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To err is human: parents are not perfect, we must forgive ourselves

The journey of parenting involves continuous, limitless learning. Beyond parenting and all the care that a baby or child requires and needs, there are many nooks and crannies that, perhaps, no one tells you and you don’t realize unless you go through it; we talk about feelings of guilt or shame when we inadvertently inflict pain on our children. Where do these feelings of guilt and helplessness go?

This is precisely what experts in biomedical sciences have analyzed in depth in a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Pshycology, in which they have examined the guilt and shame of parents at a profound psychological level, for injuries caused by burns of a child. The researchers identified 71 children who had been admitted to a local unit at Alder Heyen Hospital for childhood burns for treatment. These include cures for burns caused by scalds, flames, frictions, chemicals and so on. And while some of the children were treated as outpatients, others required hospital admission and skin grafts.

A total of 91 parents completed questionnaires measuring post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame and self-pity, and the results were high levels of psychological distress and high feelings of guilt and shame in the parents. On the other hand, parents who adopted an attitude of personal compassion (known as “self-pity”) seemed to cope better with the injury. Dr. Hawkins, who pioneered the report, said the study suggests that health professionals should pay more attention to experiences of subjective injury in families. “Screening for psychological disorders should be offered to all families, regardless of the size and severity of the burn injury,” he said.

“If I had been more careful.”
Even with the best of intentions or will mistakes are made. They are just that, but enough to punish you to unsuspected limits. The study refers to cases in which the psychological sequelae have been, even, greater than the burn itself. For this reason, and according to Cristina Hernández, a psychiatrist with the Justice Administration of the Madrid College of Doctors, these parents need professionals to forgive themselves and treat these carelessness. “Often, in these cases of burns, which remain on the skin throughout life, remind parents that it could have been an avoidable injury,” he explains.

But, above all, and for Hernandez, these wounds “hurt” parents deeply for two main reasons. “On the one hand, these damages remind them of the evil they have inflicted on their children, and on the other, because the aesthetic part is also a very important part in their physical and emotional development,” he continues. And is that the children are largely a narcissistic or vain extension of the parents, so any change must be accepted and help the children to also be accepted as they are, and not to feel better us. “The most important thing is that there is no permanent feeling of guilt, or “I have left you ugly”, this can be very painful, and in the long term, can generate many defects in the relationship of parents with children by the fact that the former have not done things right, “he says.

“Things are not always done well no matter how well we want to do them,” he concludes.

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