Do Estranged Mothers Blame Themselves More Than Dads?
BY DR. JOSHUA COLEMAN
One of the biggest obstacles to your ongoing serenity is the idea that being a good mother means continuing to blame yourself and to feel guilty for whatever mistakes you made, or to blame yourself for whatever mistakes your child thinks you made.
This is not to say that estrangement is any walk in the park for dads, as I can readily attest. In addition, men’s tendency to cover our depression with anger, social withdrawal, and compartmentalization may make us look less affected than most of us actually are!
“The skills that made you a good parent are now working against your ability to feel self-compassion.”
However, there is a self-emphasis granted to the identity of masculinity that may cause dads to better defend against the dictates of guilt, to push back more aggressively against the child’s rejection, and to feel less obligated to keep trying.
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Women (MOTHERS) are not provided with the same kinds of cultural refuge. For example, common definitions of motherhood may obligate you to:
- Put yourself last, especially where your children are concerned, including grown children
- Give till it hurts
- Sacrifice when you shouldn’t
- Worry about your child all the time
- Preoccupy yourself with your child’s well-being well past the point of it being useful for anyone
Can you see how these popular notions of ideal motherhood stand in the way of your letting go of self-blame, regret, and sorrow? The constant cultural transmission is that if you DON’T feel all of those things then you’re somehow behaving selfishly, irresponsibly, and unlovingly. That you’re being unmotherly.
Again, these same principles often apply to fathers as well as mothers. But either way here’s the irony: The skills that made you a good parent are now working against your ability to feel self-compassion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JOSHUA COLEMAN
Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists, and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings of American families. He has lectured at Harvard University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of London, Cornell Weill Medical School, and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine.
Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, America Online Coaches, PBS, and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice has appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London, The Shriver Report, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun, and many others.