Do you have a perfect relationship with your kids? Or do you sometimes look at them, wondering when these tiny tyrants took over your sweet children? I’m not here to tell you how to not get mad at your kids. Or how to not lose your collective, er, “stuff” on them once in a while. We are all human…and I am the kind of mom who loses it once in a while, yells at the kids now and then, and maybe even cries sometimes.
Let’s first acknowledge that, for some of us, supporting and understanding our children has gotten a little tougher. One of the effects of anxiety is that we react to stressors through our fight-or-flight response, and unfortunately, this is a pretty immediate response. If you’ve had less patience with your kids, or find yourself snapping at them harshly, that’s your stress response. Your natural response to stress and anxiety ON TOP of the fact that you may be working from home with your children constantly underfoot is a very difficult combination to parent through.
So what exactly is mindful parenting? Put simply, it is honest parenting. We, as parents, have been conditioned by what we have been subjected to in our own experience. Have you ever had that thought “Oh my god…I’ve turned into my mother/father?” Just like you did, your children observe and take their emotional and behavioral clues from those closest to them.
Maybe some of these phrases sound familiar? Maybe you heard them as a child, or maybe you are repeating those same things to your kids?
Why? Because I said so.
I am your parent, not your friend.
You can do what you want when you don’t live under my roof.
Don’t wear that.
Why can’t you just listen?
I know best, I am the adult.
My house, my rules.
I don’t understand kids these days.
You will respect me.
Depending on your age, you probably grew up in a time of strict discipline or latch-key freedom. Quite the polarizing methods. Maybe your home was even a mix of the two.
I had a different childhood than a lot of people. We moved around a lot - by the time I was 8, we had already lived in 7 different homes, across 4 different states. It’s hard to form lasting relationships, or to even really see the benefit in them, when you only have about 1.5 years to get to know people. You find a friend, start to nurture that friendship, then have to pack up and leave. I was a latch-key kid, and I have a very staunch sense of independence now because if it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the stress of trying to find new friends and always being the new kid actually helped me to become the outgoing person that I am today. But it also created the somewhat detached and aloof person that I can be.
Why is any of that important? Because figuring you out is going to help you figure out the type of parent that you are right now, and maybe develop into the parent you’d like to be. It’s being honest with yourself (there’s that pesky word again). When you can be honest with yourself, you can also forgive yourself. Understanding what makes you ‘tick’ is going to help you be less reactive, which is in turn going to cause less conflict.
It is definitely a work in progress, but now when I feel myself about to yell or say something that I can’t really take back (even if I do apologize), I consider “Why am I reacting this way? What exactly is my child doing that is triggering me so badly?” Is it really because she didn’t put her laundry away after being asked repeatedly? Or that she stayed up way too late when I told her to go to bed? Or is this really about me feeling like I am not being heard, and therefore not needed or important? If I can identify what that trigger is, and understand that usually, the real issue isn’t my child, but me, the event is far less dramatic than it needs to be. Now don’t get me wrong, she will still be disciplined for not doing what I asked her politely to do. It just won’t turn into a yelling match with slamming doors. There are, of course, times when I don’t catch myself. And I yell, point, say something hurtful…but now I recognize it immediately. That little feeling of guilt you have after having an argument with your kid should be your sign. And sometimes it has nothing to do with the past, but frequently with the stress you are under in the current moment.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with apologizing to your children for your own behavior. You are modeling your humanity and humility, tools that they will be able to use in the future. Psychologists use the term “rupture and repair” to describe the natural dynamic of any healthy long-term relationship, and it has been named as one the key components of a strong parent-child relationship. So, every time you rupture and apologize to your children, consider the silver lining - you’re strengthening your relationship! We all need to put concerted effort into being more patient and understanding with our kids, but inevitably, most of us are going to get frustrated. You are human, so yes, you will probably get frustrated, and may take that frustration out on your kids. When you do, apologize. It will show them you are human, and you make mistakes too.
Everyone’s reactions to everything these days are layered. Just like you will, your children are going to have feelings of frustration. Unlike you, they may not have the language to name how they are feeling, even older children. They may not be able to communicate through their words that they are anxious, or feel weird, or are unsettled, or worried about what the future is going to look like. They will communicate through their behavior. They will communicate this by having big reactions to little things, being defiant, having difficulty falling asleep (or sleeping in later and later), becoming more aggressive, having mood swings, seeking more attention, etc.
It’s up to us, as parents, to understand that it isn’t about the small things, it’s about the big things. Your child didn’t become a tiny tyrant overnight! They are just feeling the instability of their world and they don’t know how to express it. Before you react to your child’s tyranny with some even stronger tyranny, check-in with your child’s state of mind. Talk to them about how they feel before you try whatever “disciplinary” action you would typically use. Empathy and compassion are going to be important parenting tools moving forward.
Let your children know it’s ok for them to express their feelings. They may feel scared, angry, disappointed, and it’s ok to cry, hit their pillows, and even yell every now and then. Teenagers especially are dealing with intense emotions. Support, expect, and normalize what your children feel.
I think the goal of parenting, at least for me, is to have these tiny humans thrive while they are learning from me and then move on with the experiences I have provided to help them thrive on their own. I am of the camp that respect is not deserved simply because of your age and/or experience in your life. Your kids may be young and inexperienced, and probably think they know more than you, but they are also human beings and should be able to feel like their home is a safe space for them to be honest with you. You can create that through mindful parenting.