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Is all the guilt normal or are you really a bad parent? - Photo © sturti

Are you a bad parent because you once lost your child in the shopping mall? Or are you a bad parent for letting your child skip school because she was at a party the night before? How about for not putting your son in a child car seat?

These are very real scenarios. We are familiar with them because they don't just happen to “someone else” or some “terrible” parent we hear about; these scenarios happen to every day parents trying to do their best for their children.

Jamilah Samian, certified professional trainer and author of Cool Mum Super Dad and Cool Boys Super Sons, says not only are these scenarios common but they are forgiveable.

“In fact, to be honest, I’ve 'committed' all of those during the more than 25 years I have been a parent!” admits Jamilah.

“I did lose my child in the shopping mall! I'm not proud of it but it happens to the best of parents and the worst of parents – it can happen to anybody.

Jamilah: 'It doesn't just happen to 'other' parents.'
“It doesn't just happen to 'other' parents. It just takes a moment of not paying attention to them. Sometimes you just get distracted and you can lose them. It's very harrowing. What I have learnt is never to bring young kids along during sales or peak hours when there’s bound to be a huge crowd around you.”

Crossing the line

If losing your child is a forgiveable offence, and in fact very normal, how then do you define a bad parent?

“The broadest definition is someone who has a habit of hurting their child INTENTIONALLY (in words and actions) and REGULARLY. Key words – intentionally and regularly.

“Most of us don’t fit into this description. We may do something wrong by and by, and we may act in a not-so-gracious manner, but that doesn’t make us ‘bad' parents. We are guilty of bad choices, bad actions, but we are not bad parents per se,” says Jamilah.

She explains that parents will realise when they have crossed the line, albeit not always at the moment. On reflection, parents can tell if and when they have indeed crossed the line or gone too far.

She recommends parents spend a bit of time before going to bed reflecting on their actions throughout the day and deciding to be better parents the next day.

“If you think you have done something wrong, just ask for forgiveness, if not immediately, then before you go to bed. Just say, 'Please forgive me for everything I have done, and if I have hurt you in any way.' Kids also need to know how to deal with this, what to do if you have acted badly. The best way to erase a bad deed is to do a good deed. And to set it in your heart never to repeat the bad deed,” suggests Jamilah.


Outlining some of the no-no's, Jamilah says it is the more subjective things that are harder to pin-point and control.

“Being over-possessive – Certainly you need to adjust the amount of freedom your child has as he grows up. A little child would definitely need to be supervised at all times. A teenager much less so; it’s a different kind of supervision ... you still need to keep tabs on what they’re doing, though you may not necessarily be physically there. You need to supervise what they do on the Net, on Facebook, on Friendster and Twitter. They may not like it, but to be popular is not our objective. As parents, we do what we need to do because that’s the right thing to do.

“Pushing your child – Sometimes you get lucky and you have a child who just pushes himself to perform in everything. But this is rare because there are certain things that kids need to do but hate doing. Lots of kids hate school. So we can’t help but push them … but you should know your child well enough to know how much to push. There must be give and take, an understanding between you and your child, which areas he must do and leave the rest for him to decide, as much as possible. By the time he’s in Form 4/Form 5, it should very much be a matter of personal preferences.

“Overindulging – This is related to what we call a ‘sense of entitlement’. This phrase – ‘sense of entitlement’ is often portrayed as something negative. But I see two parts in this – one is positive and the other is negative.

“Positive – When it pushes you to be more assertive. This is the kind of attitude that makes you ask questions in class or at the doctor’s or the restaurant (because your child feels he is ‘entitled’ to an explanation from the teacher, doctor etc …)

“Negative – When you have an attitude that the world owes you a living. Thinking that you’re so special you have to be given priority or considered for everything ... the family car, the best toys and the best holidays. If they start complaining when they don’t get them, you have a problem there …. Your kid is bound for disaster. It’s not a kind world out there.

“There are two extremes – being overindulgent and being too strict. Sometimes we do them both unintentionally.”

According to Jamilah, a parent can behave badly without being a bad parent. There is a need to distinguish between the behaviour and the person. Once you keep repeating the same mistakes or bad behaviour then you would have crossed the line especially if you want to hurt your child.

“We always want the best for our children and sometimes that gets us into trouble as well.”

Dealing with guilt

Guilt, she adds, is not necessarily a bad thing as it is an underestimated motivator. According to Jamilah, dissatisfaction with ourselves can push us to become better and better person(s), as opposed to being complacent. Yet, she warns that “too much guilt” can result in the parent overindulging the child.

“You can’t correct a wrong with another wrong. You have to be kind to yourself because guilt can be a heavy burden to carry to the point that it hinders you from living effectively as a parent and as a human being.

“Just stop doing the wrong thing, ask for forgiveness, commit to finding a more effective way … and start anew the next day.

“How to know that we’re doing something wrong? As parents, you’re the one running your household. You know what’s happening in your home. The onus is on you to continually educate/enlighten yourself about parenting, gain as much knowledge as possible about child development by reading and sharing with other parents. If something is bothering you, ask. It doesn’t matter if your parents have done it … or you have been doing it for the past 30 years … if it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”

Responsible parents always go to bed every night wondering if they have done the best, she explains.

“You know you are never perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect parent. You may have perfect intentions, but you are never perfect. You keep on trying to improve yourself.

“If you feel that other parents or even your parents and grandparents have done a better job than you then why not try to follow their good example. I think, at the end of the day, you know yourself and your own situation, and it's subjective. If you find that some other parents seem to be doing better than you in terms of their relationship then you should ask what is he or she doing right? In that sense, comparing yourself to others is not a bad thing.

“But certainly when it comes to comparing academic results, I stop short at that. That's not something I would want to compare because each child is different. And you can't say the other person is a better parent just because their child does well in exams.”

As for disapproving looks or unwanted and unsolicited advice from other parents and singles or even your own parents and grandparents, Jamilah says:

“Stick to your guns if you know you are doing the right thing. Don't let others make you feel like a bad parent. You are the one who understands your position better.

“Take it with a pinch of salt. Everybody has their own opinion. Don't be so hard on yourself.”

Commenting on bad habits like drinking, smoking, swearing and bad-mouthing in front of the kids, Jamilah says these should be curbed.

According to her, it goes without saying that parents should try to curb their own bad habits because they are setting an example for their children. Kids watch you. It's not so much what you say as what you do. And, they are going to follow you – if not everything, then what you do.

Sometimes it's very subtle things – the way you respond when you're angry or upset; how you deal with conflict in uncomfortable situations.

These are the things they will pick up especially if you are the main role model for them.


At the end of the day, you know yourself best and you are the one who knows your child best.

“You never know if you have done the right thing. Just move on and if you truly feel that you have done something wrong then just ask for forgiveness from the child. Talk it out with the child. Nothing wrong with that. I prefer to be open. Treat it like a learning experience. For all you know, they would have forgotten about it. We adults tend to dwell on such things and kids just move on,” advises Jamilah.

“There’ll never be a perfect day; a day is perfect with all the imperfections; that’s because we’re human. But we keep on trying to improve ourselves.”


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