The Antidote to Guilt, Shame, and Blame as a Parent

Nov 6, 2020

We know that kids don’t come with an instruction manual and parenting doesn’t have a road map. That often leaves us confused, defeated, frustrated, and ashamed of our failures. It doesn’t have to be that way! This episode highlights a question that I ask myself almost on a daily basis, and gives the key that opens the door to freedom from guilt, shame, and blame.
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Podcast Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Brenna Hicks, The Kid Counselor. I am also the mom to a newly turned 11 year old. I can’t believe he’s 11 alread! If you know anything about me, I don’t talk about it a whole lot on the podcast and on the video blogs, but if you know me personally or if you’ve read my book or if you have ever known any personal stuff about me, you know how much I love baseball. And we were so excited that the Rays – we live in the Tampa Bay area for those of you that don’t know. So we are huge Tampa Bay Rays fans. So excited that they made it to the World Series and we were able to go to Texas for games one and two of the World Series this year. Which was an amazing experience. And my husband and I were talking about that, after we got back, thinking through when our son is older, you know, 16, 18, 20 and his friends or someone in his life says, ‘What are some memories you have from childhood? Or what are some cool things that you did when you were little?’ We believe that going to the World Series… first of all, going to the World Series. What an amazing opportunity. You know, that is something that a lot of people don’t get to do. Secondly, going to the World Series and watching your team play in it. So we thought that would probably be one of those things that he would look back on and say ‘that was an absolutely incredible experience,’ even into adulthood remembering at newly 11, he was able to go and do that.

Which led me to this other thought, and I was asked the question a long time ago. I probably was in grad school. And one of the questions that was posed related to parenting and related to parent training – the parent coaching, the private coaching that I do, all of that. It was all in context of when your child is 25, what do you want them to say about their childhood and the way that you parented them? I wasn’t even a parent then, but that has always stuck with me. It has always been a big piece of my paradigm for the things that are important to me, the things that I work on as a mom. The things that I want my son to say when he’s 25 and asked that question.

So that said, have you ever gotten in bed at night and cried because you feel like you are failing as a parent? Or you have gotten to a point where you say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I need a manual. I need a road map. I need some kind of instruction book to do this the right way. And to do this well.’ You know, just to feel that parenting is hard, have you ever felt Mom guilt? Have you ever made a decision, done something, said something and after the fact felt really guilty about it? Have you ever blamed yourself? Have you ever felt ashamed? I hear those stories all the time, moms and dads and caregivers say, ‘I just feel like it’s so hard and I feel like I’m failing. I feel like I’m not doing this well and I need something. I don’t even know what that something is.’ And when we think through the struggles right now, crying at night and saying, ‘Gosh, I just might be really screwing all of this up, and my kids aren’t happy. I’m not happy. None of us are happy.’ What what needs to happen? What needs to change? Everything viewed through the lens of at 25, what do we want our kids to say about their childhood and about the way that we parented them and the way that we guided them? What do they remember about their childhood? Powerful question to ask.

And that is something that I think about a lot. And here’s the thing. We all have barriers. We all have barriers to break through. We all have obstacles we have to overcome. Sometimes it’s the cyclical pattern in the history of our family. Sometimes it’s grandparents, and parents, and then us, and then we as parents. You know, three, four, five generations. Sometimes there are cyclical patterns that sometimes we have to recognize and then change. Often, we parent the way that we were parented, so sometimes we don’t know any different. If my parents parented me this way, then that’s the way that I parent my kids, even though it’s not necessarily the best way, the most effective way, the most helpful way. We just do what we understood as a child. Sometimes we get into habits. Sometimes we just get into a routine and a pattern of doing something, and we continue to do it even if it’s not necessarily working well.

I coined a term a while back called the Parenting Prison, and sometimes we are stuck in a Parenting Prison. What that means We have a limited set of parenting options. So we only know to do one, two, or three things. And when those things stop working, or maybe they’ve never worked, we don’t know how to free ourselves from that prison and we’re stuck there. And so it’s gotta be A, B, or C, or we don’t have any other tools in the prison. And I think through what I want my son to say, you know, as a parent, what do I want him to say about me when he’s 25 about his childhood and about what he remembers? I want him to say that I was fair. I want him to say that I was calm. I want him to say that I was kind. I want him to say that I was consistent, that I was loving, that I was generous, that I was helpful and thoughtful. I know what the answer is I want him to give. And so therefore, I work hard to make sure that that is a daily reality. Do I succeed every day? No. Do I pray every night that I am a good mom and the best mom that I could be? Yes. I want him to have those answers. So it’s about figuring out what that looks like on a moment by moment, day to day, practical basis.

And that’s where I think, sometimes, parent trainings fall short because, historically speaking, if you look at some of the parent trainings from the eighties, nineties, maybe even early two thousands, they were very skill based, dictatorial, authoritative. Meaning you are the adult, you are the paren, the child complies. The child is obedient. The child does not argue. The child does not resist. It was very much an authoritarian type of approach where ‘I’m in charge, you are not. Therefore you are obedient.’ There’s been an interesting shift in recent years. In the last decade or so, there has been a shift in parenting approach that is more kind, more filled with grace, more filled with patience, more filled with acceptance. I personally believe that is a very positive and good shift that we should celebrate. I think that is a more loving, respectful approach to parenting than ‘just because I said so.’ If you’re that person that your parents said that to you when you were a kid – ‘why don’t we do that?’ ‘Because I said so,’ you know what that makes you feel like. It makes you feel that your thoughts don’t matter. Your questions don’t matter. Your feelings don’t matter. And I believe that is not the most respectful way to parent. So I appreciate the shift that has taken place.

But here’s where I feel there’s a gap. Here’s what I feel is missing in that they often say, “You need to be kind to your kids” and I think we would all agree we should try to be kind. I think kindness is needed in the world, so I think that that is something we would aspire to. Yes, of course I want to be kind to my kid, but what does that look like? Be kind to your kid is a really helpful, encouraging, true parenting approach. But how are you kind to your kids when your child is having a tantrum? What does that look like when your child is being disobedient? What is kindness like in that moment when your child is scared or worried or angry? How can you show kindness in those moments when they are power struggling with you? When they lost a race that they really wanted to win? What does kindness look like? That is where I feel the gap exists in the current parenting literature. We agree we need to be loving and kind and patient. But on a day to day, moment to moment basis, I’m not sure we really know what that looks like.

Play therapy is what that looks like, and, as you know, that is my passion. That is my love. That’s what I do. I’m a play therapist. I work with kids 3 to 14, and most of you do not understand play therapy. You’re not aware of what it is. I’ve given a lot of play therapy based skills over the years, but the answer to what kindness looks like is found in using play therapy principles. So it’s not so much about the play therapy. It’s about figuring out what that means when you say ‘I want to be kind to my kid.’ So when my child is power struggling with me, how can I address the power struggle while still being kind? Play therapy has a skill for that. When my child is really, really scared and worried about something, what do I do to show kindness to them in that moment and meet them in that feeling? Play therapy has a skill for that. What I share, the tips that I give you when we talk about the play therapy pillars, four basic skills of play therapy. Those are the keys to kindness for you. Those are the ways that you become kind to your kids because when you use those skills, it allows you to do what needs to be done, all under the lens of kindness. Very powerful realization I had when thinking through, ‘Why does play therapy work? Why do I love it? Why do I see the magic? Why do I see the transformations in the kids? Why do kids come in one way and leave a different way? What is it? How do I articulate that? How do I communicate that? How can I help other people understand what that is?’

It’s because everything about play therapy is rooted in kindness. So that’s what I’ve been sharing for the last 16 or so years with you. And I’m so excited to help you understand moving forward. We want to be kind. I think we would all agree that we want to be kind to people in general. We especially want to be kind to our kids, and often we try what we think might work. So sometimes we say “well, maybe if I’m just working on not yelling, Maybe that’s being kind. Or maybe if I don’t lose it and you know, scream at my kids and send them to their room in anger, that’s being kinder.” But unfortunately, without a framework, without a system, without something you can consistently fall back on as the toolbox, it fails. Because there has to be an overarching system, and framework, and process that you follow. So what ends up happening is we end up feeling guilty. We end up feeling defeated. We end up feeling like everything we try fails, nothing we try works. And the reality is you don’t have to let that guilt and shame takeover, understanding that kindness comes from knowing how to handle situations with kindness. That’s the answer. So I’m giving you the key to open that door. I’m giving you the key to get out of the parenting prison.

All of the content that I put out for you, it’s always play therapy based. Always based in my training, and in my education, and in my practice of play therapy. But what I think maybe I haven’t clearly communicated in the past is why the play therapy skills matter so much. I don’t want you to learn play therapy skills because I love it. I don’t want you to learn play therapy skills because I think it’s important. I want you to learn play therapy skills because it helps you to be kind to your kids. And I think that’s what we want. I know that’s what we want. That’s what I want every day. I want to be kind to my son.

So if you have not already, please like this content, subscribe to my newsletter on so that you can get information as I put it out. Sign up for anything that I have to offer you. I have lots of ways you can follow me. I have Facebook. I have Twitter. I have my podcast. So download the podcast. Whatever it is that makes the most sense for the way you’d like to receive that content.

But here’s my challenge to you. Here’s my encouragement to you: share this stuff. When you watch this video, when you listen to this podcast, when you read this on the website, if this resonates with you – if you know people in your life that you would say ‘yes, I think we all want to be kind to our kids,’ share it. I put it out there so that the world has access to it, so you don’t need to keep it to yourself. Share it. I would love for you to send this to somebody that you think is going to benefit from it.

Here’s another challenge I have for you. Get involved. Get involved in the play therapy skills. Go on and read some old articles. Watch some old videos. Listen to some old podcasts. There’s about 16 years worth of content there for you about play therapy based principles. If you’re sitting there saying, “You know what, that’s me. That’s what I want to do. I want to figure out how to consistently be kind so that when my children are 25 they say, “My mom, my dad, the people that loved me, were always kind to me. They were patient, they were loving, they were consistent. I always knew what to expect.” If those are things that you would say are true about you, you’ve got to get involved. You’ve got to read, you’ve gotta watch, you’ve got to digest, you’ve got to learn. And that is the way that you could become kind.

So it’s all here, that’s why I do what I do. And here’s one of the things that I – just to kind of wrap up – here is one of the things that I thought about. I’ve had a lot of different phrases that I’ve used throughout the years. I have promoted a lot of different messages. One being you want to be a smart mom. And we defined smart mom as confident, and someone that has things together, and is able to handle situations, and friends look to them for advice. I think that’s true. I think we want to be smart moms and dads and caregivers. Another thing that I said was that this is the playlist for your parenting. I think that’s true. I think that if you use all of this information as your playlist and as your guide for how to parent, I think it’s helpful, and I think it’s very important for you to do that. One of the things I’ve said is this is so you can love being a mom again. I think that’s true. We need to love being parents. We need a love loving our kids. Another thing I’ve said is what I do is provide skills and tools so that you can gain confidence in your parenting to create the family life that you desire. True.

So I’ve had lots of different messages throughout the years, and they’ve all been relevant. But I finally realized that if you funnel all of them down, if you take everything I’ve ever put out there, it’s all about how to practically be kind. Here’s the tool for kindness. In that scenario, here’s the skill for kindness in that scenario. Here’s the principle for kindness. When that kind of thing happens and it all comes back to ‘we want to be kind to our kids.’

So I’m very, very excited about this new philosophy, this new message. I hope that it resonates with you. I hope that you say ‘yes, that’s exactly what I want. Now give me more.’ So I’m excited to put out more content for you. As always, it will be based in play therapy because I believe with my whole heart that it is the most effective way to interact with kids. So play therapy leads you to kindness, and I’m very excited for that connection.

If you have not already, you can get my new book Device Detox on Amazon. There is an e-book version and a printed book version. It is a play therapy based approach to getting kids to a healthy amount of screens so that they’re happy, and are regulated, and avoiding tantrums in the process. So Device Detox available on Amazon. And please subscribe. Sign up. Get this information however you prefer so that you can become the kind, capable, loving, confident parent that you want to be. That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re taking this journey together. Thank you so much for being a part of The Kid Counselor Family and The Play Therapy Parenting Family. We’ll talk again soon. Bye.

Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J. (2010). Child-Centered Play Therapy (1st ed.). Wiley.
VanFleet, R., Sywulak, A. E., & Sniscak, C. C. (2010). Child-centered play therapy. Guilford Press.
Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Benedict, Helen. Themes in Play Therapy. Used with permission to Heartland Play Therapy Institute.

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