Parents Must Let Go of Guilt

Wednesday, 12 Jan 2011 01:10 PM

By Dr. Laura

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One Saturday afternoon, I caught an episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. In its day, it was a significant television series because it dealt with important issues while also being creepy and thrilling.

The episode I saw took place on a 1960s battleship where the crew starts hearing a clanging noise coming from the depths of the ocean. They happened to be over the remains of a World War II submarine. One of the sailors aboard the battleship starts feeling the presence of others, then he begins seeing crew members from the long-sunken submarine urging him to come to them.

The battleship’s captain sends a crew member underwater to check out the submarine. The diver does not find any sign of life, but he does find old, encrusted dog tags that belong to the sailor who is seeing and hearing things.

The captain talks to the suffering crew member who finally reveals — and relives — how he unwittingly signaled Japanese warships that attacked the submarine and killed all the other crew members. In terrible pain, he wails that it was his fault that the men died and he lived.

The captain grabs the sailor by the shoulders and says something that made me jump to my computer to write this: “It is the time for regret — not guilt.”

Every day, I hear people on my radio program expressing “guilt” when it isn’t called for.

I hear from parents who feel guilty because one of their offspring is abusing drugs or wasting intellectual and creative potential.

Pointing out that they have other children doing just fine does not allow them to let go of their guilt. And try as I do, it is a struggle to get them to embrace a more appropriate emotion, such as regret, sadness, or even hope that their children will someday find their way.

Yes, there are situations where guilt is suitable, such as when parents have abused their children or allowed abuse to occur, when they have been uninvolved, or when they put their own lives before the needs of their children.

All parents occasionally do something for which “regret” is appropriate. However, there are influences and experiences our children have that have nothing to do with us or what we’ve taught them. No parent can take all the credit for a child’s self-destructiveness or great success.

So the next time you feel guilt, ask yourself, “Am I really the cause of this problem?” Regret, sadness, or disappointment might be more appropriate, but you may have to give up your efforts to make things different. That “giving up” can make you feel hopeless, but when it is the right thing to do, you must do it.

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