Marléne Rose Shaw with Eleni Vardaki

Moving Beyond Guilt: Parenting Through Conscious Kindness

WHAT’S THE ISSUE: Are you aware of how Conscious Kindness differs from Misguided Kindness? In this interview, Marléne Rose Shaw teaches us:

  • how parents (or any adult, for that matter) can move beyond guilt by understanding the difference between Conscious Kindness and Misguided Kindness.
  • how to respond to a teenager who is stuck in the “I want, I want, I want” state of being.
  • how the “I’m OK, You’re OK” relational model developed by Dr Harris can help improve parent-child (and many other) relationships. 

Marléne has helped many women become less fearful and more assertive so that they can gain confidence and have more secure relationships.



MARLENE ROSE SHAW: Hi Eleni, it’s lovely to see you.

ELENI VARDAKI: I’d like to introduce you to my audience. Marléne Rose Shaw is a Therapist, Coach, and Self-help Author. I read your book, Marléne, How Kind People Get Tough. And I kept thinking how useful this would be for a lot of parents. Especially for parents who are plagued by guilt, because they feel guilty about working long hours. And there were case studies and examples in your book where you talk about concepts like Conscious Kindness and Misguided Kindness. 

It would be so helpful for parents who are stuck in this place of guilt and wanting to be kind to their kid (but in a misguided way, without realizing it). So I’m really grateful for you being here today, so that you can talk about your book to help parents who are struggling to communicate with their child, or who are parenting from guilt, to get clarity on what they can do to improve their relationship with their child. But before we go into all of that, can you talk a little bit about why you wrote this book?

MARLENE ROSE SHAWYeah, I wrote How Kind People Get Tough because I’ve been working with clients now for a long long time, over 25 years. And one of the main areas that we all struggle with is in relationships. All types of relationships. Relationships are where we do our biggest learning and where we have most of our challenges. I found the main thing that people find difficult is being assertive. Being able to speak up. 

There are primal reasons. We have a lot of fear about being rejected. We don’t want to come across as mean or unkind. We don’t want to bring conflict at a very deep level, we don’t want to be cast out of the tribe. It’s a survival thing. So we want to make sure that everything’s good. And everybody’s happy. And we’re smoothing everything over. And that’s OK. But it doesn’t actually help our relationships, because we end up giving too much. Or we end up feeling resentful. Or having difficult, challenging relationships. One thing I do see is parents with their teen children, and they find that very difficult to speak up in the right way

ELENI VARDAKI: In your book, you talk about parenting from guilt. I’d love for you to talk a bit more about that, because sometimes parents can not know what to say when a child is behaving in an emotionally immature way. You know, when the teenager is in that consistent nagging mode of “I want, I want, I want”. “I want the latest iPhone, and I promise I’ll study hard with my grades in school in return.” Or “I promise I’ll study to pass my exams in return.” 

What advice do you have for a parent who feels bad if they say “no” to their child and they keep giving into their child’s nagging for luxury items in exchange for promises of academic effort and performance.

MARLENE ROSE SHAW: It’s really hard. I mean I’ve been a parent. My boy’s all grown up now. But I do remember those days. And it is really hard, because in the moment what you want to do is just to kind of give in and you just want peace. And especially if they’re making you promises and say, “Oh yes, I’ll study really hard.” I think we have to look at the bigger picture. You know, real kindness is about looking at the bigger picture. And remembering that one of the roles as parents is to help young people grow up, to feel capable and strong in their own rights so that they can set their own boundaries and they have limits. And they feel that they’re able to manage the world themselves. And in order to do that, we have to look at the bigger picture. 

I talk a lot about the difference between Misguided Kindness and Conscious Kindness. Misguidance kindness is when we don’t want to rock the boat. It’s a quick fix. It’s like, “Oh, I just don’t want another argument. Yes. OK. Here you are. I’ll pay for that for you. And you promise you’ll be good.” 

And then there’s Conscious Kindness. Conscious Kindness is when we actually teach boundaries. We look at the bigger picture and we say to us as “Well, am I actually helping this young person in the long run to get a sense of worth that they can actually do these things within limits.” This is a long-term solution. Part of me saying no is helping them to feel more responsible for themselves. And it’s about respect. It’s about them giving me respect and me helping them to feel respect for themselves and me respecting them enough to say no respecting the fact that they’re capable of learning and growing and evolving and becoming mature. And part of that process is me honoring that and actually guiding them. And saying “No” sometimes. 

As far as guilt is concerned, I always say: Would you rather feel guilty for a short while or feel resentful all the time? Because when we keep giving in, we kind of got this, “Arrgh! I really didn’t want to do that. And now I’m annoyed. I’m in a mood with myself. And I’m in a mood with them.” And actually, you’re gonna feel guilty. Part of saying “No” is feeling guilty. But the more we practice it and the better we get at it. And there’s tons of skills in the book to help people do that. The more we do it, the easier it becomes. And that guilt is just a “Ah, yeah I don’t feel so good about that. But I know it’s the right thing to do.” Then we can move on from that.

ELENI VARDAKI: You talk about resentment that can build when parents keep giving the child what they want, in terms of material things. Or even maybe they are aware that motivation can be increased when there is an incentive. So they see it as, “Let me give the childhood an incentive”. They transplant those business concepts, the working world concepts, into the parent-child relationship.

MARLENE ROSE SHAW: Yeah. Something I think is really important to say about this incentive, rewarding a young person for their achievements. I think it’s a great thing to do, but I think we need to be careful that we understand the difference between a reward and a bribe. 

A reward is something that comes after they’ve achieved something to honor the work that they’ve done. A bribe is more of a fear-based action. It’s “If I do this, will you do that?” It’s like giving somebody the gold cup, before they’ve won the football match. They don’t have the motivation then to do the sport. 

It’s about, “Is this a bribe or is it a reward?” There’s nothing wrong with saying to the young person, “When you’ve done this. It’d be a wonderful reward. And I’m looking forward to giving it to you. I’m so excited to see you on this journey of growing as a person and actually achieving this.” And I think it’s so much about instilling confidence in young people. And just saying, “I believe you can do this. I know you can do this. You don’t need me to bribe you, because I think you are far more capable than that. You can actually go and do this. And I’m right by your side, helping you to do this. I’ll be reminding you that you’re going to get that reward at the end.”

ELENI VARDAKI: And the child is held accountable and is learning about boundaries of responsibility.

MARLENE ROSE SHAW: Yeah, absolutely. And I think also parents can also feel a bit bad about themselves if they keep giving in. They feel that perhaps they shouldn’t really. Because it’s basically it’s people-pleasing, isn’t it? And we all people please sometimes. And if we do it more than is good for us, we feel bad about it. And I think parents can end up feeling bad about it. But by actually setting those boundaries, they are looking at the bigger picture. And they are helping the young person with their confidence, but they’re also helping their own confidence. Because they are showing that they can be assertive. Which is not bossy. It’s about respect. 

Coming back round to this Misguided Kindness and Conscious Kindness. I think it’s a very important concept, because we can use that as a framework. Sometimes it’s really clear and you can say, “This is a time to say yes, this is a time to say no.” And then there’s other times when we’re kind of thinking, “Well, I don’t know. Should I say yes or should I say no? Am I being fussy? Is it valid that I say no? Is this my stuff? Is it their stuff?” And we don’t know. We don’t know. 

And so I provided a checklist: “Misguided Kindness and Conscious Kindness”. So that in those times when you feel that you’re not quite sure you can just look at that checklist and it asks certain questions. And by answering those questions, you can see which side you’re on, the Misguided or the Conscious side. And that way you can make an informed decision about whether to say “No” to the young person at that particular point in time. Or whether maybe you can let that one go. My clients find that checklist really, really helpful.

ELENI VARDAKI: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Thank you. I’ll have that linked in below so people can download it. 

So what if a parent has a limiting belief, or a blocking belief that “In order to be a good mom or in order to be a good dad, I must sacrifice my needs, most of the time, just like my mom and my dad did.” That in order for the child to be OK, the parent has to sacrifice their needs, to the point where the parent is not OK. That’s quite a common, almost culturally ingrained belief in countries like here in Greece, that can cause a lot of upset and resentment in the parent-child dynamic on both sides. 

How does this relate to this to that “I’m not OK, You’re not OK” dynamic. Could you maybe speak a bit about that?

MARLENE ROSE SHAW: Absolutely. There’s a man, Dr. Thomas Harris, who created a model called “I’m OK, You’re OK”. Basically, that model is:

  • I’m OK, You’re OK.
  • I’m not OK, You’re OK.
  • I’m not OK, You’re not OK.
  • I’m OK, You’re not OK.

But basically, we get ourselves into those dynamics in relationships. And ultimately we want to go for the “I’m OK, You’re OK”. That’s what we’re aiming for. But quite often it’s very common with parents to be, “I’m not OK, but you’re OK”. Almost like “I have to not be OK for you to be okay.” We have to think to ourselves, “It’s off-balance”. 

And what are we actually teaching this young person about relationships? Are we teaching that relationships should be like that, that comes back to this conscious kindness, looking at the bigger picture. What do we want for them, in the long-term? What message do we want to pass on to this person? And particularly about being a parent. Because are we then say, “Well, you know, I’m not OK and you’re OK. But when you grow up and become a parent, you shift into the not OK”. And nobody’s very happy then. 

It’s about respect. True respect is not about power struggles. It’s not about one person being higher than the other. It’s about equality. And actually, if we can aim for a “I’m OK and you’re OK”. And think about everybody feeling respected, and everybody feeling empowered. And find ways to do that, rather than one person winning a power struggle.

ELENI VARDAKI: Oo I love it! Thank you so much, Marléne, for taking this time to chat. Where can people find you?

MARLENE ROSE SHAW: You just go to and that will take you to the website. And you can find out about the book and everything. And also give you the link to the Conscious Kindness checklist.


Marléne Rose Shaw, Therapist, Coach and Self-Help Author

Marléne Rose Shaw is a Therapist, Coach and self-help Author. She specializes in helping people become less fearful and more assertive, so they can gain more confidence and have happier, more secure relationships. She’s the author of several self-help books, including How Kind People Get Tough. Marléne works with individuals, couples and groups. She’s been helping people for over 25 years, and she loves what she does.