A friend, and the mother of 2 lovely children, recently told me, her voice crescendoing with frustration, “You should write about what to do when your child is being so impossible that, as much as you love him, YOU ACTUALLY FEEL LIKE YOU COULD BECOME A CHARACTER IN A GREEK TRAGEDY!” Greek tragedies - you know, those ancient dramas where the parents murder their children, or each other, or all of the above?
Full disclosure: I am currently a parent of a 10 year old boy and a 7 year old girl, and all too often I know just how that mom feels. Like you, I struggle with putting good parenting intentions into action. There’s obviously far more to say about parenting than I can do justice to here – and always more to learn - but here are a few suggestions.
• Aim to stay calm as much as you possibly can. Your anxiety, resentment, losing your cool, flying off the handle, shaming and blaming – it just serves as a bad model for your child to mimic, feel hurt and rejected by, and throw back in your face. Being calm when your child is being impossible models to the child that problems, conflicts, and moods are normal human experiences that can be addressed constructively. And it shows that you are dependably in charge – not by force, but with strength.
• Do others tell you your kids are terrific, and you’re wondering why they are often so impossible at home? For kids, growing up, going to school, dealing with the social world and ever-increasing responsibilities is a constantly challenging process. Kids are doing all they can do to hold it together out there. Maybe they need to be able to fall apart a little at home, and maybe we need a little more empathy.
• Kids are super-sensitive, and they easily pick up on your bad moods. Transitions are often tough for them. Does your own moodiness lead you to focus on all their flaws and forget to notice their strengths, their efforts? Try cutting them some slack when they act out – it often helps them calm down and get themselves together more quickly.
• If your partner is a calmer parent than you, stop resenting her (or him), and resenting the kids for favoring him (or her). Instead, ask for her (or his) support to help you become a more relaxed parent.
• Work on your connection to your partner/spouse. Get your power struggles and other disconnection issues cleaned up. Your kids need unified, mutually respectful and loving parents, not embattled and embittered rivals. What kids learn about relational behavior and what they act out is often exactly what you model to them in your own relationship to your partner.
• You are not perfect, you never will be, and no one else will be either. If you can’t admit that, you are officially a control freak, which is to say that you need to get yourself under control. When you dispel all illusions about perfection being a possibility, it will be easier to be accountable for your mistakes and easier not to be expecting perfection from your kid, or from your partner/spouse. When you make a mistake and lose it with your kid, honestly apologizing is a highly effective way of reconnecting and healing. Don’t forget to model forgiveness, too, when the apology is aimed at you.
Finally, find people you can vent to about parenting who aren’t condescending and judgmental. You want to love, care for, support and encourage your kids? Make sure you’re getting all those things, too – from friends and family who appreciate how much you love your kids, how hard you try, and all the good you’re doing.