to expected standards and rules in order to feel accepted.
While parents do have an absolutely vital role to play in their child’s development, and that making children feel loved, safe, secure is important for their healthy development, that is not all that there is….Parental fallacy is a concept by an American psychologist James Hillman which he describes in his book “The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling”. The fallacy is attributing parents either an idolized or villainized status while filtering out all other factors that contribute to who we will become.
A personal share here…
I always say that I was raised by the forest!
Both of my parents were busy working and providing for the family. When dad was finally free from work, he chose alone time and went hunting for days on end leaving me, my brother and my mom behind. I experienced my mom feeling sad, lonely and disconnected with no energy to spend time with me, so I frequently wandered into the forest nearby where we lived in the Finnish countryside.
Whether I wandered there myself or with a friend of mine, I always found solace, adventure and peace there. I was safe, happy and never alone as I felt a deep connection with the trees, the earth and the animals.
Being in the forest filled my cup and gave me a sense of belonging that I could not feel within my family. I felt loved by Mother Earth herself.
I am sharing this because one factor that is forgotten in the parental fallacy is our environment and the world we belong to.
The world IS our home.
Dr. Montessori spoke about the important influence of the environment the child is surrounded by over 150 years ago, and we still don’t listen!
We are parented by EVERYTHING around us, not just our parents!
“The more we cling to the overriding importance of parents and the more cosmological power we accord them, the less we notice the fathering and mothering afforded by the world every day in what it sends our way” ~James Hillman~
When my actual parents were not able to be there for me, nature was my father and my mother.
Emphasis on the parental fallacy robs children of the opportunity to experience being embraced by the world that they belong to, and truly feel the love the world has towards them.
Children need opportunities to be connected with nature and freely explore it so that they can discover the magic and healing it offers, just like it did not me.
It was nature versus toys or homework that taught me about patience, interconnectedness of things, beauty and harmony. It sparked my imagination and creativity, and offered an endless playground of joy.
In today’s society where we are hooked to the digital world, we are more and more disconnected from nature, making us move further away from our true nature.
James Hillman says that “The parental fallacy is deadly to individual self-awareness, and it is killing the world”.
The other neglected factor influencing children growing up is ancestry.
In many traditional cultures, ancestors were guardian spirits and protectors who could pass on life wisdoms and knowledge. Also, when a person would be behaving grossly, it was not the fault of what their parents did many years ago, but a result of being possessed by an evil force or spirit which then required certain rites to be prepared, or perhaps cleansing by a shaman.
And lastly, I have an even more woo-woo idea for you…
There is also a belief system in which we choose our own parents based on what our soul needs to experience in the particular stage of its developpement (The Development of Personality by Liz Grene & Howard Sasportas).
From this perspective, we are born with our own archetypal pre-conditioning which already has seeds for certain expectations and ideas about our parents that we get to resolve in our lifetime.
It is like we have certain inborn assumptions about how our parents are going to be: good, bad, loving, scary, disconnected, nurturing or neglecting.
As we grow, our own innate context is mixed with our parents' ideas about how they should be with a child, and thus the dance of emotions between parents and children begins.
The solution to this is being fully responsible by realizing it is all our own stuff; our own archetypal pre-conditioning that we choose for ourselves out of love so we may grow.
It is like our soul has a desire to plant the physical manifestation of our body in the most fertile soil for it to grow and prosper to the most magnificent version of who we can be…
The problem is that the ego fights this destiny, and may sabotage and resist that which is actually there to help us mature.
Do you see now why you do not need to carry the excessive burden of guilt as a parent, and instead, just own the parts that belong to you, which in my experience, is only a tiny fraction of the guilt many parents experience?
I hope that now, at the end of our bird’s eye perspective journey on parenting, you see it is not all your fault, and perhaps you see an opening to release some control and responsibility of parenting to Mother Earth itself, our ancestors and our own soul…