The wonderful thing about being a parent is there is always something to feel guilty about. For example, if I have a glass of wine with dinner will this turn the girls into alcoholics? If I let the kids watch ABC Kids will they become obese? And just by having kids have I, Joseph Kelly, personally ruined the environment for everyone else?
In fact, the list of parental-guilt-inducers is endless. Am I feeding the kids the right foods? Is it wrong to tell Frances I will sell her to Gypsies if she doesn't clean her room? Are my genes responsible for Rita's thick eyebrows? Have I made the right decision letting Maisie dress herself (hot pink top over hot pink skirt over hot pink stockings)? Actually I know the answer to that one and I’ll burn that outfit one night when Maisie’s asleep.
The point is as parents we don’t have to go far to feel bad. And usually the steps needed to resolve the guilt involve huge behavioural adjustments that either eradicate or modify years of learnt habits and responses. This is very hard to do. Fortunately there is a shortcut and it is available to all parents: buy stuff. It seems that no matter what you are feeling guilty about, the free-market is happy to provide you with a product that will sooth your aching conscience.
For example, I was recently feeling guilty about my family’s carbon footprint. After researching the topic I quickly realised there were quite a few practical things we as a family could do. I could sell my car and catch public transport into work. I could install solar panels on our north facing roof and harness the sun’s rays to produce power for my carbon emitting flat-screen TV. Or, finding all of these solutions too hard, I could wander down to the bike store and purchased a tandem trailer to drop the girls off at school. Sold! Now the one day a week I had reserved for cycling into work involves me towing the girls for their morning drop off. Guilt abated with minimal change to my old habits.
Likewise I began to feel guilty that the girls didn’t spend nearly as much time outside as I thought they should. I have a very idealised recollection of my childhood, but I’m convinced we spent the bulk of our time out in the front yard or riding up and down our street on our bikes. My girls, by contrast, have to be forcibly pushed out the door to get them to play outside. In attempting to address this guilt head-on I learnt that there were many ways I could resolve this issue, such as sitting outside with the girls while they played, building a cubbyhouse or even getting the girls involved in some gardening. All of which involved me altering my behaviour in order to get the girls to alter theirs. Or, I discovered, I could drive straight to the sports store and buy a trampoline and a swing set. Now if the kids don’t play outside the blame rests not with me but the designers of the play equipment who failed to make it engaging enough to lure Maisie and Frances outside.
Whichever way you look at it there is a constant supply of stuff to meet the screaming demands of parental guilt. How to buy your way out of spending 60 hours a week at work is the real challenge.
The list of parental-guilt-inducers is endless