Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: Should you feel guilty for going above and beyond for your kids all the time to make up for the childhood you never had? Got a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I didn’t have a great childhood. We never went on family vacations, and my siblings and I didn’t get a lot of quality time with our parents, we were verbally and emotionally abused on a daily basis, and sometimes the abuse turned physical. I haven’t had a relationship with my own parents for over a decade. I was always scared to become a parent for fear I’d be just like mine, but I’m the total opposite. This sounds great, except I feel like I’m constantly going over-the-top for them: birthday parties are full-out affairs, Christmas “magic” is a must, I give them presents for no reason, family trips, etc. I have a hard time disciplining them and even just saying “no,” and I want my kids to grow up to be humble and grateful and good people. I’m hyper-aware of always wanting to make special memories with them and desperately want them to grow up with fond memories of their own childhoods, to the point where I anxiety-spiral. Help.
Know this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to give your children the best childhood you can give them. Every parent worth their salt wants this. I suspect you know that this doesn’t have to come in the form of material things, because you seem to have a solid emotional intelligence here.
Your childhood does not define who you are as a parent. It did not set a trajectory for your own parenthood journey, and your children will never know what that type of childhood is like. I want you to repeat this to yourself as often as you need to, for as long as you need to.
If your “over-the-top” actions cause you stress (either financial or emotional), or rob you of the joy of any of these moments, then I think that’s a sign that you might need to dial back a bit. If you genuinely enjoy going above and beyond, then the only thing you need to worry about is working on that anxiety spiral. “Future thinking,” or future-oriented thought patterns, are a real b*tch. Anticipatory anxiety is like, most of what anxiety is all about, right?
I can’t stop you from feeling anxious, but I can tell you that if your children are safe, loved, healthy, and have their needs met — emotionally, physically, etc. — then you likely won’t have to worry about them suffering long-term childhood trauma. Normal gripes about Mom and Dad? Sure, we all have those. But you clearly love you children, are nothing like your own parents, and are self-aware enough to know the difference between the past you had no control over, and the present that you do.
Find a therapist if that’s a feasible option for you, and if you don’t already have one. Working on grounding ourselves and validating our feelings only makes us better parents. And you’re already a good one, I promise.