21 May 2009

Sorrows and guilt

It's amazing how our upbringing can have such a profound effect on how we live our lives, what we think, and how we repeat the same upbringing by passing on certain so-called "wisdom" to our children. They may just repeat this same pattern with any future relationships they have as well.

I have so many conversations with so many different types of people who have different beliefs, but often we share a common bond. A bond that makes us believe that we should always express our sorrow when appropriate and we teach our children that etiquette because we want them to be "good" people.

Some time ago, however, I learned that we tend to say, "I'm sorry," at times when we really are not obligated to do so. Such as, when you have been truly busy with your life, your responsibilities, your family and you have not gotten around to returning some phone calls. The first thing you feel compelled to say to some people is, "I am so sorry, I have been busy." With such an apology, one often possesses feelings of GUILT. Why do we put this pressure on ourselves, and then we bestow it upon others, others that we say we care about. No one should feel sorrow about tending to their life and not having the ability to keep up with everyone and everything.

This pressure we put on ourselves is unwarranted. It weighs us down. It causes health problems. It causes unnecessary emotional problems. It takes up time and wastes it away. When we bottle up guilt, it impacts our bodies and minds and becomes toxic.

A better practice when we fall short of "keeping up" would be to attempt to keep all positive, and stick to thoughts that serve you better than trying to bring a negative thought into the picture. Your intentions all along were to do good. To suddenly turn it into a negative is surely unnecessary. The better conversation is, "Hello, I know it's been awhile since we spoke, so let's try to catch up since we obviously are both so busy. " The focus goes to the delight of sharing and not on placing blame anywhere.

Children should not be taught the prison of "guilt"
A few days ago at the playground, I suddenly heard piercing cries from my daughter. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and all the children had dashed out of school over to the playground to unleash their energies that comprised of joy that the sun was shining, and relief that school was done for the day. So how did such a "perfect" setting suddenly turn bleak? Well, as usual, an "ACCIDENT" happened. A mere accident.

The children were playing rather uninhibitedly, just running, climbing, jumping, laughing, and as expected, collisions would happen, as well as falls, unintentional slaps, punches, trips, pushes..... all the wonderful things that can always occur when even just one child is present!

Here we have my daughter, just crying, while holding her head, and following behind her were 3 other children, running to tell me, 3 different stories about what happened. Well, at that point I realized that it did not matter why it happened, just that it happened, and I just needed to make sure that she was OK. Sure, she was clobbered, and it hurt, but she was indeed OK. Good.

Thereafter, I looked directly at her and asked her what happened. She told me that one of her friends, who happens to be a boy, hit her. At the same time, the mother of this boy, realized that her son was implicated in the matter, and she proceeded to scold him and put him in "time-out." She was extremely upset with her son's alleged behavior. He yelled repeatedly, "I did not hit her, it was an accident!" And he was not letting up. I quickly started to think, "hey, perhaps he is speaking the truth." Accidents happen.

There was his mother, insisting that he be quiet, insisting that he stay in time-out, and then she commanded him to come over to my daughter and apologize. He refused. We had a huge dilemma here and I could understand his position. The dilemma, for me, was not his refusal to apologize, but more so the fact that his mother was insisting, plainly, that he apologize. I wanted to believe that he did not intend to hit Nia. It seemed very believable to me because Nia IS his friend. I also understood that in his rational mind, he did not think he should apologize because he did not hit her. In his mind, an accident happened.

It's so important that we teach our children what being "sorry," means, or actually what "feeling sorry" should mean. The little boy's mother never took the time to explain to her son that he probably should just apologize for the fact that the accident "happened" and that it was his arm that caused pain to hurt his friend Nia. She should have explained that his apology would simply make her feel better. It was not an expression of admitting GUILT for a crime. I say crime, because his reaction to his mother's command was as if he was being accused of committing a "crime."

I did tell his mother that it was OK and probably just an accident. But this is where something worse happened after that. The GUILT she imparted on her son was unnecessary. We have all done this. I have done this. We get upset with our children when they don't apologize, for everything, intentional or not. It's not a good message. Then our children (as we did), grow up feeling compelled to apologize for everything... and carrying GUILT for so many things... unnecessarily.

We need to teach (and learn ourselves) that sorrow should be imparted PROPERLY. And then forgiveness must proceed. We surely know when it is appropriate to give an apology, and we know when to accept it, and move on.

MORE and MORE accidents

A couple days ago, again, this message rang clear. My children were slightly at odds with one another as we left a restaurant. My son jumped into the front seat of the car, and my daughter (who was adamant about chasing him and stopping him), ran after him, and grabbed the door to stop him from closing it. She very unwisely, held the door not realizing that (a) he was a lot stronger than her, and (b) she should not leave her fingers inside the door. He pulled the door quickly and in a second before anything could change the outcome, he had slammed the door on her tiny 7 yr old finger. She screamed, and I quickly saw what happened, opened the door, to free her smashed and ripped black and blue finger. I held her tightly and let her have her moment to scream, cry, shake and feel all the pain that goes with such a traumatic event. I then wrapped up her little finger.

I did not light into my son (because wisdom is flowing in my soul :). Instead, after about five minutes, I let go of my daughter, and I bent down to her and I said, "I know it hurts, but right now, right here, I want you to understand that this is a lesson for you to learn. You have to be careful so that you can try to avoid getting hurt. Today we learned that you should not play with doors ok." She said, "yes Mommy," as she continued to cry.

I looked at my son, and his face was just filled with sorrow, and his eyes were welled up with tears. His head was low. I certainly knew he was so sorry for what had happened. I saw the tense feeling that must have tightened up his entire body. I could see the fear all over him. I knew he was in pain just like she was in pain. I certainly did not appreciate what had happened, but I certainly knew that he never intended to slam his sister's finger in the door. His only intentions was to get in the car and not have her bother him. Ok.

I said to him, "I am not sure why you were running from your sister. I am also not sure why she was chasing you, but do you see how quickly an accident can happen. Your sister is small and she may not make great decisions sometimes when you play together, so try to be careful. I do not want you to sit around all day and feel bad about what happened. It was an accident. So please do not stay unhappy and sad. Just be thankful she will be ok."

I learned a great lesson. It was important for both children to have their pain soothed quickly. Nia groaned and moaned for a few hours. She wanted attention and a new bandaid every hour. I gave it to her. But I felt that letting Miles "off the hook," as quickly as possible was the most important thing. He did NOT need to feel guilty about an unintentional accident.

Our lives will undoubtedly give us many situations that will leave us feeling guilty. Guilt causes so much stress and anguish. When it's possible, it is good to get it in and out quickly, so that we can breathe, and return to happiness... which is so much healthier.

1 comment:

Sita said...

This is exactly what I've carrying around for days, almost a week now! Horrible guilt that my adorable little niece fell off swing and broke her wrist right in front of me! :( It was an accident but its made me so sad. Thanks for helping me deal w/ my frustation of not being able to control everything in my surroundings. I am dealing w/ the accident and hoping she recovers quickly, including myself. I am also one of those people who are forever saying SORRY to everyone, friends, family, strangers on the street...I will try and understand true meaning of the word! Thx again.