Is guilt a waste-of-time emotion?
What if we saw the same action from a different perspective?
This probably classifies as one of those “I’m not sure I should really post this” posts. But, frankly, those are the ones I should really post. My wife wrote this on Facebook the day before Halloween:
Tomorrow Liam turns 13 – a teenager. Until now, Liam has celebrated the best birthdays with at least three parties: one with friends, a pumpkin carving party and the actual trick-or-treat. I feel so sorry that this year he totally wants to skip his birthday. Just wants to get it over with. Being far away from his San Francisco buddies in a country without nearly any sign of Halloween-spirit, makes it a sad day for him. Feeling guilty and so wish I could make tomorrow better for him.
I agree with every single word of it except the word “guilty.” Let’s see what guilt really means.
Guilt: (1) the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability. (2) a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Definition number two talks about “a feeling of responsibility” and yep, I get that. But then that responsibility is for “some offense, crime, wrong, etc.” This is where I take issue. I feel like I’m speaking in a courtroom, but I want to say, “But we have done no wrong. We have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. If there’s an emotion we should be feeling, it’s far from guilt.” In her post, she writes that she and/or he feel:
- Want to get it over with,
- Far away,
- (Away) from buddies,
- In a country with little Halloween spirit,
- Wish (could make it better).
Whew, what a collection. Again, I only can’t stomach #7. But let me make this clear: I don’t feel guilty, but I understand that she does. I suppose what I’m really feeling is sad that she feels guilty because I think that she doesn’t need to feel guilty. If she were sad because Liam is sad, that I understand. I also am sad that he didn’t want to celebrate his birthday with friends (even though he has friends here). Just for kicks, here are a few feelings I have about our having moved with our kids to Holland:
I’m so proud of my boys I can’t even put it into stronger words. They’re here, rarely complaining, on a different continent, in a different country, speaking a different language with different kids buying different food in different stores. We bicycle to school and wear gloves because it’s so cold–and winter hasn’t even started. They joke, in Dutch, with American cowboy accents and pretend they’re from Alabama. They struggle with a different school and teaching system. They don’t know what a “zelfstandig naamwoord” is (Liam, either do I!) and get dinged in a test. They bike to town and buy the most crappy snacks possible for under €2.
In short, we’ve dropped them into the deep end of a new life and they are doing, pun intended, swimmingly. Just like you can’t run in zero gravity, you can’t learn (much) when everything is easy and normal and expected.
If there is no friction, there is no energy. If there is no resistance, there is no power.
Guilt isn’t even in the ballpark. It’s not even in the parking lot. Why do I not feel that and my wife does? Is it just a mother-son thing that I don’t understand? Do I not feel the pain and sadness that my son sometimes feels?
I only want what’s best for them. I want their lives to be full and joyous. I want them to learn and discover and grow and mature. I want them to struggle so the victories are sweeter. I want them to fail (and fail often!) so success is stronger, better and meaningful. I want them to live in a new place so they gain an appreciation of where they came from. I want them to see the world so they can choose where they fit in, where they want to live and how they can best contribute to make it a better place. I want them to truly and deeply immerse themselves in a bilingual life. I want them to get to know their mother’s family. I want them to open doors and then have the experience and judgement to decide whether or not to go in–not stand out front and hesitate, wonder and worry.
There are going to be lots and lots of doors in their future and I want them to have the confidence to at least go up and knock.
As per definition, guilt results from having done something wrong. I feel that not only have we done nothing wrong, we have done this one extremely right. This by no stretch of the imagination means that all of our parenting decisions aren’t worthy of some guilt (super glue as nail polish probably wasn’t a brilliant plan). But giving our boys the experience of a new country at a time when their minds are open like a canyon and soaking up everything around them like a sea sponge, their eyes are open, their ears are ringing and the world is theirs for the taking.
My dearest Saskia, please let it not be guilt you feel for starting our boys down this path. If today is tough, step up onto a chair and see things from a different perspective. Head up a little higher and see this blip of time in their lives as a pivotal point where they grew from boys into strong young men thanks to the experiences we’ve shared with them.
Let not guilt pull us down into the depths of sadness, but let pride pull us up to heights where we are examples of how to relish change in our lives. Let us be the pillars of pride to our sons and strive forward with strength, curiosity and hearty helping of courage.
They follow our actions and our feelings. Let’s be proud of where we are and where we’re going–no matter where that may be. Let’s give them the gift of pride of ownership and treat yesterday with respect, today with passion and tomorrow with curiosity.
Leave guilt for things that we do wrong and regret. But what we have done is far from wrong and you have nothing to be guilty about.