A family systems lens prevents a parent from seeing that it is all their fault, while also appreciating that they have played a part in the problems – and can play a part in the solutions.
A parent asks:
Hi, would you be prepared to share your view on the parent guilt I’m struggling with?
It is so very hard for parents – mothers, in particular, not to feel burdened by guilt. How can the guilt be redirected to being a curious observer – to see there are things to discover that are in a parent’s control that can gradually make a difference?
A quote from Parent Hope manuals speaks to this question:
“While this approach focusses on parents making changes to themselves, be assured that this is not at all about blaming parents. Parents are not to blame for their young person’s difficulties since many complex factors contribute to symptom development – including genetics and the child’s broader family and social environment. However, parents can play an important part towards symptom reduction by adjusting how they interact with their children. In this way, parents find that they can let go of guilt and recover their hopefulness.”
In my book Growing Yourself Up (p 234), I write about an example of a father who moved from blame to hope – a similar path to getting out of the burden of guilt:
“As a dad, Ahmed had commenced counselling, thinking his wife and daughter needed to change. After exploring how each of them affected each other, he appreciated that he had contributed to the family problem. Rather than experience a sense of blame, he felt a sense of agency. His confidence as a parent increased since he had discovered something constructive to work on. It was important to him and Lina that they figured their own way through their problem patterns instead of being instructed to change. Both parents described feeling ‘back in the driving seat’ as parents. They could see gradual improvements in their daughter’s impulsivity, which gave them hope that they could make a difference by being less reactive and having clearer positions as parents. Additionally, they became interested in the influences of their families of origin and the sensitivities they had brought into their marriage and parenting.”
The pattern of self-blame and guilt is the other side of the coin to the pattern of blaming others. I write (p 12) that:
“Self-blame, a learnt response, is a reaction to an upset in another person that is then personalised. Whether it’s trying to change another or blaming ourselves for another’s predicament, our viewpoint is narrowed to putting the issue into one individual. The upset arises in our relationship reactions, yet we so easily treat the problem as if it’s in the one person, and then set about trying to change them or judge them. Any kind of ‘change-and-blame dance’ can feel like it’s about making life improvements, but when you step back and look at the reality, it’s hard to see any evidence of ‘people growing’ going on.”
The key to getting beyond guilt is seeing the bigger picture of how problem patterns in parenting and all relationships happen in a system – many people, including the child, contribute over time. A family systems lens prevents a parent from seeing that it is all their fault while also appreciating that they have played a part in the problems and can play a part in the solutions.
Dr Jenny Brown
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