There will be days as a parent when your nerves will fray to within an inch of your wits end. You’ll be so run down, distracted and forgetful, you may even question whether or not you are losing your mind!
This can be particularly so for parents going through a separation and managing the rigours of single parenting. As you try to come to terms with your new reality and all the changes it brings, you won’t always present your most awesome self to the world.
The same will be so for your kids. They too have grief and fear to process. Your bubbly, happy toddler might become a clingy, whingey and pretty much grafted to your leg.
You may find yourself with a tween who doesn’t want to go to school or a surly, aggressive teenager slamming doors and giving you “feedback” on your parenting skills.
For all parents, the day will come, when even you, SuperParent, will say something to your child, which you know in an instant should never have crossed your lips. Or, perhaps, you’ll be so frazzled, you may not realise, or worse still, even care in that instant, that you said it.
Words will come tumbling out of your mouth. You’ll see the hurt in the look on your child’s face and it will feel bad.
Cut yourself some slack. You’re only human.
Take a deep breath.
Be accountable. You are the adult and you are at fault.
Make it up to your child.
Oh, and if you are the parent of a teenager who was truly pushing all your buttons deliberately, learn to accept the apology that you are not going to get from them. They will be sorry in their own way. They’re just, probs …like, not gonna … like, say it and stuff. Not in this decade anyway. LOL.
Learning to accept this from your teenager, dropping your end of the rope and giving them the chance to start again tomorrow with a clean slate, will make your world a lot happier. Man alive, they can test you, though! Good luck.
Despite your best intentions, it’s going to happen. I promise.
How do I know this to be true? I am a mother. I parented two kids through a ghastly separation and divorce and I too am only human.
Dr Justin Coulson, PhD. is one of Australia’s leading parenting experts. He’s a prolific author and one of Australia’s most sought after commentators on parenting does and don’ts. He and his wife have six daughters to trial his methods on at home.
In case you haven’t had your daily dose of single parenting guilt already, here’s what Dr Coulson says it means to your kids when you lose the plot and say things you know you shouldn’t.
He detail seven things that our children would never hear from us, in an ideal world.
“They are all based on things that I have heard as I have worked with parents around the country to improve their parenting, and build their children up rather than tearing them down,” he says.
Most of us have slipped up on this at least once.
Our child intentionally disobeys us. She screams at us. He hits his brother or punches the wall. Or she tells a lie. Then we hear those thoughts as they form into words escaping our mouth. “You little brat!” “You are such a liar.” “I’m sick of you being such a lazy slob.” “You children are so ungrateful.” Or simply, “You stupid little idiot.”
Remember, labels stick.
“Why can’t you be more like your brother? He listens. He works hard. He treats others the right way.”
This message is heard as, “You’re not good enough. You don’t listen. You’re lazy. You’re nasty.” Similarly, saying, “Your sister is the beautiful one. You’ve got the brains,” is heard as “I’m ugly.”
Comparisons teach evaluation, and promote the idea that our children are in a constant competition with others, and they can never be enough if they are simply themselves.
We have all threatened our children, either with some sort of “consequence”, or worse still, with a withdrawal of our attention, affection, or love.
From, “You keep it up and I’ll give you something to cry about,” through to the far more destructive and manipulative, “If you do that again, Mummy won’t love you anymore.”
Threats teach a child that our love and favour are entirely contingent on their behaviour. This message promotes an extrinsic focus, and encourages children to become “people-pleasers” rather than independent thinkers. It also teaches selfishness, lack of perspective, and that power is how we get what we want.
We dismiss our children when we say things like, “Just get over it, would you?” Or to our son, “Stop crying like a little girl. Be a man.” Or “Grow up.” Sometimes we do it in a nice, sugar-coated way, such as “Don’t worry. It’ll be OK.” But it is still dismissal.
It tells a child we aren’t interested in them, or their feelings. They should just suck it up. And it can leave them feeling invalidated and entirely unworthy.
As an extension of dismissal, there are times when our children literally hear nothing at all from us. Nothing.
They talk to us. We ignore them. Perhaps a baby or toddler cries in her crib or cot. We ignore it. Or maybe a teen rings after curfew, drunk, from a party late one night and we hang up the phone, angry at his refusal to obey our rules.
When our children hear nothing from us at all, we reinforce our disregard and lack of concern for them. We make them feel worthless.
We should always respond to our children – with kindness.
Guilt and shame
This is a little controversial. Guilt can be good. Feeling guilty can lead us to act in a way to repair a wrong.
Similarly, shame is a horrible feeling, but when we feel ashamed we see ourselves as flawed, and may be motivated to change.
Sadly, however, most people feel guilt and become defensive, and they feel shame and feel like they’re a “bad person”. When we say things like, “How could you?” or “I am so very disappointed in you,” there may be ongoing negative repercussions to our children.
It is important, however, that our children are taught right from wrong. Some shame and guilt are inescapable if we are doing our job right as parents.
The key is to help children understand their mistakes, perceive the perspective of others, and have a desire to do better and be better. Often our attempts at this only leave them feeling guilty and ashamed.
Asking them, “How can we make this right?” may be a helpful tip for moving beyond those potentially damaging emotions.
You don’t matter
There are all sorts of awful ways we say this to our children. I have heard some parents scream “I hate you” at their children (often in response to a child saying it to the parent).
Some parents say, “I don’t love you” or “I wish you were never born.” Such statements should never be said. They are the ultimate betrayal of parent support and love.
It seems incredible that the same tongue that says so many kind, gentle, caring, generous things can be so acerbic, so belittling, so critical and cold and caustic.
It is a source of sadness that the mouth that sings a sweet lullaby, whispers a loving goodnight, or so gently soothes a hurting child can become so shrill and acrid.
Many parents who would never consider hitting a child can break, if not their bones, then certainly their precious hearts by the brutal pain inflicted by unkind speech.
“When our words are persistently unkind,” says Dr Coulson, “we may find that our children (and other loved ones) retreat beyond a barrier more distant than we could ever have imagined in that moment when we failed to pause and consider our words.”
Yes, we are all only human, trying to be the best parents we can be, and we all make mistakes. We have all done something on this list. Sometimes it may be many things on this list.
Give your kids an extra special hug today and keep striving to be better next time.