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Guilt vs. Responsibility

Whether we became single parents through divorce or death, sooner or later we are going to hit that point in the road where the guilt takes over common sense and our best intentions become our biggest downfalls. “John doesn’t have his father here when he needs him. I need to make it up to him.” “Susan doesn’t have her mother to talk to; I need to make sure she has more time with her friends.” In the process, we neglect one of our duties that greatly reflects the type of adults our children become.
I have a friend who has been divorced for eight years and has a 16-year old son and a twelve-year old daughter. It wasn’t too long ago that she asked me if I thought her twelve-year old was old enough to begin doing household chores. “No really heavy stuff; just cleaning her room and maybe taking out the trash.” I couldn’t help myself; I really did laugh in her face. My response? “You are six-years too late!”
This morning, a friend of mine called to say that they were short-handed at the kennel where she works and asked if my thirteen-year old daughter and I could help out. Despite the fact that we had planned a leisurely breakfast, a game of chess, and perhaps a movie, we agreed. We worked for four hard hours – cleaning animal pens, picking up doggie-poo, doing laundry, sweeping floors…anything that needed to be done. It wasn’t “fun” and it wasn’t easy work. But when we were through, we were tired and content that we had performed a job well done and had helped out someone in need.
The owner of the kennel is in her early forties and is the single parent of a fifteen-year old son. He is a strong athletic boy who plays football, rides bikes, builds forts in the woods, and wages war with his friends. Do you think that when she came up short-handed he was at the kennel helping out? No, sir, he was not. In fact, when it got close to lunchtime, he came down to the kennel to inform his mom that he was ready for lunch. Lest I not forget, he also owns several ferrets that are kept at the kennel and do you think he comes down to feed them or care for them? No; those that work at the kennel care for his pets, too.
Now, I don’t know the situation of the divorce, how much his father is in his life, or what the dynamics are between him and his mother. But I do know that a fifteen-year old boy strong enough to play football is strong enough to take dogs in and out of pens, clean floors, and feed animals. I know that if a child is old enough to have a pet, they should have some responsibility over that pet. I know that if he can build a fort, by golly, he can make a sandwich for his own lunch. But for whatever reason, mom thinks that she must take care of him down to the tiniest detail and should not ask for assistance from him in any capacity (he doesn’t help out around the home, either).
What message are we sending our children when we allow our guilt of a broken home or an absentee parent to keep us from our duty of training our children for adult life? By making their child/teen lives as easy as possible, what disappointments are we setting them up to experience in the “real” world? We are certainly not raising the healthy, happy, emotionally strong adults that we all want our children to become.
My children (13 and 17) have helped with the laundry since the oldest one was twelve. They clean their own rooms; they clean the kitchen every night after dinner; they do housework; and they feed, water, and clean the litter pan for their cat. This is in addition to homework, team sports, and other interests including orchestra, reading, writing, and art. I almost forgot, the oldest one also has a part-time job at a local grocery store. The responsibility she learned at home shows on her job; she is know to be the most dependable worker there and has earned herself a raise. The responsibility that we teach at home shows in their behavior in the world, no and in the future. That part-time job has helped her build character and learn financial responsibility. I strongly believe in teaching responsibility and self-sufficiency.
I am sure that there are some out there that feel that I go a bit overboard with the responsibility kick with my daughters. I disagree. They understand responsibility when it comes to the expectations of others, the responsibilities that come with privileges, and responsibility to themselves. They are strong young women who know how to stand up for their beliefs and who can basically (except financially) take care of themselves. They cook, they do laundry, they clean, they study, they handle their own time-management, and they do it all quite successfully. I am very proud of them and I have no guilt for the responsibilities that I have required them to handle. In fact, I firmly believe that they will be better adults for all the responsibility I have given them.
When we allow our own guilt to stand in the way of the life lessons we are suppose to teach our children, we are neglecting our duties as parents. We cannot allow the status of single parent to guilt us into thinking that we are giving them extra when we deprive them of these responsibilities.
Put the guilt aside, single parents! So you got a divorce, your spouse died, your child doesn’t see his other parent as much as he/she would like…that’s life. Life is not always fair and we don’t always get what we want. Children need to realize that as children rather than be protected until they are adults, when they come into a very rude awakening. You can love your children without shielding them from the reality of life. Sometimes love hurts…but through that pain, real character is born. Love your children with a real love…one that accepts happiness and sadness, privilege and responsibility, good times and bad times.
Single parents are the strongest parents in the world!!!

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Content copyright © 2013 by Cynthia Parker. All rights reserved.
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