DEAR PARENTS: STOP APOLOGIZING FOR BEING IMPERFECT
Originally published October 14, 2015
I can’t stand it. I just. Can’t. Stand it. I have had it up to HERE with self-deprecating posts from moms who feel SO GUILTY about the time they broke their facade of perfection and acted human with their kids.
I mean, just the TITLE of this one sent my eyes rolling so far back in my head I got a migraine.
I’ll summarize it for you, so you don’t have to read it right now:
*Mom is busy and running late
*4 year old doesn’t want to wear school uniform
*Mom allows 4 year old to flip out and throw a screaming/thrashing tantrum
*Screaming/thrashing tantrum causes 4 year old to headbutt Mom
*Mom, in pain, reacts on instinct and smacks 4 year old. Smack lands on his back.
*Mom will “never forgive herself” (I may actually have vomited here.)
Look, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had days where we are at the end of our goddamned rope, about to lose our shit, and one of the kids shoves us over the edge. When that happens, when we snap, sometimes we react in an over-the-top way that is completely out of the norm. Maybe you scream, maybe you yell, maybe you kick one of the kitchen chairs and it breaks, maybe you throw a toy across the room, maybe you swat your kid. As long as you don’t injure one of your children or break the law, forgive yourself and move on. You aren’t teaching your child that you are a raging monster by snapping. What your child learns by finally getting you to the boiling point is that YOU HAVE A LIMIT. You are a HUMAN BEING, much like the other human beings they will have to interact with in their lives, and if they push enough buttons, a human being with emotions might just get so angry they snap.
Let’s be real here, while it may seem like being June Cleaver is the best possible thing for your kids…it really isn’t. At some point, your kids need to realize you are human and you didn’t come from Stepford.
In this case, the mom had an instinctual reaction to being headbutted in the face, and she’s being a bit melodramatic about it. If she had handled the situation instead of letting it escalate, this wouldn’t have happened. End of story. But since she can’t go back in time and L2parent effectively so her 4 year old child doesn’t throw toddler-esque tantrums every time he doesn’t get his own way (which is going to be more often than not), she needs to embrace this little episode as a learning moment and do better next time. Because that’s all we can do.
I’m going to lay it all out there for you. I’m not a patient person. It’s probably my biggest flaw, and I work on it every day because I want to be patient for my kids. Because I want THEM to be patient, and they aren’t. I know the reason they aren’t patient is because I’m not patient. I get frustrated with them very quickly, and I know what my trigger is – it’s when I’ve had to tell them not to do something 132165476541324564 times and they STILL do it. Don’t get me wrong, I have gone through the entire gamut of disciplinary measures. I have very smart kids, and they very quickly realized that ALL punishments eventually end.
*Stern discussion? Wait until Mom/Dad is done talking, agree, apologize, walk away and do the thing again.
*Time out? Wait until the timer beeps, apologize, walk away and do the thing again.
*Take something (toys/video games) away? Occupy my time in other ways and do the thing again.
*Grounded? I’m already grounded, might as well do the thing again.
*Spanking? That hurt for a second, and I’m a little upset. I’ll do the thing again when I’ve calmed down.
We are now attempting a positive reinforcement system that looks a little bit too much like bribery for my liking, but you gotta do what works. If it seems to work, maybe I’ll blog about it. If it doesn’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board.
Anyway, I have snapped, just like this mom. Spoiler alert, the thing about the kitchen chair was me. I blame shoddy craftsmanship as much as my short fuse. I don’t remember what they were doing, but I know they’d been told and disciplined and told and disciplined and told enough times to STOP DOING IT that I just lost it. I felt awful. But I moved on. I’m certainly not still feeling guilty about it.
I can’t go back in time and L2parent effectively so that I don’t end up kicking a kitchen chair and breaking it. So I have to use that moment as a learning opportunity and try harder to stay calm in the future. When it happened, I apologized – NOT for losing my temper, but for losing control. I explained to them that it is very, very frustrating to Mommy and Daddy when we have to continuously tell them to stop doing things – especially when they know better.
My children are not afraid of me. They love me, they know how much I love them, they still want to snuggle with me and hug me and laugh and joke with me and tell me all about their day. Kids don’t hold a grudge.
But let’s talk about a bigger issue here. The bigger issue as I see it is that parents feel the need to apologize for basic parenting. The comment section on that post – as predicted – turned into a Mommy War on spanking. There is a common thread with most of the commenters who spank: An apologetic explanation of why they spank. It’s not just spanking, it’s all forms of discipline. Apologetic explanations for using time out, or yelling, or taking away toys…but why??? Why on Earth are we apologizing for these things? Why do parents seem to feel like their number one priority is protecting their child from ever feeling pain or discomfort or inconvenience? Because that’s what discipline is. Discipline is not meant to be fun for them, and there’s a reason for that – it’s so they learn how to act to avoid it.
We have a generation of parents who feel they need to be their child’s best friend above all else – and that is absolutely wrong. Your job is not to be their friend, it is to be their parent. You have to raise this tiny human to be able to function in the world with other humans, and that means…on a very basic level…training them. Different kids learn different ways – but they have to learn, and they have to learn from you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a mom use the countdown (3….2….1….) method, actually get to zero, and do nothing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen moms in the grocery store with kids who are literally melting down, and they’re responding with a gentle (and obviously ineffective), “Honey, you need to stop that now” or something equivalent. Here’s what your child learns from those things: There are no consequences, and I can act however I want.
The mom in the article is one of those moms. I can tell from her reaction. She is STILL beating herself up about this little encounter loooooong after the kid has flat out forgotten it. I can tell from her reaction that she probably has thousands of days like that in her future, because she doesn’t want to be the bad guy.
I’m not perfect. At all. Obviously we still have some kinks to work out at my house, but even though we keep having to change up our discipline strategy, we have one thing going for us – we are consistent. If we tell you that X action will get you Y consequence, that’s what happens. And even though they know Y consequence has an expiration date, they still don’t like it while they have to endure it.
Being firm and in control doesn’t mean you don’t love them. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to show them you do.
So whether you use time-outs, groundings, love and logic, take away toys, or (gasp!) spank, or WHATEVER new and creative way you’ve devised to get it through their heads that YOU ARE IN CHARGE and not them, it’s FINE. Whatever you do is FINE as long as you aren’t abusing them and you ACTUALLY PARENT. And kids don’t always respond to the same kind of discipline, so don’t assume that just because you never had to resort to spanking with your kids means that NO ONE ELSE should ever do it.
I’m sure we would all love to live in a world where every child responded the same way to a stern look and a clucking tongue, but we all have to live in reality instead.