It’s that time of year again. I know that you know exactly what I mean. Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. The Winter Solstice. Or maybe you prefer to simply take part in generalized winter gatherings. It’s all about family and friends. It can feel very awkward when you’re upset with those people. That feeling is way worse when one or more of the people you’re upset with are your own children.
The pandemic that just won’t end, distance learning, changing school schedules, increases in the number of COVID variants, vaccine debates, mask battles, and the continuation of tragedies like school shootings, and daily life continue to be intense. The pressures are endless and keep building. In addition to the usual health and financial worries, throw in supply chain problems, national dramas, natural disasters … so much stress!
You’re not alone if you sometimes find yourself feeling angry, hurt, or frustrated by things your child says or does. When your kids are young, the issues tend to be smaller in scope, although that doesn’t make them less important. By the time kids are older and in their late teenage years, issues of contention can include lies about homework and grades, broken curfews, accidents with the car, untruths about where they’re going or with whom, and other hot button issues. How many times can you grant another chance or ‘wipe the slate clean’ and still call yourself a responsible parent?
My children have had to grow up with some very tough facts. Their father was killed by a drunk driver when they were still children. I already had a disability at that point, but the family tragedy dramatically escalated that situation. I know that some of my parenting challenges come from not being sufficiently assertive with my children, because I’m constantly aware of how much they’ve been through and continue to deal with every day.
I also realize that some of their behavior pushes my button more than it really should. As the parent and the responsible adult, when they don’t listen to me, are unkind to me or one another, or neglect their responsibilities in our home and in their lives, I should objectively go into problem-solving mode. I should calmly assess the situation and dispense a perfect blend of wisdom and justice if I was a perfect parental Pez dispenser.
I’m only human and I have feelings, too. And so do you.
When my kids act up in some way, sometimes I can remain calm and objective. At those times I can channel my inner serenity, stay patient, summon empathy, and brilliantly broker family peace. At other times though, I feel upset, disappointed, or even defeated and lose my temper. I see my child’s behavior, draw a dramatic conclusion, and leap to another dramatic conclusion. Let me explain:
- Child fails to unload the dishwasher =
Child will grow up to live in squalor =
I’ve failed as a parent.
- Child argues with sibling =
Child will be unable to maintain relationships =
I’ve failed as a parent.
- Child leaves the bathroom a mess =
Child is a maniac =
I’ve failed as a parent.
You get the idea. It’s a lightning-quick, completely unintentional thought process.
When I resort to threats and taking away privileges, my kids and I all feel bad. With older kids and as a disabled parent, it’s also very difficult to do those things. I can’t physically remove the license plates from a car, follow them into another room to continue an argument, or grab a phone out of somebody’s hand. They always have an unfair physical advantage. Do I believe they intentionally take advantage of that? No, I don’t think it’s intentional. But it definitely happens.
Every parent or guardian has a different situation. Regardless of the differences in details or degree, I believe some underlying challenges are basically similar for everyone.
So, how do we deal with it all? How do we get through this especially complicated time of year? I’m not a medical expert or professional counselor, but I’ll share what life experience and a huge amount of research has taught me:
You have a right to your feelings.
It’s OK to be angry at your child. It’s OK to sometimes feel hurt by their words or actions. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them if you don’t like your child’s behavior. It is understandable if you don’t want to be around your child when you’re extremely upset with them.
Being physically or verbally abusive towards a child is never OK. It’s not OK when you’re dealing with adults either, by the way, but today I’m just writing about certain issues having to do with children.
If you say something you know was mean or out of bounds, you really need to apologize. If you feel like you might lose control because of anger or frustration, don’t feel bad or be embarrassed. If you need a break, ask somebody close to you to step in for a little while.
Don’t take it personally when your child is being impossible
I know it’s easier said than done, especially in the moment when your child is acting out, having a tantrum, or calling you names. Frequently, your child’s behavior isn’t necessarily even about you. It may be more a result of having problem-solving skills that can’t handle the situation. If you try to take a deep breath and remind yourself to not take it personally, you might be able to defuse and deescalate the situation.
Forgiving doesn’t equal forgetting
I’m not a person who believes that you need to forgive everyone who wrongs you. The biggest exception to that is your children, unless the wrongs they have committed are so egregious that it’s unfathomable. You don’t want your kids to believe that they are they are so terrible they’re irredeemable. You don’t want them to figure they are just a lost cause and should give up. No matter how old your kid is, if a parent or responsible party doesn’t believe in them, then who will?
Everyone makes mistakes, and that includes parents. We’re all only human. Fortunately, we do have the ability to learn from our mistakes and then change our behavior. Giving your child a chance to try again sends the message that you think he or she is capable of doing better.
You also need to forgive yourself when you lose your temper or get frustrated more quickly than you’d like. Don’t waste time and energy berating yourself over and over again. Apologize when appropriate, and move on. Be a positive example for your family and yourself.
Does anything I’ve written today resonate with you at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of these issues. Email me at email@example.com. I’d love to read your comments, and you might find yourself mentioned in the newsletter next week.