Always Real

Guilt v Remorse

A number of my readers yesterday took the position that I had “guilted” Sean into giving away the toy. Several points on that:

1.  First of all, since he opened the toy, we were unable to give the toy away. So I didn’t guilt him into giving it – he chose to open it whereupon he assumed ownership of said toy.

2.  I don’t necessarily think guilt is a completely bad thing. When he’s a teenager and it’s guilt that keeps him from experimenting with drugs or getting into a car with drunken friends, then yay guilt.  Bring on the guilt.  If it’s guilt that helps him to decide to stick up for a picked-on kid or look after the weak, then three cheers for guilt.   Sometimes – sometimes – guilt is what drives us to better choices and behavior.  Sometimes – sometimes – we should feel badly about our choices.

In my mind guilt is directed outward — I’m unhappy with you, that you made me do this. Remorse says “I’m unhappy with me. I made a choice that didn’t feel right.”   Remorse is likely to alter character. Guilt is likely to alter only behavior. Remorse takes ownership of choice;  guilt abdicates ownership of choice. Remorse often comes with tears, guilt usually doesn’t.

3. Having said that, I didn’t guilt Sean into giving the toy. It was his toy and his choice (to keep the toy). As a parent it is my job to make sure he has adequate information to make good decisions. I asked him to think about a few things before he made his choice, things that on his own, as a 5-year-old,  he would not think about.  If I allow Sean to grow up thinking the world revolves around his comfort and desires, unaware of poverty and suffering, that all children live as well as he — then I am an abject failure of a parent.  These lessons must be taught and reinforced daily and it’s never too soon to start.

3. Sean made the choice any typical five-year-old would make. It was the choice I expected he would make.  He thought he wanted the toy, but after he opened it, he realized he really didn’t.  He disappointed himself more than his mother.  His tears were not of guilt, but remorse.   I think he realized the thrill of giving it away would have exceeded the short-lived thrill of opening it.  In my view, the remorse he felt was a step forward in the shaping of his character.

I am not interested in making sure my child is always happy and comfortable, that his every whim and urge is satisfied immediately, that he never loses or never feels badly or that God forbid he should feel guilt or remorse.  I’m driven to raise him up to be a man of character with a heart of compassion and spine to serve. Yes, he is only five, but those seeds must be planted now.

And now I shall hit the publish button.

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47 thoughts on “Guilt v Remorse

  1. AM, I think you did a beautiful job with Sean! Keep planting the seeds and you will see a marvelous harvest in time. ((HUGS))

  2. Oh that there were more parents like you, my dear. God does not give us all that we WANT, only all that we NEED. He knows what is GOOD for us, while we only see what we think will make us happy. And yet, so many still aren’t. Sean is blessed to have a mother who is investing in his character more than his (temporary) happiness.

  3. I think your son came around to the right answer. I think Dr. B will take the toy in the ziploc bag. You taught him a huge lesson:) good work!

  4. Such an accurate description of the very important difference between guilt and remorse. Remorse fosters a tender and compassionate heart; one that is sensitive to God. An invaluable attribute.

    I mentioned before you inspired me in your posts about family history to write down some of my own. I’ve begun. Thanks for goading me to do something so satisfying.

    Note: Intentional use of the word goad ; )

  5. You have no idea how many parents of grown children I know that suffer from remorse – for not allowing their children to lose, to be uncomfortable or (heaven forbid) to fail. Thus, they have grown up to be adults who are self-indulgent, shallow minded, spineless characters who can not tolerate things not going their way.

    They were hovering, helicopter parents who even as their children are grown, can not seem to launch them.

    I could go on and on…. but to me it is the doom of the generation who is currently in their 20’s. And old teens. And early teens.

    AM, you go girl. Keep sewing those seeds!

  6. We raise our children to leave the nest. We have to provide them with the skills to survive on their own. Being self-centered children will only grow self-centered adults. We all will have remorse over wrong choices. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistakes just as we adults should learn from our mistakes.

  7. AM:
    I completely support you on this one! It takes only the briefest look around to see what a mess we’ve made with all this “nobody’s a loser, we’re all winners” crapola. It’s tough to raise a good child in a selfish world, but looks like you are well on your way.
    Sean will grow to be a wonderful man and it’s because you’ve planted the seeds of generosity and love in him

    God bless!

  8. I totally agree with you–and frankly am surprised at the discussion of guilt. I think that he probably learned a greater lesson by opening the toy and then feeling sad, than he would have if he had just given away the toy in the first place. Sometimes life lessons are painful, but that does not mean they should not be learned.

  9. AM…keep up the great work! It’s mom’s like you that have children grow up to be grounded in faith and values. And you never know he just might be president or a nobel prize winner!!! PAT YOUR SELF ON THE BACK, MOM YOU DESERVE IT!

  10. Actually AM I think it was a great way to teach a lesson he is going to learn anyway. And thankfully his first taste of this with something as innocuous as a fast food toy. There are so many who what faced with a decision like that under all sorts of circumstances that cannot think beyond me me me or the right now that they end up harnming themselves in ignorance. Besides, it builds good decision making skills even if this one came with a little bit of remorse. It will be the lesson he remembers.

  11. AM, you did a great thing by explaining the choices to little Sean, allowing him to decide for himself, and letting him feel the pain of remorse. I can only pray that I’ll have the courage and wisdom to do the same for my baby girl. Sean will grow up to be a wonderful man, husband, and father someday. Here’s hoping that our children have the chance to meet one day 🙂

  12. Wow, Kathy’s comment (& your posts) really hit home with me- I tend to make sure my toddler is ‘happy’ instead of being disciplined in the way he should, and I know I need to work harder on that. If I don’t, I will regret it.

    We have some friends who are feeling remorse now because of the way they failed & were too permissive with their son when he was younger. Now he’s about 16, and in all kinds of trouble – he ran away last night, so it’s on the forefront of my mind today.

  13. You rock! I love that you are able to say what I feel. Oh, that there are more parents out there that can do the right thing.

    Thank you for your example and honesty with us.

    (P.S.) I know the Dr would take the toy, but what would that say to Sean later? The toy has to stay as a reminder that a choice was made and the result of the choice. Thank you.

    * * *
    I’m not 100% sure, but I believe for legal/health reasons they are unable to take opened fast food toys. ~AM

  14. Thank-you for this thoughtful post about remorse and guilt. I do think you’ve taught Sean a powerful lesson with the toy and I don’t think you guilted him into his remorse. You’re a very gentle parent and I don’t think you’d do that.

    My comment about feeling sympathy for Sean came from my own experience. I had to work hard as a young adult to learn to do things for the right reasons, compassion or wisdom and to stop feeling guilty all the time. I admire your parenting and thank you again for the thought provoking post. I’m going to continue to try to pin down my own thoughts about all this.

  15. I want my girls to find themselves a “Sean” someday… I pray there’s an AM out there raising some more special little boys like him. He is a gem because of your leadership and wise counsel as his parent. God is blessing your faithful parenting, however “antique” it might seem to some.

  16. Hey, I’m just impressed you have been able to hide fast food toys from him most of the time! 🙂 So he opened one! There will be more to follow, I’m sure. Mommies really do overthink things. Daddies never do! The important thing is that you’re teaching him to think of others less fortunate. The seed is planted!

  17. I agree that parents who make sure their child is “always happy and comfortable with every whim and urge satisfied immediately” are NOT doing their child any good. And I think that’s a big part of what’s wrong with the world right now. I love your posts on parenting. Keep up the great work!

  18. Partenting belongs to the parent and you are his mother. Sean is a young man. He seems to be developing in fine shape. When you blog everyone has an opinion.

    Keep up the good work. Enjoy your boy.

  19. I think you handled the situation perfectly. It is exactly what I would have done and have done with my son.

    You gave Sean all the information and let him make his own choice. The fact that he regretted his decision is a beautiful thing. He will be able to apply what he has learned the next time he is faced with making a tough choice. He clearly has a tender an compassionate heart.

    You are a wonderful Mom. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  20. Bravo! If only more people understood the concept of remorse. I can’t tell you how much I applaude you and your second point really hit home. It was my husband’s lack of remorse over his affair that ended my marriage. He felt guilt and directed that as anger towards me (How could you let me cheat?) but he never felt remorse.

    If only my little girl could be so lucky as to meet your little boy some day! I have a feeling you’d make an excellent mother-in-law also.

  21. And so much depends on the individual child.

    My oldest had an old head on his shoulders, even at Sean’s age (and Sean sounds like he does too). The way you dealt with the issue would have affected him in the same way that it affected Sean (I’m guessing he’d have opened the toy too). My second would hardly have been able to hear what I was saying, because his excitement would have meant that he’d ripped the plastic open before I’d had a chance to talk about it. For him, pointing out the consequences of the choice he’d made would be more harsh – it would be more important to find occasions to help him learn to slow down when making choices.

    The older one had very little interest in McD toys. The sacrifice would have been very small. The younger one loves those little things, has a boxful of them, spends time on them, would notice if one went missing. For him, the sacrifice would be large.

    I think only the parent really knows her/his child, and judges the appropriate way forward. And I’m with you on guilt. If you don’t feel bad, why would you ever change? I think the unhealthy kind of guilt is the kind that isn’t attached to an action, but is an “I’m never good enough” vague feeling. I don’t think you engender that in Sean.

  22. I can see my own little boy, who is a month or two younger than Sean, handling the situation in exactly the same way that Sean did. And I can see his mommy handling the situation in exactly the same way that you did. I too am not interested in preserving my child’s happiness and comfort if that means that I am sacrificing his character. Thank you for being that kind of mom.

  23. I would have handled the situation much the same way. I want my children to understand need that exists outside of their narrow little world. I don’t believe it is my job to constantly entertain and fulfill their every whim or desire. Believe me…as I look around…I see plenty of the fall out from parents/children who interact like that.

    I am very thankful to find that other parents are teaching their children much like I am! Otherwise, my children might be the only ones!! What a scary and selfish world for them to grow up in otherwise.

    Keep up the very good work!

    God Bless~
    Heather Marie in Ohio

  24. I am so proud of the way you handled Sean and the toy! You are truly inspiring and your approach to every day situations is awe-inspiring! Real life lessons are hard on 5 yr. olds but they are harder on older people who have not had a teacher, such as yourself, to show them the way, truth, and light! Amen to you, Sister!!!

  25. Jenny-Jenny, you took the words right out of my mouth, double-triple ditto, too!

    I love what Kathy said about hovering helicopter parents, so sad and so true.

  26. maybe we that agreed should have bothered to comment, sorry… I wouldn’t call it guilt, more like ‘reflecting’ on what his choice, and then feeling guilty.

    Thank God he ‘got it’ and here’s where God’s mercy and grace come in. First we are forgiven, and then He usually works in a do over, and the lesson is complete.

    Every child is unique and the Lord has a way of reaching each one in a very personal way, which could look like something else to someone else.

    Blessings and thank you for sharing and risking it all.

  27. I was thinking about your post a lot yesterday and I agree with everything you’ve said. How many times have we done something and then afterwards felt terrible about it? And how many times have we kept ourselves from doing that same thing again merely by remembering how terrible we felt doing it the first time? In a simple analogy, sometimes the only thing that keeps me from over-eating is remembering how I felt the last time I over-ate.
    Kudos to you for having the heart to teach your son a valuable lesson.

  28. I read your post yesterday and it brought tears to my eyes. I think you did exactly the right thing, and I remembered it last night as my own little boy cried for some toy he was wanting. Thanks for your meaningful posts!

  29. I want you to know that your post yesterday (and other things in life) have led me to really start thinking about my parenting. I work from home, and I tend to parent the moment. Quick fixes here and there to get me back to my projects. I want to parent the long-term, and the eternal. I want to raise girls who are compassionate and love Jesus. I want to remember that I am their mother first, and my work is second.

    I want to teach them to really *think* about how they respond to a situation or a choice, so that they don’t go with the knee jerk reaction.

    So thank you.

  30. Raising children is one of the hardest jobs there is, and I think you are doing an incredible job. You are teaching Sean things that will benefit him and those around him his whole life. There are enough “it’s all about me” people in this world! Thanks for your example.

  31. Good Lord, if the populace of the internets can create controversy out of one your posts….

    As I said yesterday…you did nothing wrong. You took a teachable moment and used it to illustrate a very valuable lesson. People have to *learn* to be selfless and giving. They do that through example, and through situations *exactly* like that one.

    You did your job as a Mom. Good on ya.

  32. You explained it perfectly. You did the right thing. I would keep the toy in the bag and let it show up occasionally. It would act as a reminder, perhaps bringing on another conversation.

  33. You are doing a wonderful job and your post made me stop and think about how I might handle a similar situation. I only hope, half as well. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Sometimes we have to touch the raw place in our children’s hearts in order for them to get the message. The tender spot may not exist at the moment, but we must plant the seed when the opportunity presents itself. I bite my tongue to stop myself from offering comfort when my daughters are experiencing guilt or remorse. Hopefully, the raw spot will still be there when needed.

    You are good mama, AM.

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