You may not yet have taken that long-desired trip to Paris or Rome, Hawaii or New York…but if you’re a divorced mom, we bet you’ve taken a few guilt trips.
It’s only natural, but it’s wrong.
Here’s what happens: You and your husband separate and begin divorce proceedings. The kids are upset. They may become sullen, or obstinate, or ill-behaved, or they may cry and beg Daddy to come home or beg you to let him. They may do all of these things—or others—by turns.
And you? You feel terrible that this is happening to them. Not just sympathetic, either…you may well take blame unto yourself and feel guilty. Guilty that you initiated the divorce. Or guilty that your ex (or ex-to-be) initiated the divorce because of you…or at least allegedly because of you. (We’ve all heard of spouses who claim they’re leaving because conditions at home are insufferable but who really are leaving because they’ve met someone else.)
In fact, there are plenty of cases where the husband leaves through no fault of the wife at all—she didn’t initiate the break-up, nor did anything she did cause it—yet the wife still feels guilty when she sees how it’s impacting her kids. Not just unhappy or upset but guilty.
Whether or not the mom of the family initiated or in any way caused the divorce, in most cases the divorce was necessary and should not be the impetus for a guilt trip. Divorce is surely an unhappy situation for all concerned, especially the kids, but if you’re in this position—whether your divorce is currently in process or is old news—please stop beating yourself up over “what you’re doing to the kids.”
The trouble—apart from the problems you cause yourself by laying a case of the guilties on your head unnecessarily and undeservedly—comes when you start trying to “make it up to the kids.” Altogether too many moms, feeling bad over the unhappiness that has been brought down on the kids, and for which these moms blame themselves, bend over backward to try to make the kids feel good by some other means.
They knock themselves out to make the kids’ favorite meals, buy the kids anything they ask for, whether the request is reasonable and affordable or not, stay home every night because the kids don’t like staying with a sitter and the moms don’t want the kids feeling abandoned all over again, take the kids on expensive excursions, and let the kids get away with egregiously bad behavior rather than discipline them because “the poor things are suffering with their daddy gone.”
They may need more of your time. They may need more understanding, sympathy, and consolation. They may even need a little leeway—a little!—when they act out. But they do not need triple-scoop sundaes, expensive toys, 24/7 smothering, or catering to their every whim.
They will only derive, from that, a series of very wrong lessons:
• That it’s not only soothing but acceptable and appropriate to stuff yourself with junk food when you’re upset or sad.
• That people—starting with Daddy—can be replaced with toys and other material things.
• That sadness or great upset is a valid excuse for bad behavior.
• That Mommy can be manipulated…and it will probably work on other people too.
Am I saying, then, that you should be heartless and turn a cold shoulder to their state of mind? Absolutely not!
What I am saying is two things:
1 – Don’t go on a guilt trip. Don’t blame yourself for the kids’ unhappiness…even if you were, in one way or another, the direct cause of the divorce.
2 – Don’t spoil the kids in an attempt to make it up to them for what “you did to them” (or even if you recognize that it’s not your fault, but you still feel bad, even if you don’t feel guilty). You’re doing them no favors!
Be sympathetic. Be understanding. If the kids say, “I hate you for making Daddy leave,” consider the circumstances and don’t overreact.
But don’t go on a guilt trip, and don’t spoil the kids if you do, in spite of what I’m telling you, start feeling twinges of guilt
Guilt is never a good place to visit. Not for you and, ultimately, not for the kids either.