You are an adult. You waited a long time to have a place of your own, and to feel like a responsible addition to society. You hold down a great job, are raising two beautiful children, and have a nice relationship with your spouse. Your bills are paid on time, you always have gas in your car, and yet you cannot talk to your own parents on the phone without feeling guilty when you hang up.
Your parents no matter how old YOU are, have a way of making their children feel guilty. If you haven’t seen your parents in a while, or don’t call as often as you should – or didn’t help your folks dig the holes to plant the azaleas they bought -chances are high your aging mom and dad are going to let you know that you weren’t there when they needed you. Being guilted by your parents, or feeling guilty about something as it pertains to your parents is a very natural occurrence. According to the folks at Psychology Today, making others feel icky and unpleasant with guilt often provides pleasant results. Truth is, that the guilt tactic is not a new one and is simply an underhanded form of manipulation.
And, when it comes to guilt inflicted by parents – it isn’t always a bad thing. While you are an adult now, the truth is that your parents have likely been long guilting you into doing or acting certain ways since you were young as a form of child discipline. Why? Because it has worked. And chances are pretty high that if you check your own parenting register – you too use guilt (even if unknowingly) as a way to create a desired result in your own children.
Obviously, you are an adult now. The last thing you want or need is to hear the woes and cries of your aging parents that make you feel like you are missing the mark in the perfect offspring department. After all, you are busy with a life of your own and it is certainly unreasonable for parents to stymie your life by inflicting a guilty punishment. Even worse is that if every time you call your mom or dad, you get off the phone feeling like a jerk for not visiting, you are more likely to communicate less and less to avoid the unpleasant guilty feelings. This in turn only makes you feel guiltier. When this happens, you have entered a very vicious cycle.
What makes guilt so bad for adult children according to psychologists is that grown children often have a lot of confusing feelings of fear, guilt, and loss as they witness their parents aging. While you are in your mid-life and enjoying so many things with your own family, your parent’s lives may be changing drastically. They might be facing health or mobility challenges. They might not have as much robust energy as they used to. So, for you – to witness what feels like their demise – and to know that you aren’t savoring as many moments with them as possible – causes irreconcilable guilt for you. With this guilt can come sadness and even anger or resentment. Remember that it is not your duty in life to make your parents happy. And while you may have inklings of ‘doing what’s right,’ and paying them back for all they have done for you over the years, you cannot sacrifice your own happiness for theirs. This is not what a good parent would want from you.
Therapists believe that the best way to handle this guilt is to first figure out if your parents are trying to make you feel guilty, or if your guilt is a combination of your own fears and anxieties about losing the parents you have in your memory. The second step is to try and deal with the guilt head on so that you can snap your parents back into reality. For instance, if your mom is constantly making comments about seeing the grandchildren – then invite her to your house and do whatever is in your means to make the visit possible. Help her to install Skype on her computer so that she can see the kids virtually any time of the day. And make sure that the kids stay in touch as often as possible. Additionally, when any guilt inflicting comments are made, be sure to meet them head on. Be clear that while you love your parents and want to be closer, that right now you are extremely busy.
If your parents are prone to inflicting an immense amount of guilt on you for things, it is important that you face them head on and explain to them that what they are doing or saying is not fair and that you refuse to be manipulated. This may seem a bit harsh in the moment, and may make you feel even guiltier in the short term, but is important in the long run. This shows that you are standing up for yourself and that you are acting like the adult that you are now, and asserting your position.
One of the most important things to realize when it comes to being guilted or shamed by your parents is to understand that no one can make you feel any feeling UNLESS you allow them to. If you recognize the guilt manipulation tactic, then it is important to decide how you are going to react to it. Are you going to continue falling for it – thus teaching your parents that it works in their favor, or are you going to decide once and for all that you are not fair game for the manipulation?
Also, remember that while you may feel awful for not visiting your parents, or for not being there for them in their exact time of need – the bottom line is that they love you and you love them. Understanding this love factor, can help you handle the guilty feelings a little more amicably.