What good is guilt?

Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer offers a response to the Good Childhood Report and media representations of its findings.

Generalisations such as ‘working mothers contribute to family break-up’ (BBC News at 10, 2/2/09) that the media make on the back of the Good Childhood Inquiry are as unhelpful as they are inaccurate.  The parent-centred parenting model of family life suggests that mothers who feel fulfilled and maintain their self respect through working are less likely to suffer from family breakdown than those who resent being forced into a domestic role.
The Good Childhood Inquiry raises some very valuable points: consumerism and materialism seem to be more prevalent now than at any other time and they hamper children’s creativity and the development of social skills. However, there is no evidence of a correlation between working mothers and consumerism. Research carried out on the Working Mums website will investigate this issue and report the results next month. The Good Childhood Inquiry also criticises the individualism of adults, but the Parent-Centred Parenting model of family life shows how important it is for the adults to feel fulfilled, confident and unstressed in order to help their children learn how to make themselves happy. 
Working parents who don’t absolutely need to work will feel a massive surge of guilt on reading the report of the inquiry and research, but what good will that do? Research shows that guilt is a poor motivator for behavioural change. Not that any change is necessary. Many working parents want to provide their children with a positive, independent role model and many feel that they are better parents for having an interest outside of young children. Others need to work to provide their children with food and shelter so what is the alternative? A crippling welfare bill to enable all mothers to stay at home with their children – until what age? It is much more important that parents feel in control of their lives and their family and that they feel supported by society and their employers in trying to balance a family life with a job/career if they need/chose to work.
Of course, it is important for parents to make time for their children, but it’s also important that they make time for their partners, their friends and themselves. Failure to do this may increase the likelihood of mental health problems associated with isolation and low self-esteem for both the parents and their children. So let’s keep the pressure on employers to offer family friendly working practices and embrace family and working lives. If the balancing act is not working for you, make some changes, but don’t let guilt and media hype around reports such as the Good Childhood Inquiry make you doubt your decision to work and be a parent – the two are not mutually exclusive.
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Dr Amanda Gummer is a child psychologist and workingmum’s childcare expert.

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