It is THE question of every parent at the end of a long day. Here you are, spending time with the people you love the most – and you feel like a broken record barking orders, telling them, No, nit-picking them for everything they do, constantly nagging – and completely frustrated as you try to tend to every whim and whistle they have, and exhausted with worry that somehow, you just aren’t getting this parenting thing right? If you are like many parents, you like in bed at night thinking about all the things you did wrong, and ask yourself, “Am I too hard on my children?” Was it really necessary to blow my lid over the spilled cereal bowl on the couch (even though you told them 50 times to go eat in the kitchen), or ground my daughter for leaving her book bag at school for the umpteenth time? Would it really have been so bad to ignore the sibling rivalry rather than march both kids to their rooms to cry out their frustrations alone?
The, the kids get older – and the situations turn from what you will see was silly household drama, to situations that call for measures that are more serious. Your 15-year-old daughter comes home with a 17-year-old first boyfriend and you set some pretty strict rules? Or, your teenager lies around the house all day so you take the car keys away until they get a job? The parenting situations that arise from one day to the next are often without rhyme or reason and are pretty much intended to blind side even the best parents. This un-readiness, or ill-preparedness to see around corners and know what is going to face you leaves many parents off-guard and prone to over reacting, or not reacting rationally to their children. Combine that with the fact that kids can be downright annoying and selfish creatures and you have a recipe for moms and dads being left to feel less than perfect at the end of the day.
One thing that experience will teach you, is that kids are pretty resilient creatures. Most parents over react, yell, shout, curse, or act in a manner at some point or another that they wish they could take back. And most of the times the kids, albeit thinking mom and dad may have a touch of the crazies, end up unscathed. Kids forget your indiscretions as a parent easily. And if you do over react, or are too hard on your kids from time to time – there is nothing wrong with admitting it, apologizing, and moving on. Harping on your faults only leads to guilt, which leads to a bad brand of parenting where you try to befriend your children, and earn their good graces – rather than remain in a position of authority.
Plus, who said that any parent on the face of the earth was perfect? There is no such thing. You are learning as you go, and there are no instruction manuals. You are human, which means that you will have good days and bad days, and bad days, and worse days. You are allowed to feel stress as a parent; you are allowed to be frustrated and exhausted. Part of life is learning how to deal with these emotions, and your children NEED to see that life is not a rose garden. That it’s okay to be upset, or overwhelmed. That it is okay to lose it from time to time. That it is okay to not always be ‘perfect,’ When you give your child the gift of seeing you as less than perfect, you clear the path for them to forgive themselves more easily when they too, mess up.
As for being hard on your kids. It’s your job. Every parent faces a different struggle or battle with their kids, and these struggles requires different things and are constantly evolving. Tough love is not just a phrase that was coined for no reason. Tough love is something that ALL kids will need at some point or another. The most important things to remember is that even when you are being hard on your kids, your children still know that they are loved. Chances are as you are lying in bed wishing you did something different at the dinner table, or wishing you chose different words while arguing with your daughter over ‘skinny jeans’ – your kids have long since got over it.
If you were to poll your friends and family (even your own parents), they will probably admit that just like you, they are tired of the sound of their own voice harping on the kids about every little thing. There reaches a point in parenting, where you have said the same things so many times – that there really becomes no nice way to say it again. And then, in the aftermath you feel bad. Your premature visions of being a ‘cool’ parent, or being your child’s friend, or simply whole heartedly enjoying the time that you spend with your kids has been spoiled by your worries that you are too hard on the kids.
The best advice is to learn how to reset from day to day. Each day start over with your kids. Let the angers and arguments and bickering and naggings of the day before die with the sunset. Explain to your children that you feel they are forcing you to be the kind of parent that you don’t want to be, and that you deserve their respect. Try to find better ways to communicate with your kids, and try to keep things in perspective of what is truly important and what is not. And instead of lying in bed beating yourself up – learn to let things go. Your children forgive you, so its time to forgive yourself.