What is Guilty Parent Syndrome?

Guilty Parent Syndrome, or GPS as we jokingly call it, is often referred to as Disney Dad syndrome or Guilty Dad Syndrome. We call it Guilty Parent Syndrome because it not only affects dads, it affects moms too! Heck, it even affects grandparents!

GPS can occur when a biological parent is no longer with their child’s other biological parent and it affects their parenting decisions. Even if the biological parent wasn’t the cause for the relationship to end, they can still have guilt that their child is from a “split home” or they feel guilty the other parent isn’t “up to par”.

Examples of Guilty Parent Syndrome

GPS can be displayed in many ways. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Not disciplining their child for bad behavior – If the bio parent tells their child to do their homework and the child doesn’t do it, the bio parent may tell them another 800 times to do their homework instead of putting the child on restriction for not doing as they are told.
  • Not requiring their child to do chores – The bio parent would rather do the chores for their child than to make their child do them.
  • Buying their child everything the child asks for – Sometimes parents spoil their kids not out of love, but out of guilt. They want their kid to have everything they want. Sometimes it’s more of a competition to be better than or give more than the other bio parent.
  • Never telling the child “No.” – The bio parent may be busy and their child comes up and asks them to take them to the store. Rather than telling the child “No.”, or even “Not right now, maybe later.”, the parent stops what they are doing to do whatever the child wants. 
  • Allowing the child to call the shots – The bio parent has planned for the “blended family” to go on an outing. Everyone is aware of the plans and getting ready to go. All of a sudden, their bio child says they don’t want to do that, they’d rather go do something else. The bio parent then changes the plans for everyone because their child changed their mind. 

Why GPS???

GPS stems from the fear of losing the child. Whether that be the child not wanting to come to visitation, or from fear of the child wanting to go live with the other parent. This is the main root cause of GPS.

In addition, if the bio parent doesn’t have their child 100% of the time, they don’t’ want to spend the time they have with the child constantly disciplining them. They want to enjoy their time with their child and want the child to enjoy it as well.

It Might Not Be A Secret

Biological parents may realize they are not parenting the child as they feel they should. They may even know feel they would parent the child differently if they were still with the child’s other parent, in a “nuclear family”. They may know they aren’t helping the child by letting them get away with murder, having no responsibilities, and letting them have so much control. But, Guilty Parent Syndrome is so strong and the fear of losing their child overrides what they know they should do!

I’m Guilty!

My son goes to his biological father’s every other weekend and a few weeks in the summer, a week at Christmas, etc. Considering I have my son about 80% of the time, you would think I wouldn’t fall “victim” to GPS. Well, let me tell you. I have it, and I know it!

Starting the Wednesday before my son’s weekend visitation with his dad, the guilt starts creeping in. I feel that I didn’t do enough “fun” stuff with him or that I didn’t spend enough time with him. And of course, if he does something that he should “get in trouble for”, I’m not as strict.

Granted, I’ve got a good kid. But, he’s a kid. When he comes home late from hanging out with his friends, I should punish him, right? Yes, I should! Do I? Nope! Why don’t I punish him when I know that he should have consequences for his actions?? It’s because I don’t want to be “the bad guy”. I don’t want him to say he’s going to go live with his dad where he has no rules. And, I don’t want him to not see his friends for several weeks since a lot of his friends are from “split” homes as well and aren’t always “here”. Yeah, that’s a lame excuse but it’s also a lot better than some other excuses I can come up with. LOL.

Does my having GPS make me a bad mom? Nope! It makes me a parent that allows GPS to dictate my actions more than I’d like. 

Well, You Know What’s Going To Happen

Kids with no responsibilities, always getting their way, and being spoiled will grow up to be useless humans, right??

Maybe, maybe not! We don’t have a crystal ball! Little Johnny not being punished for not doing his chores, doesn’t mean he won’t take a job seriously. It doesn’t mean that he won’t listen to his boss at his job. And if Little Suzie always gets her way at home, once she’s in the real world, it won’t take her long to figure out that not everyone is going to cater to her like her guilt-ridden biological parent.

Even though we, as stepparents, feel like we KNOW the stepkids will grow up and be worthless humans that live on the street because they weren’t “parented” like we think they should have been, it’s not our place to try to make their biological parent “see the error in their ways”. 

My husband had GPS with his kids. As their stepmom, I had fears. I was afraid they’d never get or keep a job. I was even more afraid they would end up living with us until they were 57! But guess what, they turned out fine! Three of my stepsons are in the Air Force and the other stepson lives about three hours away and has held the same job for several years! 

It’s Not A Slam Against You

Because your significant other has GPS doesn’t mean that their kids come before you, that you aren’t a priority, or that you’re second. It means that your significant other is trying to navigate this blend the best they can. They are doing what they feel is best for their kid while spending limited time with them. And doing it without being a drill sergeant for fear of losing the kids to the “other parent”. It means they know their kid will grow up, a little quicker than they’d like, and they want to spend as much time with them as they can. As their significant other, be supportive of their decisions, even when you don’t agree or fully understand them. Realize that one day those stepkids will move out and you’ll have your significant other all to yourself. 

What Can You Do As A Bystander

Try to understand the cause of GPS and that it’s a real thing. Put yourself in their shoes. Not having your child 100% of the time sucks, especially if the ex is high conflict. If your significant other only gets their child 50% of the time, then guess what? Those eight years that are left before their kid turns 18 and goes to college or moves out, is really only four years of time they have left to spend with them. They see this clock ticking. Be kind, be supportive, and give them grace.



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