Dealing with Feelings of Guilt

You and your child have visited several schools. You’ve cataloged the pros and cons. You’ve made a decision and your child is set to attend boarding school in the fall.

Some parents, once they’ve decided on a boarding school for their children, begin feeling guilty about sending a child to boarding school. Some worry that the child will feel abandoned. Others worry that the child is being abandoned, perhaps at a time when he needs parental support and involvement the most. But a decision for boarding school isn’t a decision for abandonment. In fact, it’s just the opposite; it’s a decision to give your child the best possible education in the best possible environment.

Feelings of guilt are common among parents who decide to send a child to boarding school. Especially if the child is a troubled teen or pre-teen who’s had issues at school or perhaps with the law. For parents of these troubled teens, choosing a boarding school can feel like they’re giving up on their child – choosing to “ship him off” for someone else to “deal with”.

One way to help assuage these feelings is to write down the reasons for your decision. The process itself will be helpful because it will remind you that you had good, valid reasons for the decision you made. But it will also give you something you can refer back to when the guilty feelings come. Having the reasons “documented” will help you take emotion out of the process and instead focus on cold hard facts. Facts like “my daughter isn’t being challenged in her current school”, “my son will be better prepared for college”, or “it will give my daughter the structured environment she needs in order to succeed” will help counteract the guilt. They will also come in handy if your son or daughter tries to make you feel guilty. Don’t be surprised if this happens. It’s just your child’s way of trying to avoid something that’s new and scary. Change is always hard. But if you have a list of reasons that you can review together, it will help both of you get through the tough times – together.

Letting your child be part of the decision-making process will also alleviate feelings of guilt. If your child is involved in the process, you won’t feel like you’re forcing a decision on him or her. And again, if your child tries to make you feel guilty, you can remind him or her that you arrived at this decision together.

Unfortunately, some children will refuse to be part of the decision process and will do their best to make a parent feel guilty. If this happens, you simply need to remember that you’re the parent and your primary responsibility is to offer the best care and healthiest environment you can for your child. If your decision has been made carefully, based on facts and not emotions (in other words, you didn’t make a rash decision in a moment of anger or frustration), you can stand by your decision guilt-free.

It’s also important to remember that you won’t be completely out of touch with your child. You’ll be able to call, probably email, and definitely visit and even have your son or daughter come home for an occasional weekend visit. Schedule the first weekend visit before your child even leaves for boarding school. That way, both of you will know that you’ll be seeing each other again soon and that you aren’t abandoning your child.

Remember that a boarding school gives your child opportunities to learn and grow that are only available at a boarding school. The unique environment simply can’t be duplicated in a regular, public school. Though it will be hard not seeing your child every day and not being there for every important moment in his life, remember that you’re giving him the chance to develop his independence, discover who he is, and appreciate the unique contribution he can make to the world around him.