Guilt Parenting

guilt parenting, blended family, blended families, stepparents, step parent, step parenting, stepmom
(Collins 2004)
Guilt Parenting can also be called Guilt Father Syndrome where the Father feels guilty about the divorce and feeling bad for what his children may be going through.  It’s much worse for a Father if he was the one that filed for the divorce.  The most pain the Father feels after a divorce is when they have to spend a lot of time away from their children due to the divorce. Often times, the relationship with the children become fragile as a result from the divorce.  Fathers often feel like their children have been to traumatize by the divorce that they tend to try their best to make every time they spend with them the best time ever.  What happens when a Father is feeling this way, he often times doesn’t discipline his children, therefore when us stepmoms come into the relationship, it makes it really hard because we see this Father that just wants to have fun with his children.  The father often times feels like he doesn’t get them as often, so he wants to make sure they have a good time and that he doesn’t want them to feel bad or feel like their Father has yelled at them the whole weekend.  When there is no discipline established in the house, it will often look like his children “rule the house”.  This makes the Father having an inability to embrace all of the responsibilities of parenthood, which makes the Father more of a playmate more than a parent.  Some Fathers often become the “Disney Dad” where they buy them things every time they get them.  When really what they need is just your undivided attention, not a lot of toys.  The Father’s biggest fear is having his children angry with him, therefore there is no rules or discipline established and he caters to they’re every request they make.  Pretty much they become a “yes” man, more than a “no” man.  Living in the same home with a Father like this is very difficult especially if you have children of your own. 
blended family
When my husband and I first moved in together and combined both of our families together which was his two kids and my three kids it was great at first, but then it quickly wore off because my kids had rules and structure in place where his didn’t. So there were a lot of not sharing, hitting and name calling going on which really needed to stop. I had a very hard time with this because his children were used to not really having any rules and that everything they touched became theirs and that they didn’t have to share anything that was theirs.  And they were allowed to literally fight with one another and whatever they wanted was given to them.  My stepdaughter would constantly talk down to her brother like she was the parent, which bothered me a lot. Anytime my stepdaughter would have a meltdown, my husband would cave into her and reward her for her bad behavior.  It just felt like there was no end to the drama.  So we sat down after one hellish weekend with the kids and decided to put “House Rules” in place and I talked to him about how all of these rules applied to “all” of the children, not just mine and that he would have to be the “bad” guy sometimes with his kids.  He agreed and we came up with a list so that the next weekend we could have a “family” meeting and go over the new list of rules and consequences to those rules in case they were broken.  The first three years of our marriage was pretty rough and very hard on us because of the rules and how his kids didn’t want rules because there were no rules before I came into the picture.  At the ex-wife’s house, there was no rules or structure over there, so it made it even harder when the kids came over to our house.  Sometimes I don’t even know how we got through it all but we did.
It is very hard when dealing with a husband who has guilt parenting syndrome going on, but it is not impossible to change things around.  The first thing is to sit down with him and tell him what the definition of guilt parenting syndrome is and then share with him how you think he has it with this children.  Then hopefully he will admit that he does tend to do guilt parenting with his children.  Secondly, explain how children need rules, boundaries, and accountability to make them feel loved and cared for.  Then explain how it needs to be dealt with right away because a house with no boundaries will open the door for everything you don’t want for your children such as depression, disrespect for parents/adults, poor grades, entitlement issues, drug experimentation and reckless promiscuity. When parents love your children, you have to parent them. Children do eventually understand the difference between showing love and buying affection. A guilty Father or Mother needs to understand that, too.  There need to be limits, rules, boundaries, tough love shown, and consequences established.  There also should be zero tolerance for disrespect of a stepparent or parent. The best way to make it all work is to have one style of parenting.

Here are some ways to break away from guilt parenting:

  1. Establish Rules and Boundaries of the house together
  2. Establish Consequences in case the rules are broken
  3. Chores list of either 1 or 2 things for the stepchildren. Do not make it any more than two chores for them especially if they are only there every other weekend.  If they are there 50% of the time, then you should evenly divide up the chores with all of the children.
  4. Stop buying toys every weekend, only buy gifts for special occasions and holidays; let them earn what they want. This also teaches them responsibility too.

Once you go through this list, the next following time you have the stepchildren and all of the children are present, have a family meeting. And go through the “house” rules together. Take turns going through each rule that way all of the children know you made these rules up together and they are not just because the Stepmom said so. Another suggestion is the Father disciplines his own children and you discipline yours until good relationships are established with the stepparents.

Guilt parenting syndrome needs to be addressed and talked about and dealt with in order to have a successful blended family. Do not let it tear your family apart.  You can overcome it early on and use the steps above to help change things around.  If you manage to hang in there and change your parenting style and stay married, maybe one day, when you least expect it, you will receive an unexpected, “thank you” for doing all of the heavy lifting of parenting or you might not receive a thank you, at least you know you did the right thing for all of your children.

Collins; AP 2004, No Toys at Toys R’ Us. Photograph viewed 12 November 2015

Published by Michelle T

Stepmom for 19 years overall, married for 10 years. I have three of my own children and three stepchildren who are adults now.

31 thoughts on “Guilt Parenting

  1. When my husband and I first got married, we blended my 2 and his 2. It was a permanent, full-time custody on both our parts. So, there were 4 kids ages 5, 5 4 and 3. It's been an amazing process, especially once we had the 'ours' who is now 11. One thing I learned is that I had to treat all kids equally, even though it was sometimes hard because my knee-jerk reaction was to take my biological kids side. But, 14 years later, I'm as close with my stepkids as I am with my biological children and there is no difference in how much I love them.


  2. no matter whether you are a mom, dad, step-dad, or step-mom you have to put raising a child first and being \”liked\” or the child's \”friend\” second. There will be times you have to do things a kid just won't like because it is in there best interest. I've seen too many parents try to be buddies and not lay down the law and also step-parents try to win over a child's affection by being the authority figure that lets them \”get away\” with stuff which has led to behavior ultimately resulting in my being retained to try and keep the kid out of jail after they've gotten into trouble from not understanding rules and boundaries.


  3. I think this is great advice for all types of families. It can become a bad habit to parent from a place of guilt with our busy, hectic lives. This is a great reminder for all. Thanks for sharing.


  4. This is helpful even for me, you don't have to be in that kind of family setting to be able to establish rules. But you definitely make sense about the guilt parenting, it's true. That's the after effect of separation.


  5. It's such a delicate balance to show kids you still love them and to deal with the pain and guilt associated with broken relationships. Overcompensating is such a danger though! Thank you for sharing your experience. 🙂


  6. This is great info! Although this isn't something our family is familiar with, it definitely sheds some light on what some of my friends are dealing with. Thank you!


  7. wow that must have been tough. I'm so happy to hear you all were able to work through it and come out better people and a stronger family unit. My brother married and has this issue – it is a huge struggle for them and causes a lot of stress from the ex


  8. This post is full of great information and tips for getting back on track. As a full-time working mom who easily put in 12-14 hour days during my daughter's younger years, I felt guilt for the time I spent away from her and fell into a lot of these same traps. I've started putting more boundaries in place and try to give her my undivided attention instead of the latest and greatest toy.


  9. Wonderful tips. Love is a feeling and can't be bought by the non-custodial parent. It's problematic because it also causes animosity with the custodial one. I love how your family did it.


  10. Thanks for a really great article and interesting tips! I think it's really important to have rules and instead of buying things, the parents should try to invest in quality time with their kids as much as possible.


  11. My husband and I have children from past relationships. It was difficult at first, but as soon as they felt that discipline is the way to bring out the best in them, they understood why there had to be rules. I love all our children! We have one grand daughter now and a grandson on the way!


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