Does Parental Guilt Ever Go Away?

I’m downstairs in the office finishing off an article and polishing some other work things. Ian is upstairs playing video games. Then I have to finish off the laundry, so we can pack for a trip tomorrow to North Carolina. And Ian will still play video games. I have to answer about ten e-mail messages and write another ten. Ian will play more video games. Then I have to make a dinner that ingeniously uses up all the leftovers in the fridge without resulting any new food items in the fridge. More video games for Ian.

Yes, Ian will have a full day of mind-blowing video game action, and I feel like shit. He’s twelve now. I should beyond the parental guilt stage of life. I’m not. I should be taking him on trips to the museum or working on math review worksheets or arranging social activities for him. Bad mother. Bad mother.

I signed him for six weeks of camp this summer, and we’ll be away for two weeks. So, he’s mostly occupied this summer, except for weeks like this one thrown in the mix.

By the way, those six weeks of camp? $6,000. I hate everyone who can send their children to cheap summer programs. Those cheap summer programs don’t accept kids with disabilities.

Yesterday, I kept him busy by dragging him around to a long list of errands with me. I’m going to have to sneak in some trips to Barnes and Noble and the mall to break up Ian’s video game marathon.


34 thoughts on “Does Parental Guilt Ever Go Away?

  1. I’m pretty sure you can carry it forever. Yesterday my 20-year-old son asked if we have pictures of him when he was 10. 2004 was a bad year — I didn’t get hired in many, many places (including the place I work now). Pictures — I have from 1994-2000, in albums until 1997, but then there’s a huge break. I guess that’s when we stopped using film and getting pictures developed. And when we moved to the States and so didn’t need to send pictures to my family.
    So I spent much of yesterday afternoon looking for old cameras (maybe there are memory cards?) or files with something other than school pictures. In high school, other people took pictures and sent them to us, like for music and sports activities.
    But I’m still looking for that 10-year-old. there’s some guilt for you.

  2. Our local private college has an autism center. They do a half day one-week camp for autistic kids for $65 total for the week. They’re supposed to do bowling, ping-pong, outdoor activities, water play, children’s museum and arts and crafts.

    The college also offers extremely inexpensive speech therapy (a full term for not much over $100–when middle kid was working on his stutter, we got an employee family discount that made it about $75 for a full term).

    And this is one of the reasons that I think that expensive private colleges can be AWESOME and a huge asset to communities.

  3. No, it never goes away. And the people who should feel guilty are never the ones who do.

    But, I have the power to absolve everyone on this board of guilt. One day vegging out on video games will not hurt E (you know that, too, or you wouldn’t do it). A twenty year old does not need a picture of himself when he was 10. There is no such thing as perfect parenting. My mom still feels guilty, and I don’t know what she thinks would be better for us now if she had been more perfect (we’re all doing pretty well).

    BTW, you brought a bit of tears to my eyes to hear that you rely on the pictures others took of your son. I do take pictures of everyone, and have since my kids started school. As they enter the tween years, I’ve had to be more sensitive about the kids who don’t want pictures taken and parents who want to take their own pictures, but am glad that there are parents who still want other people’s pictures. I’m going to keep doing it, even if I have to be more careful.

    1. Awww.

      I recently sent my 12-year-old (who had been complaining of minor ear pain) on a big trip, only to find out that yeah, she did have what turned into a huge, horribly painful double ear infection. (I discovered this when my husband called from the San Francisco airport on their way to Vancouver.)

      That’s my most recent contribution to the mama guilt file, although I don’t feel that guilty about it. In all the confusion of packing for a big trip for 3/5 of the family, it was easy to miss the clues.

      1. I think my boo boo file is largely health/accident related. Examples:

        –the time I took a tiny newborn C to the pediatrician just in arms, not having thought out the fact that I would need to put her down to fill out forms, etc., and wound up holding her between my ankles, penguin style
        –the time I slid down about three steps holding a boom box in one hand and baby C in the other, then did a faceplant in the carpet at the bottom.
        –the time I leaned over a baby gate to pick up Baby C and then the gate unexpectedly came loose, fell on top of Baby C, and then I wound up on top of the gate and Baby C (who was probably about 20 pounds at the time)

        Baby C was just fine.

        We also have a long list of ER events involving D, but half the time, we wind asking ourselves, how did that even happen? All the C events, though, were totally preventable.

  4. I don’t know where you live but have you spoken to the directors at your local park and rec camps about taking someone like Ian? I only ask bc I thought the same thing too here but on a whim I asked the director and she told me that they do accept kids like my daughter (PDDNOS/Autism) and have a student who has been going for years and now going to try out being a volunteer leader. Not only that but she mentioned that of it didn’t work out she ran a camp specifically for kid w special needs through the district. I has no idea but was glad I had asked. At the very least they could point you to some places that might be as expensive.

  5. My mom still ‘apologizes’ for requiring that I get a job so I could contribute to drive the family car after i got my license. Which is ridiculous because getting a job in HS was obviously hugely helpful to my morale and work ethic, and contributing to the family made me feel grownup.

    Perhaps your son will look fondly back on this day as the day when his mom let him play video games all day long 🙂

    1. Yes, as the time you were nice, once.

      My son handing me his doggie bag to carry this afternoon and said, “mom, be nice, just this once.” I took it, but told him that was it, that was the one time I was going to be nice.

  6. Nope, never goes away. My son is 19, daughter is 15. A day doesn’t go by that I either feel guilty about what I’m currently doing or remembering some terrible parenting mistake I made years ago that has led to some slight I see now.

  7. Is this some SES thing again? I mean, I know the things I did wrong and if my kids (ages 24 and 28) ever want me to come to therapy with them, or just apologize for something, I’ll do it; but I don’t waste my time with guilt, it’s incredibly self-centered and I want my life to be about making things better for myself and others, not humble-bragging about what I’ve done wrong and asking people to bond with me and tell me I’m really okay.

    1. Yes, it might be a SES thing. When you know that you don’t have abundant resources, presumably, everything isn’t a choice. You go to work because you have to. You pay for the camp or lesson or shoes if you can afford it. For my family all of those things are always really choices. Do you chose to pay for private school? Do you buy the fancy basketball shoes? Do you work, when you can’t really say that you work so that there will be enough money for everything?

      So, each choice comes with guilt because it really is a choice. And, when you make the choice, you don’t know which will matter to your children. What choice you made will make them feel less loved?

      Now, on the other hand, my mom did not have abundant resources. Her regrets and guilt comes from not having the knowledge, from feeling that if she were more savvy, she’d have known things that let her provide us with opportunities. So, maybe some of it is just personality.

      I am usually pretty guilt free about my choices, my spouse struggles more. And that’s personality. But I don’t think most people are humble-bragging, though some may be. I’m usually completely unsympathetic to people who humble-brag about being fat, or busy, or stupid, but I’m sympathetic about mom-guilt.

    2. Five years ago, when my middle child was 4.5 and really should have known better, he was enjoying spinning himself in our rental living room where there was a brick fireplace surround. He spun right into it and opened up a large gash (like a sort of bloody third eye) right in the middle of his forehead, across the bridge of his nose. He had played there 2+ years without incident, so we’d never covered the edge and corners of the bricks with the foam babyproofing stuff. We rushed him to the ER and he got stitched up. He looked like Frankenstein’s monster for a long, long time. Five years later, it doesn’t look quite as bad, but I can still see the scar over the bridge of his nose.

      That’s the sort of stuff I have on my mental highlight loop. Wow, I wish we’d put the foam stuff on when we moved in so that didn’t have to happen.

      The survival value of it is that I don’t think I ever make exactly the same mistake twice, but there are so many possibilities!

      1. Oh, and after that, we put the foam baby-proofing stuff on the edges and corners of the fireplace surround. Too late for D, but nobody else ever got hurt there.

  8. I feel guilty because I feel like I always have to be developing Ian’s skills. If I don’t do enough, he may be living in our basement for life. If I work just a little harder, he might have a more normal life.

    Here’s an article about kids who recover from autism.

    Basically, kids like Ian with very high nonverbal IQs have a good shot at recovering. Provided they get tons of attention. We didn’t get Ian into an ABA program until he was 5. I will ALWAYS be hating myself for that.

    1. There will always be “what ifs”. If it’s not getting ABA sooner, it’d be something else. You’re doing a wonderful job, he’s thriving, you’re supportive, that’s a lot. I feel the same, I took my daughter out of early intervention after the second try b/c my excuse was that she had only been home for two months (adopted) and perhaps it was too soon to start EI or perhaps she was still adjusting and we didn’t need it, she needed to bond with us first, not other people. Of course, a year later she was diagnosed with PDDNOS and I was guilt ridden thinking about a whole year of intervention that could have been.

      We need to cut ourselves some serious slack when it comes to guilt. Be kind to yourself.

    2. That is a really hard place to be. Since I read this comment I have wanted to come up with some perfect answer that will convey my belief that mistakes are an inherent part of parenting and given that you are a loving and engaged parent, it is pretty much just bad luck that IF this was a critical error, it was at that time and in that place and you didn’t have an older sibling with a child with the same issue 2 years ahead so you would have a source from which to glean everything you needed to know all the time.

      In your pictures though I see a kid with a spark in his eyes, and I bet the chances are really high he will have a good life, even if it does not end up a traditional one.

      I haven’t been in your shoes, but I have lost a baby to medical error including having been talked out of panicking about the c-section that had it occurred would have saved her life, so I know all the logic in the world leaves us with the same reality that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. If you had known, you would have moved heaven and earth to get that exact intervention; if I had known I would have walked down the hall in full labour and sat wherever I needed to sit screaming until the OB did surgery.

  9. I allowed myself to gain 65 pounds when pregnant with DD #2. I’d done something similar with DD#1 and it worked out fine, so I didn’t stress. But DD#2 came out very large (a ten pound baby) and has literally been overweight every second of her life. She’s now eleven and it very clearly impacts her social life. As Laura says, I will ALWAYS hate myself for being so careless.

    1. Jen, I also gained a huge amount of weight for my second child (my son) and he was 9-14 when he was born. He is as skinny as can be. A lot is genetic, including the autism. He is exactly like my FIL, which is good because it means he will be relatively functional all his life (my FIL worked till he was 75). My FIL was also tall and thin, like my son and husband.

      My first child was 8-4 and in the 95th percentile all her life until she turned about 13 or 14, then wham, she turned into a teenage hottie.She’s been lording it over all of us here at the Cape, easily the most attractive female in our group. We all hate her. 🙂

      What do I blame myself for? Not going on anti-depressants sooner. I really “lost” most of S’s 3rd year due to depression.

      1. “A lot is genetic, including the autism.”

        I think there’s definitely a personality type issue, aside from body type–my plump oldest (like me) never forgets the existence of food, whereas my skinny middle child (like his dad) can and does forget about food entirely.

      2. At the risk of not contributing to the guilt absolution I think we all deserve, there is a recent (2014) report on increased risk of childhood obesity with increased maternal weight gain during pregnancy:

        Maternal gestational weight gain and offspring risk for childhood overweight or obesity

        The study is reported as odds ratios, which I hate, and reports, I think of what I know of odds ratios, a small effect size, which is compatible with the anecdotes reported here.

        No one should still feel guilty, though, any more than our grandparents (or great grandparents, depending on how old everyone is) should feel guilty for not having given their child the polio vaccine (it didn’t exist). We can only act on the information we have. Ten years ago, we didn’t know that maternal weight gain might be somewhat associated with obesity. Ten years ago, we didn’t know that ABA might prove to be efficacious (and, indeed, before that, there was real concern that the treatment might be abusive, in the form reported by Lovaas).

        I came to a realization that my “if onlies” were a form of perseveration a few years ago, a tendency to focus on one thing and imagine that everything would have been perfect, if not only for that one thing. I realized that if that only hadn’t been there, I would have found another to perseverate on.

    2. I really don’t think that’s it–birth weight has little to do with eventual weight. I gained 50 pounds with my second pregnancy and had a 10+ pound baby. Fast forward 9 years, and he’s got no body fat at all and is solid bone and muscle and is a little on the shrimpy side with regard to height and he’s right around 60 pounds. Meanwhile, I gained 37-40 pounds with his older sister, who was 8+ pounds at birth. She was a relatively slender child up to about 9 years of age and then put on the tween pudge which is typical of females in my family around that age. She’s now 4’11” and 125 pounds (and I’m praying she’s about to shoot up and slim down). The second child is both active and not a big eater. The first child is sedentary and is an eater. I don’t think I can take credit or blame for either, because they’re so different and they got basically the same treatment.

  10. Cheer up. You have done more for your sons than anyone could have imagined would be possible.

    In times of guilt, I find it helps to remember a time when you despaired about your child’s future. There was a time when I doubted one of my children could ever live independently. Mark your child’s progress from that point, not from anecdotes of children who have recovered from autism.

    Playing video games is also a social skill for boys. Not so much playing them–but being able to discuss them with peers. It’s a common topic of conversation. Mind you, I find tales of video game prowess to be as boring as golfers recounting their rounds. Nevertheless, a boy who has been kept away from boredom and/or video games is socially odd.

    1. Swapping Minecraft tips seemed like a major source of 6th grade street cred last year, at least judging from my daughter.

  11. I don’t understand the problem. If parental guilt never goes away, just blame your parenting mistakes on your own parents having failed you.

  12. There’s a larger question about risk assessment and choices that need to be made here. Pretty much with every parental what if, there’s a choice that’s been made with uncertain information (well, at least for all of us). I implied in my comment about weight/ABA that the uncertain information might become more certain with time (as it did with the polio vaccine). But, for many of these what ifs, uncertainty will remain and does not particularly improve with time. Maybe, some day, we’ll actually know which children will get “optimal outcomes” with ABA, and who will really be at risk for obesity and what interventions can be made, and how important breastfeeding is, how good or bad video gaming is for you, what the effect of photographically documenting your child’s entire life is, or precisely which c-sections are medically necessary, but that time is far away.

    So, in real life, we are constantly taking odds ratios (and, yes, I actually read the literature and look at odds ratios, but even people who don’t are doing the same decision making) and trying to translate that into a choice. A lot of times the information should only mildly bias the decision — breastfeeding does not guarantee intelligence or healthy weight, even if we think that it might, slightly, contribute to it. We *have* to play the odds. Sometimes we convince ourselves that there’s no cost to always taking the risk-lowering choice, but that’s rarely true. It’s always a matter of balancing the cost and risk optimization. Yes, I can guarantee that I have pictures of my 10 year old, pretty much, but the number of pictures I’ve taken has a cost, too, in their development.

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