I’m too much of a perfectionist – I hate making mistakes. I hate feeling like I did something wrong. Like most people, I hate looking stupid. But I’m a parent, and I’ve come to realize those go hand-in-hand. My childhood memories of my parents – who were the adults who had it all together – are a lie. They didn’t have it all together. I don’t have it all together. And sometimes, I lose it when it comes to dealing with my kids – especially my stepson. So today, I thought I’d go through my “When You Make Mistakes as a Parent” mental checklist with you.
When You Make Mistakes as a Parent
There is nothing like a bad parenting day to make me feel lower than dirt.
My bonus son is fun but he’s a challenge for me. He’s autistic and has ADHD, and he was an only child until he was six and a half (and still is half the time). I grew up with three younger sisters, so if we ever dared to bring up the idea of being bored, we were told “Go play with your sisters.”
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how parents of only children make it. He flips back and forth between being great at entertaining himself and acting as though he’s superglued to me, and there are days (especially if I’m tired or not feeling well) where I get snappy about it. There are days when it feels like this child’s sole purpose in life is to annoy the ever-loving tar out of me – when he allows his baby sister to do something (like fall off the couch) because he wasn’t paying attention, or plays with his sister’s toys and doesn’t allow her to play with them, or bugs me about wanting to watch TV/play a game/go to the park (when he has an idea for something he wants to do, it doesn’t leave – thanks, autism!).
There are days when I just get snappy with him. And generally speaking, I feel like total dirt immediately after. I remember that he’s a kid. This is how his brain works. He’s not very good at communicating needs or wants or desires. He doesn’t understand that he can’t have eighteen freezer pops. He’s bored and wants something to do and someone to play with. It never occurs to him that he needs to help keep an eye on his sister so she doesn’t do something that can hurt her. And there have definitely been days when I’ve questioned if I’m just not doing the stepmom thing right (but then I remember those moments where I see my husband lose his patience and think, maybe it’s not just me…).
How to Recover From Bad Parental Behavior
When I have these things happen, I try to remember a couple of different things.
First – I get to use this as a model of appropriate behavior to my stepson. I will let him know I recognize I made a mistake. I will apologize. And he, with his big, sweet, loving heart, is always quick to forgive and forget.
Second – I remember the method I used back when I used to train horses. When a horse does something wrong, you don’t keep trying to correct it. You correct it, then you move on. If I had a horse throw a fit when I was leading it somewhere, I might make it do a couple tight circles as a reminder to listen to me, I’m in charge here – and then we’d keep going wherever we were going to go. Kids work the same way. When we’re having a rough time, we correct the bad behavior (whether that’s me or him), then we continue with what we’re doing – we don’t dwell on it.
Third – if it continues, I look into what’s prompting that behavior. For instance, my husband has shared 50/50 custody of his son – we get him Wednesday, Thursday, and every other Friday/Saturday/Sunday. The worst day, behavior-wise, is Sunday – because that’s the fifth day in a row he’s been with us, and he’s missing his mom, and he’s getting bored with what there is to do at our house. Trying to think on their level makes it a lot easier for me to manage my kids.
And fourth – I try to do something enjoyable with him. It’s one part making up for my own behavior, one part solving the “I’m bored” problem, and one part reminding me that he’s a pretty enjoyable kid, and I love having him around.
You’re Not A Bad Parent
I’m going to close this out by reminding you that our brains tend to lie to us. They tell us we’re doing things badly, that we’re wrong, that we’re not cut out for this. I’m going to point out right now that chances are, you are nowhere near a bad parent.
How do I know? Easy – you’re reading this.
You clearly care enough about your children and parenting that you were willing to read this. Ergo – you are not a bad parent.
And as a reminder – I spent five and a half years in law enforcement. My husband spent nearly six years working as a child abuse and neglect investigator. We’ve both seen people who have neglected, beaten, and even killed their children. Those are bad parents.
You, having one bad day? You are not a bad parent.
And if you’ve been having more than one bad day, or you’ve ever had the thought that your child(ren) might be better off without you – please let someone know. Tell your partner, tell your best friend, email me. That’s not normal and it can be fixed.
Parenting is just rough sometimes. It’s okay to admit that. Recognize that parenting can take a mental toll on you and sometimes we snap because we’re under stress. It doesn’t make you a terrible person, I promise.
You’re a good parent. Having a rough day doesn’t change that.