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The hardest part of recovery, for me, was forgiving myself for how my mistakes impacted my children. The fact that I got sober while they were too young to ever see me drink stays on my gratitude list, but the impact is there.
Shame tends to creep into our parenting when we least expect it.
Everything is and was always my fault, and therefore I should “make it up” to my kids by giving them everything they want and ignoring my own boundaries. Right?
The voices of shame whisper out of nowhere:
The kids will hate you when they find out who you used to be.
A good mom would never have done what you did.
You suck. You’re a whore. A dumbass. A bitch. A piece of shit.
Oh wait. That’s not just self-talk. Those are actual messages from a toxic person. Is it any coincidence that they are the messages that tend to revolve in my head when I’m feeling down? Garbage in, garbage out.
Block the incoming garbage, then deal with the cleanup in peace.
We know that a lot of the time, “mom guilt” is bogus and should be discarded. However, there are times when we do legitimately screw up, and it’s ok to say that. It’s also ok to correct it and move on. That’s productive guilt, not shame. Not everybody has screwed up as massively as I have, and then there are plenty who have done “worse”, but the situations don’t matter either. Thank God it’s not a competition to the bottom.
I don’t know what your situation might be. Maybe you feel guilty for a divorce, or for working too much. Maybe it’s something simple, like being unable to buy a birthday gift. Whatever it is, it is worth the effort to forgive yourself. We feel guilty for working, so we let our kids stay up too late and act crazy even when we need the break, and they need the sleep. We feel shame over past mistakes, so we look the other way when they blatantly disrespect us.
Frankly, kids can be manipulative. Sure, they learn from watching us and they’re full of magic and dream and candy and fluffiness, but they’re also ridiculous a lot of the time. We all know this. We don’t have to play the game if we don’t want to just because we made some mistakes.
It’s healthy to set boundaries with your kids, even if you made mistakes in the past.
If you want to give your child a cookie, give them a cookie. This has nothing to do with whether or not you should treat your child, or avoid a battle from time to time. It’s about being honest about your motivations and boundaries. It’s about setting boundaries with yourself and your children, and teaching your children how to respect those boundaries.
Sometimes they know you feel guilty, they know you screwed up, and they might play on that (on purpose or subconsciously). It’s a harsh truth, but again, kids can be ruthless when they want to get their way. They push the limits, that’s part of growing up. If you can forgive yourself for your past, you will be in a much better emotional position to handle it when they push those limits.
I’ve seen parents fall apart when their kids start hitting those difficult years because they carry so much shame that their preteens and teens exploit it. Is it right? Of course not. Does it happen? Yes. All the time.
If I want my children to grow up with the ability set boundaries, I have to set and hold mine first.
I don’t want to raise kids into adults who think they can run over everybody, and who don’t know how to set their own boundaries. I assume you probably don’t, either. I want my kids to be able to put their foot down firmly and decisively in any situation that is appropriate to do so.
How can I teach my daughter to stand her ground if I don’t stand mine? I may not be the only example she has, but I’m a pretty influential one.
If you struggle with guilt and forgiving yourself, you have permission to forgive yourself, put your foot down, and love your child by setting boundaries. Show your babies how to love themselves by loving yourself, and show them how to love others while holding on to a firm boundary.
Tell shame to suck it. Your past doesn’t get to call the shots.
My children throw fewer tantrums than they did when I was riddled with shame and self-doubt. Sometimes they actually thank me for being firm. It helps me to remember that when I’m feeling overrun with shame and tempted to crawl into a hole for a while.
Has shame affected your parenting in any way? If you have forgiven yourself, have you noticed a difference in your children or parenting?
Related Post: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect. Be Present.
Additional: The Difference Between Shame and Guilt, and Why It Matters
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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