Parent Guilt: Why We Shouldn’t Overcompensate

by stacie on December 20, 2020

I was a single mom for quite a few years. As such, I subconsciously started overcompensating for everything. For the dad that wasn’t around, for the financial shortage that occurred when we lost one income, for the simple fact that my daughter was now the victim of divorce.

I was a chronic overcompensator. And it was (and still is) a problem.

I don’t think it’s only single parents that overcompensate though. I find this is also a problem with many families where both parents work long hours to keep their families financially afloat. In these cases, I find that the parents are throwing some of that hard-earned money at their children because they feel guilty for not spending enough time with them.

Here’s the problem with overcompensating: it snowballs to a point that it eventually gets to be out of control. And I’m not just talking about the financial expectations — I also mean it can be out of control in regards to what your kids expect from you emotionally and time-wise and how they view their friends’ parents.

Because I was an overcompensator, I spent as much time as humanly possible with my older child. When her father and I divorced, I owned a women’s clothing store. Because it required so many hours of my time, I closed it down and took a job working at the daycare she attended; I received a paycheck and she got socialization time.

We took endless trips to the playground, we played endless hours of Polly Pockets, dress up, and board games. As she got older and her tastes changed, so did our routine. But because I was overcompensating, I never really forced her to explore things on her own. And I never took any time for myself (also another big no-no).

She started to view her friends’ parents as “bad” because they didn’t spend as much time with their kids as I did with her. Her friends always told her how lucky she was to have a mom that “wanted” to spend time with her. At the time, I felt empowered. I felt like supermom. Like, look at me! I’m awesome! I spend all my time with my kid. I’m the best. Parent. EVER. It never once occurred to me that this could become a problem.

Until a few weeks ago when our oldest divulged to me that she thinks her stepdad is lazy. And that he doesn’t spend enough time with the kids. As we talked through it, I realized that she didn’t really think he was lazy. She actually thought he was doing things wrong with her little sister because his parenting model is not an exact replica of mine.

While he takes the time to endlessly make kitty cats out of Play-doh so the baby can squish them and ask for him to “do it again daddy!” he might have the news on in the background. And that, even though he makes it to every swim meet he can, he isn’t always able to rearrange his entire workday to be there for the often 12 hours they take.

At that moment, it occurred to me that by overcompensating for all those years, I might have actually done more harm than good. I have altered my daughter’s perception of what a parent should be. And in the process, I may very well have set her up for failure down the line. What if, as an adult, she is not able to have a job as flexible as mine? What if she is not able to spend as much time with her kids as I do with her and her sister? What if she doesn’t want to? Will she feel like a failure? Will she just toss money at her kids to cure the problem, thus changing their perception of what the child-parent relationship should be?

Now, I’m not suggesting that you ignore your children. But giving them a little bit of their own independent play space is not such a bad idea. Additionally, not dropping everything to cater to their whim-of-the-moment is also something to be aware of. It’s okay for our kids to wait. They don’t have to be picked up while you’re trying to make a sandwich, even if they are screaming and crying and blubbering “mumma, pick me up! pleeeaaaasssseeee!” Honestly, they’ll survive.

And it’s okay to tell our kids “no”. They need to hear it. In a world filled with scenarios in which every child is given an award for nearly everything they do, it’s okay for them to realize that things are not always going to go their way.

As they enter their teenage and young adult years, you’ll be doing them a huge favor. Because, let’s be honest, life does not always go the way you want it to.

Photo Courtesy of  Flickr/Malingering

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruby T. December 20, 2020 at 7:05 am

Interesting post, there’s a lot to think about. I would never have thought there was a negative side to spending more time with your child; usually it’s both children and parents that wish they could have more undivided time together. I know that if I want my child to tell me anything of relevance, about her day or her feelings, I have to sit down with her and do something together to get her to warm up and feel safe enough to confide in me. That time together is critical to establishing a relationship where she can finally let out whatever that’s been on her mind.

Of course you are talking about the extreme where you got to spend nearly all day with your child. Funny how I never considered that might be an issue for her down the road.

Villy K December 20, 2020 at 4:15 pm

Having a kid is a blessing and you never regret spending too much time with your children. I would say the more quality time you spend raising your children the more happy you will be that you had the opportunity to give them the best advice, to protect them, to educate them. I our days a lot of parents think money is the most important, but you can have all the money on the world, but not all the time! So enjoy every minute around your kid!

k8 December 20, 2020 at 5:47 pm

While I would agree with you that going to the extremes of spending too much time with your daughter might have the possibility of being damaging, I’d say there’s a lot of other way worse ways to screw up your kid! In fact, I’m of the opinion that there’s pretty much nothing you can do that won’t fuck them up somehow

Pinchus Rose December 21, 2020 at 1:21 am

I’m just curious. You say your daughter thinks her father is lazy. Has her mother changed at all? Meaning, do you still spend that much time with her, or have you also changed, thus becoming ‘lazy’ yourself? She should have gotten the message that parents aren’t there all the time. Or do you feel that you are compensating now for the remarriage?

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