Dear Susan,

I am leaving for University in another province later this week, and I hope that you can help me. My family has always been supportive, let me make my own mistakes, but been there for me when I have messed up. Since I made the decision to go away to school, they have not spoken about how they feel about it, but are making me feel very guilty about leaving them. I tried confronting my mother but we ended up in a tearful argument with her crying about how even though she tried her best, she has not been a ‘good enough’ mother to me. My father just seems indifferent. How can I get their support and stop them from making me feel guilty?

Katie, London


Dear Katie,

First of all, congratulations on taking this important step, both in terms of your education as well as in your personal development. You are embarking on a very exciting time in your life.

I cannot ‘make’ your parents stop their attempts at guiltmaking, but I can give you some information about guilt, to help you determine when guilt is appropriate or not.

Guilt is a state we experience when we regret having done something we believe is wrong or was harmful. Guilt, within reasonable proportions, can be useful. It can prevent us from engaging in harmful behaviour, and if we do, it can prompt us to make the appropriate amends. (i.e apologizing, learning a lesson, expressing and feeling our regret) However, if the effects of guilt go beyond this point and begin to to include adverse effects upon your self-esteem, your ability to engage in decision making, or your relationships with others it is time to address it.

Your parents may be staying quiet because they believe that to do otherwise may be applying undue pressure or influence on you. Perhaps they truly do not know if going away to school is a ‘good’ decision or not. Since you mention that they have been supportive in the past, it may not be so much their under reaction that is bothering you, rather it may be that at this junction of your life you just need something different and would really like confirmation that you will still have your parents to fall back on if necessary.

Parents can sometimes promote feelings of guilt in their children by presenting themselves as less than able to cope with life and changes. One of the toughest parent roles for a child to handle is the sacrificing martyr. This type of parent will say things like “ I have suffered so much to give you the best….now that you are moving away, you will forget me”. She may be feeling quite anxious and frightened that you will no longer ‘need’ her and be trying to secure your attention by encouraging you to feel guilty for going away to school.

Her message may be “If you leave me, I’ll feel terrible, all because you are being selfish and hurtful.

As her daughter, you can empathize with her feelings of insecurity, but not give in to the manipulation. While you can reassure your mother that you love her and still need her support and encouragement, you can also let her know that you feel ready to embark on your own life and will not allow attempts at guilt to obscure your dreams.

This is a big adjustment for everyone in the family, and your mother may see it as an ‘ending’ of her mothering role, rather than as an opportunity for you to redefine your roles as mother and daughter. Encourage your mother to use this time to pursue an interest of her own or develop a new hobby. When children move out, parents often discover that they have more free time. Pursuing a new interest may not only prove to be fulfilling for your mother, but can also serve as a distraction from her anxiety.