When I worked the night shift—often several night shifts in a row--I would feel guilty over how much time I was missing with my kids. I would make plans for taking them somewhere fun the minute that I woke up to compensate for my absence.
My three twelve-hour days at work meant the kids had been having adventures with Grandma and no one had been home to buy groceries, do laundry, or clean the house. My husband did what he could, but he was working too. Running off on adventures was not the most constructive use of my time off. And it left us with even less time for housework, which left the house a mess and cupboards empty. My stress level rose even more.
There is nothing wrong with having fun together, and structuring time together is very important, so what was the problem?
My problem was that guilt was the motivating force in my parenting.
It took me a while to be okay with having low-key fun days together at the house without trying to compete with the adventures Grandma had given them. That summer of working fulltime nights probably made my kids wonder if life is all play and no work! We did have our own adventures together, but I also learned to have fun together doing the things that we needed to accomplish.
Guilt-based parenting is never very productive. When we feel guilty for the time we missed in parenting our children, we tend to overindulge when we are with them. We don’t feel we have the right to discipline, so we overlook bad behavior and take a passive approach to discipline. This creates children who are over-indulged and resistant to parental authority, which is never a good combination.
We parent out of guilt because of many reasons. Like me, some parents carry guilt for working away from the home. Some parents want to ease the lives of children who have struggled with disease or disadvantage. And some parents carry guilt over the effects of their choices—for example, divorce—have had on their children.
Regardless of our reasons, making parenting decisions based on guilt will only cause additional struggles. When we parent our children out of love, we will look to their best interests, rather than just what will ease our guilt.
Remember that parenting isn’t about you. It’s about discipling (and disciplining) young citizens of God’s Kingdom, preparing to send them into the world to make it a better place. That is both a task to accomplish and a release from being a perfect person!