The Guilt Of Being A Growing Parent

Being a parent is all about making it up as you go.

Don't feel guilty for choosing work over parenthood and family, the kids are okay Georgijevic, shironosov | Canva

I admit it — I often feel guilty for being so self-absorbed. I'm a personal growth junkie who has, from time to time, chosen the book club over one of my son's baseball games. I indulge in writing retreats, I have two — yes two — spiritual coaches and I work my behind off as an entrepreneur because I've become "reluctant to the office environment," and have a hard time being told what to do. I'm stubborn, I crave independence and I confess that my self-development pursuits have cost us countless family dinners. 


I can probably count our family dinners from this year on one hand. This week, I'm on a business trip — a new consulting project that requires me to travel at least twice a month through the end of the year. As usual, parenthood guilt ensues. Why can't I just be like one of the many other parents who are content in their 9-5's and make dinner, or at least make it home for dinner most every night of the week? But recently, I noticed something very interesting and unexpected. Several weeks ago, while I was off on a writing retreat in Carmel, CA, I pulled up my Instagram account for the first time in weeks to post a beautiful picture of the coast. To my surprise, I received a notification that I'd been "tagged" in a post by my son. 


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He'd posted this several weeks before I saw it: "The more I grow, the more I realize that my mom is the best friend that I ever had. PS, I love my mom." It warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes, yet I never considered a deeper meaning — at least not until this most recent trip. Yesterday morning, on the way to a site visit for my new project, I received a text from the mom of one of the same son's classmates. It said: "I just thought you'd like to know what a true gentleman you have. Rachel is on crutches since she sprained her ankle and Rollins was the ONLY person all day that offered to help her carry her things! That was so sweet!!!" I beamed with happiness and I must admit pride, as I read the words aloud to my co-workers in the car with me.

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I wanted to take "credit" for having raised a kid who had no problem seeing when others needed help — and helping them. But (sigh), deep down I knew that it wasn't about me. This kid had come here as an amazing human who consistently surprised me with his wisdom and self-awareness. And then, this morning, as I was packing up to travel home again, my phone rang. It was the woman I carpooled with to get both our oldest sons to their magnet school in the mornings. Fearing another mix-up of some kind about the schedule, I let the call roll to voicemail. I mean, what could I do about it from Pittsburgh? A few minutes later, I listened to her message. She started with "Don't worry; everything is okay and I just dropped the boys off at school."

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Whew — carpool disaster avoided for today! Then, I listened to the rest of her message. This time I was showered with compliments about my oldest son: "I love your son Sully. He is so sweet and takes me in stride. He's always so, so respectful." That prideful feeling tempted me again but, I had to let it go. How could I take credit for this amazing kid? God and I both know he simply came here that way! And that's when I saw the signs. While I'm off doing what I can to fulfill my interpretation of my life's purpose, these messages come in as not-so-subtle reminders that my kids are okay. 

No, they are more than okay — they are awesome. Two kind, confident, and respectful young men being thoughtful without my prompting and sharing their light with the world in ways they likely don't see or understand. While I still won't dare take credit for these impressive humans, something occurred to me: Maybe my effort to be the best, most fulfilled version of myself has somehow permitted them to do the same. What if, the best thing we can do for our kids is to try to be the best versions of ourselves — as people, then parents?


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Jeannie Sullivan is a Senior Professional of Human Resources, and a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation. Her client list includes Wells Fargo, Apple, Coca-Cola, Genentech, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, North Carolina State University, and more.