Living Arts Weekly: Guilt and Freedom

September 3, 2023

Today’s Living Arts Weekly is a delightful article from author Judith Frizlen, who has just come out with a new book, Where Wisdom Meets Wonder: Forty Stories of Grandma Love. You can find more about Judith’s new book, as well as how to purchase it at her website here.
This archived article from her blog appeals to me this time of year, as the Michaelmas season approaches and we are offered the chance to examine the “dragons” of our own lives; the obstacles that stand in the way of a life of freedom.

Guilt and Freedom by Judith Frizlen

I think a lot about concepts like freedom. And obstacles to it. Like guilt. It’s in my nature to think a lot and I have enough experience with regret due to the repetition of unwanted behaviors to be motivated. In order to experience freedom, the goal is to align my thoughts, feelings and actions with what I want. When I do, I realize again and again that it is worth the effort. I continue doing the work, knowing it is a lifelong commitment.

Unexamined guilt is a lot like clutter; it takes up space and is not useful. When guilt serves a purpose, it is a message that can be received, resolved and released. Guilt that is not useful is often connected to things that are not within our power to change in the first place. For example, in the realm of parenting, we might feel guilty if our child experiences pain or hardship. However, learning to experience pain and hardship allows a child to grow strong, resilient and capable.

As a parent, that is not something we want to block. What happens when we see our child struggling? We can offer a comforting hug or words and affirm that our child can meet whatever comes. A parent’s confidence goes a long way for a child. My parent thinks I am strong and capable, perhaps I am. When a parent feels guilty as in, I should have prevented this from happening, the child internalizes that he or she is not capable of meeting the situation.

For every human being, scrapes, illness and hurt feelings happen. They are unavoidable and useful besides. We would not want to avoid them. Our children learn to deal with the bumps in life through these experiences. Not knowing how to deal with life’s challenges is anxiety-inducing, a feeling of being ill-equipped, a form of helplessness.

When I unpack the guilt I am carrying, for things that I am powerless over, I have more energy for addressing the things that I have the power to change. I can create a world that’s good for my child, a world in which the child can depend on the adults to affirm his or her strength. A look of worry on an adult’s face leads a child to worry. They imitate us. Young children are not able to sort things out; they absorb the world as it is.

Consider whether your child is absorbing worry, fear and uncertainty from you. Commonly, the firstborn child experiences this as new parents are learning and gaining comfort with an important new job. Still, is worry what you really want? The path to freedom is fraught with obstacles in the form of what we do not want, obstacles we can learn to identify and remove, so to have more of what we do want.

We might have a habit of responding with great consternation when our child is distressed. It might be a time when we need to help, as in a case of true danger or it might be a child exploring the adults’ response. How to avoid discomfort might become a habitual child-parent interaction that reinforces itself, suggesting a child cannot perform a task that he or she may be capable of.

If you are experiencing guilt when your child is uncomfortable and resolving it by removing the discomfort, you might be blocking your child’s growth. Try this practice and see what happens. Give it at least thirty days before deciding whether it is working or not. With regards to your child, affirm these words.

Internal voice:”for today, I am replacing worry with confidence”. Speak your version of these words to the child whenever challenges arise. “Guess what kid? You’ve got this. I know you do!”


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