Guilt Or Resentment – Choose Your Poison

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 199 · Duration: 00:20:17

Guilt Or Resentment - Choose Your Poison

What do you do when supporting your teenager makes you resentful, and not supporting them makes you feel guilty?Click To Tweet
We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast,
Guilt Or Resentment-Choose Your Poison.

Today we’re hearing from Jenny from Thousand Oaks, California and Jenny writes:

Dear Neil,

I feel like my daughter puts me in a no-win situation.  She’s ridden horses since she was a little girl and has her own horse that she loves.  She has ADHD and anxiety and her horse is very grounding for her and we want to support her. 

Here’s the problem.  She’s 16 years old now and needs to take care of her horse more independently.  I’ve driven the 10 miles to the stable to feed and care for the horse with her and often on my own.  Now she has her driver’s license and can drive to the barn and care for her horse on her own.  Yet it seems to always fall on me to remind her and it often ends up in an argument.  She’s so busy, tired, etc.  “Why can’t I just pay someone to do it?” she’ll say.

I ride too, so sometimes I don’t mind caring for her horse when I’m there, but she often expects me to do more.  I never get a thank you.  

Honestly Neil, I end up feeling resentful and I don’t like resenting my own daughter. I do all the work around the house.  She’ll help out when I require it, but it’s with a bad attitude.  

I want to tell her we’re done supporting the horse but I’m afraid it will hurt her, and I know she’ll hold it against me, and I’ll end up feeling guilty if I do.  Is there any way out of this lose-lose situation?

Jenny from Thousand Oaks, California

Now to Jenny's question:

Yes, it certainly sounds like you are in one of those, damned if you do, and damned if you don’t paradigms here.  And any time we’re in one of those, we need to find another option.  In your case however, not only will we find the third option, but I’ll answer the universal question, which is the better choice, guilt or resentment?

But let’s start by giving you a better option.  Jenny it certainly sounds like you have been working hard to help your now 16-year-old daughter. She has ADHD and anxiety and most thoughtfully, you gave her this gift of her own horse and I assume lessons in order to give her an area of competence, connection and emotional safety.  Maybe to even teach responsibility. Many kids I’ve spoken with over the years, who have horses, report that it’s the one place they can go to feel calm, accepted, and renewed. It’s terrific that she has that for herself and terrific that you knew it would be beneficial and made it happen for her.  But that’s the rub here, that clearly there is an over-emphasis on you helping her and your daughter not being responsible up to her age level. Certainly, she should be helping out around the house without a typically 13-year-old eye rolling annoyed attitude.  

I’m guessing that with her ADHD, that you’ve been recruited into helping her with her executive functioning over the years. Planning and organization around issues of homework, events that require uniforms being laundered, getting out of the house in the morning; even getting her driver license, something she wanted, might have required you getting her to study for and then schedule the tests. I’m making assumptions here, but these kinds of things would be typical and Jenny, when you present frustration and resentment that she isn’t pulling her own weight, it’s clearly because you have been working too hard on her behalf and she hasn’t been working hard enough.  With her anxiety and ADHD, she should be working hard to address those issues.  And so, with that out of balance relationship, there’s a Control Battle where you want her to take greater responsibility and she wants to avoid responsibility.  You are pulling in one direction, she in another.  So the third option I’m suggesting here is for the two of you to have a more explicit clear plan for your daughter to grow her independence skills, and you to only do things that help her learn and grow.  Be careful, this is not making a contract. This is being clear that you only want to be there for her in a productive way, not an enabling way.  And by enabling, I mean enabling her to stay young and dependent instead of growing her executive functioning skills including emotional management skills. You want to treat her more as a burgeoning young adult; a capable young woman, and she needs to want to show up as a capable young person and not a whiny young teen.  

One strategy to support this Jenny, is to simply start to think of her and treat her as a capable young woman, a reasonable person who can and will manage her responsibilities.  So when she says, I’m too tired to feed my horse, simply doesn't respond.  If she says, “will you do it or pay for it?”  Simply say, sorry dear, I’m all tied up and it’s not in the budget.  Period, nothing more.   No, “it’s your responsibility, do you want the horse or not, when are you going to grow up, I fed it yesterday”, none of that; simply “sorry dear, I’m all tied up and that service isn’t in the budget.”  If she argues, “well you’ve paid for it before” you can reply with, “yes, that was misleading. We’re overspending and need to spend within our budget.”

Jenny, you can prompt her to do things such as, “Remember, the band recital is tomorrow, you may want to be sure your outfit is washed and ironed.”  And then be done. If she has to wear a soiled outfit, that’s a learning opportunity. Not in the moment when emotions are high, but you might want to ask her sometime if she perhaps has outgrown the desire to own a horse. Perhaps she has other interests now and there is no shame in moving on in life. Let her decide if she really wants to continue with her horse or not, and it’s a subtle way to say that you’re interpreting her lack of responsibility as a lack of motivation.  

Do you get the gist of this Jenny?  Time for you to step out of the Control Battle and

Let your daughter own her responsibilities; the fulfillment of engaging them and the price if she doesn’t.Click To Tweet

Now let’s talk about the guilt / resentment bind.  This is something many of us can relate to. It’s something I needed to figure out in my life and wow, the quality of my life improved enormously when I did.  

There are a thousand scenarios this can take place in, but here are a few.

Your daughter’s friends’ mothers are all putting on major birthday party events for their kids and your daughter’s birthday is coming up and she wants something similar.  You don’t really believe they should be so extravagant, that it’s not good for the kids, and it will stretch you financially.  On the other hand, your daughter who often feels left out, wants to impress and be one of the crowd. If you say no, you’ll feel guilty, if you go ahead, you’ll feel resentful.

Here’s another one.

You’ve had your side of the family over for Thanksgiving. Your family is grateful, fun, chip in with cooking and the clean-up.  Now your partner wants their family invited for Thanksgiving.  They, on the other hand, are not fun, smoke, drink too much, don’t help out and are ungrateful.  If you say no, you’re made to feel guilty and if you go ahead and entertain this group, with all the unrewarding work involved, you’ll feel resentful.  As I said, there are a thousand ways this can play out, but you get the idea.  We could of course make this even more complex.  For instance, you could feel resentful that you’re being made to feel guilty.  But let’s keep it simple, guilt / resentment.  Picture a thin line. On one side is not doing enough, guilt.  On the other is doing too much, resentment.  Of course, there are lots of times where doing something for others has neither guilt nor resentment.  You’re doing it with pleasure, even when it is with a certain amount of sacrifice, there isn’t resentment.  But when you are in that guilt/resentment bind, what to do?

Here is what I figured out. If you are someone who rarely feels guilty for what you do or what you don’t do.  This advice does not apply to you and we’ll save advice for you, for another podcast. If you’re listening to or reading this podcast, you are very likely someone who cares about such things.  You are someone prone to feeling guilty for not doing enough or enough of what someone thinks you “should” do. It could be your imagination about what you think-they think, you “should” do. In any case, you are responding to a “should” and don’t want to feel the guilt that you would otherwise feel if you didn’t do said behavior.  You might even be feeling the “should” from your now deceased parent, but their previous “shoulds” are still in your head and if you pass in the imagined “should” you’ll feel guilty. So, for those of us who are prone towards guilt, the answer to the question: Which is a better choice, guilt or resentment? The answer is, choose guilt.  Because you are a naturally giving person, you give plenty. Now if you are feeling resentful, the giving is not being appropriately rewarded.  You are giving mostly to avoid the guilt, not because you want to, or even think it’s a good idea.  You are avoiding guilt and you aren’t getting enough out of your suffering. Therefore, you’re feeling resentful that the other person, or persons are putting you in this situation. You don’t see it as your choice; that isn’t clearly in your awareness. This offers us an opportunity to stop feeling guilty and set better, guilt free limits for ourselves. 

I’m sure Jenny didn’t feel resentful taking care of her crying baby’s needs.  She does feel resentful taking care of her crying 16-year-old’s needs. 

Now sometimes we need to get creative to address a situation in such a way as to feel neither guilt nor resentment.  From the earlier example with the Thanksgiving dilemma, the individual might decide that they’ll be okay with having their partner’s family for Thanksgiving if: 

  • It’s catered 
  • No smoking in the house 
  • No hard alcohol 
  • The partner does the majority of the clean-up 
  • And it’s understood that they are taking a guilt free long walk after the meal.  

The bottom line is, if you are going to resent it, don’t do it.Click To Tweet And if you decide to take something on, and you know what you’re getting into, own it, don’t resent it.  If you take something on and it turns out it was less rewarding than you imagined, or others didn’t keep up their end of things, no sense living with resentment.  You did the right thing based on the information you had. You’ll know better for next time. 

So, parents.  If resentment is part of your emotional package, think, “Wow I need to do less and expect and allow for others to do more.”  Then build your strategy to go from here to there. If you are a therapist or someone who works with families and parents, feel free to borrow my guilt / resentment model for your clients who help too much.  It will help clarify that foggy place where the choice is between two bad feelings and offers them a way to gauge when they are doing too much, and an opportunity to resolve those counterproductive “shoulds”.

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and special thanks to you Jenny for sharing your situation with us.  Before we end today, let’s try our breathing exercise again. Have you been remembering to do it more often on your own?  I hope so.  Take a slow deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly exhale. Let’s try this now; inhale through your nose………hold…….slowly exhale from your mouth.  Try it again, Inhale through your nose………hold……. slowly exhale from your mouth.  Excellent!  Now if you’re driving, don’t do this next part of our ending exercise.  But otherwise, think of your favorite dance music. Get just a thought of it going in your head and now shake your body to just a couple of bars of music.  Go ahead, shake it up. In fact, that’s a line from an old 60’s song; shake it up baby, twist and shout. There you are, just a little bit can make a big difference.  And it’s weird how knowing that, we so often neglect to do it. Slow intentional breathing, and happy musical movement are two easy self-care things. They’re important because as I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, this parenting business ain’t easy so self-care is essential; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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