Are you having a bad parenting day? Girl, pull up a chair! I definitely feel like I’m kicking myself in my own read end from time to time. But if you feel like that ALL the time, perhaps it’s time to come to terms with it.
Oh, no– you’re not a bad mom. We’ve all have those moments (or those days or weeks!) where we feel like every move we make is the wrong one. The real reality is that negative thinking can be dangerous when it comes to parenting. To be our best selves, we have to tune into positivity; this can shift that bad-parent feeling into one of the winningest parents.
As a parent with a solid psychology background, it’s still a challenge on some days to put one foot in front of the other and parent onward. Why just the other day, my daughters decided that they would turn a simple family game night into a feud of epic proportions. All I wanted was to spend time with them, but the snide comments, whining, and poor sportsmanship undid my good mood. Suddenly, I felt like that bad mom, not following my code of conduct because I was so frustrated with them.
No matter how old your kids are, here’s what you can do when you feel like someone will be coming around any minute to give you the blue ribbon for bad parenting.
Focus on what makes parenting rewarding
Sure, we could sit here and talk about dirty diapers, poop explosions, sore nipples from breastfeeding, sleep training, squabbling siblings, and all those other negatives. Or we can turn our attention to what makes being a mom so fabulous.
Because I can assure you, it’s not those dirty diapers and your favorite dress smothered in spit-up.
When I feel like my head might actually explode off my body and rocket into outer space to orbit our fair planet for the next zillion years, I take a moment and cherish it. I cherish the little hugs and kisses. I look through their schoolwork and see the things they’ve accomplished. I take a moment, and I pull myself back in.
Look around you! Nothing is constantly perfect. And that’s perfectly OK! You’re going to handle tantrums and wash stinky clothes and make meals that everyone picks at. It’s life, and it’s for the living. Relish the good parents and let the unpleasant stuff hit the floor. You can sweep that up later.
The National Institutes of Health notes that positive thinking helps get rid of worry. The use of imagery or verbal representation of possible positive outcomes to situations that typically cause fear can actually reduce the anxiety associated with those situations. And that worry, my friend, is exactly what’s making you stress.
Know that bad moments don’t need to mean bad days
Challenging moments are always going to be there when you’re a parent. For me, I can vividly recall when we lived abroad in China, and my eldest was just a toddler. She decided to throw a major temper tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall.
In Chinese culture, staring isn’t uncommon. I felt like more than the crappiest parent on the block. At that moment, I was the worst parent in the world. Or at least in all of mainland China which is still a significant number if you ask me.
What did I learn from that?
I realized that I needed to tune into my daughter a bit more. She wasn’t throwing a tantrum to be a brat. She was tired because we’d had a busy day. Once I earned this parenting badge, it was a huge win for me. I took that bad moment and learned from it.
As the rest of that day unfolded, I allowed the bad moment of an epic tantrum turn into the worst day ever. Reflecting on it later, I realized that I learned something else too- it wasn’t the worst day ever. It was just a bad moment in time and I had the power to keep a bad moment from ruining an entire day.
Many of my patients have in common that they all need reminding to turn on the positive narrative. Any day can be a bad day if we let it bowl us over. That’s why I always recommend giving the following things a try:
- Putting on the music you love. If you play an instrument as I do, pick yours up and play. It’s even more therapeutic!
- Enlist animal therapy. Pet your dog or cat, and if you don’t have one or have an easily accessible place to go to pet one, consider volunteering at a shelter.
- Journal it. On both good and bad days, I like to write about how I’m feeling. I go back and take a look to see how I managed through the tough stuff to inspire me to keep going.
- Meditate. Meditation is an incredible way to tap into yourself and release those negative emotions. You identify them and then let them go. It’s very much like the field of psychology and can significantly change the way you see the world for the better.
- Stop comparing on social media. I think we’re all guilty as charged on this tidbit here. Remember, social media is a glossed-over version of our lives. We don’t tend to post the negatives instead of focusing on the positives. And while that’s a good thing, in reality, looking at a barrage of FB posts where everyone’s kids and lives seem so perfect can have the opposite effect. Take breaks and keep yourself in reality instead.
It is often time that allows us to see more clearly. As we gain experience as parents, we can more clearly see those bad moments happen every day, but they do not have to mean bad days. Time also has a fantastic way of taking the small moments and turning them into memories that often seem funny when enough time has passed.
Get results by changing your mind
Have you ever had a day in which you feel like your children have gone the entire day not listening to a word you say, yet you can utter the word “ice cream” after dinner, and they are instantly at attention? Feeling like we have to repeat ourselves constantly with our children can be frustrating. If being ignored is a personal trigger for us as parents, it can also easily lead to yelling if we don’t have a good grasp of it.
The thing is, shouting helps no one.
Sure, it feels great at the moment to unleash that fireball of anger. However, immediately afterward, you feel like a monster when your kids cry. You’re not a bad parent for yelling, though some change can do you good.
Try identifying what sets you off to yell. When you know those triggers, you can work to squash them before they boil over. Don’t be afraid to let your children know that Mommy needs a minute to get her feelings in check. Your children will also learn from seeing you take a challenge and work through it, a priceless life skill.
Here’s my confession:
I love how the Inuit people in the Arctic get their kids to listen without shouting. What they do is tell a story to their kids. This story is a bit like a moral that helps the kids tune in. For my youngest, I’d applied this principle by telling her when she refused to get out of the bathtub one night that if she stayed in too long, she’d turn into a fish. Not wanting to turn into a fish, she complied without another word. Tapping into that frame of mind can help you avoid those blow-your-top moments later on.
In psychology, it really is all about changing your mind sometimes to get the results you want. After all, you can’t do the same thing over and over and expect things to change.
Accept your bad parenting moments
But because I’m not Inuit, I’m still fine-tuning my craft of getting my kids to listen without yelling. Not long ago, I was having a challenging work-related moment. My daughters both came in to ask me to take them to the park, and I blew my top. Definitely a bad parenting move. They quickly retreated in tears, and I felt instant regret.
But I couldn’t go back and erase it, could I? I don’t have that Men In Black mind-eraser thing. I suspect my husband does, though, for he constantly forgets everything I ever tell him, but that’s a story for another time.
Imperfect parenting moments will happen regardless of how hard we try. We are human and come with human faults. These human faults also come with a ton of complex and complicated emotions. While joy and love are the most frequent emotions, we experience, anxiety falls not far behind. According to Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor of communication, people tend to remember negative things more strongly and in richer detail. This is because negative emotions involve a more significant deal of rumination, and the information continues to get processed more than positive counterparts in the thought process.
We’re more likely to experience positive emotions over negative ones, but yet when those negative emotions hit, because of their impact, they only feel like they’re more prominent. They’re not. Learn from them when they arise, and you will live to tell more positive parenting tales. Some quick tips for moving forward from there allow yourself the chance at forgiveness, which teaches your children to seek it themselves when they are misbehaving.
Find your ways to calm down by either counting to 10, taking a breather, or whatever works for you to reel yourself back in. And by all means, let yourself be imperfect. After all, all of us are.
Apologize and talk it out
To our children, we are perfect. My daughters always tell me, “Mommy, you’re SO beautiful! I want to be just like you when I grow up!” I think of my own mom and how I believed she could do no wrong when I was little.
Although it may sound like an oxymoron, admitting when we are wrong can actually add to that picture of perfection for our children. After yelling at my daughters about their request to go to the park, I sat my daughters down and apologized. “Mommy was wrong for yelling at you like that. I’m sorry. Can you please forgive me?”
We’re taught we should always be in charge as parents, but you can’t always be in charge of your feelings. Even if you’re disciplined about them. I always tell my youngest when she starts getting angry about something that she is perfectly entitled to her feelings. And she’s allowed to express them, but she needs to do so in the right way.
By apologizing, we show our kids that we all make mistakes. It’s far nobler to admit them than to pretend that you did nothing wrong.
Something that’s likely on your mind is how to apologize to our kids. It’s really not as complex as it might seem.
- Be responsible for your feelings. Everyone has feelings and we’re all entitled to them. It’s how we react though that is essential, so show your children where you went wrong in expressing them.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Let them know you understand they were scared or angry with your behavior.
- Say you’re sorry. Raising kids into proper adults takes a few servings of humble pie at the very least.
- Ask to be forgiven. My youngest always says, “Mommy, of course I forgive you.” That’s the second-best thing your kids could ever say, right behind “I love you.”
Take a timeout for yourself
Yup, you heard that right- even adults need a timeout here and there!
Yelling and other unpleasant parenting moves require a pause for reflection. We have a moment for that with little ones, so why wouldn’t we use it on ourselves? The good ol’ timeout.
Adult timeouts don’t require us to sit in the corner. In fact, timeout shouldn’t be thought of as a punishment at all. When dealing with those “bad mom” moments that we all have, it is possible to reflect on what we might need for our own mental health that perhaps we are not getting.
Allowing ourselves the space to still enjoy the things that we love that are not necessarily linked to being a parent is essential for breaking the cycle of bad mom moments. This held true for me in that I still played guitar, listened to music, and loved to munch on Cheetos while standing in the kitchen gazing out at the night sky. There are definitely things we have to change as moms, but we are also still the people we were before we had kids.
This is one of the most challenging things to work on because it can feel selfish; however, but being true to ourselves is being self-aware. If we feel like we are not getting the time we need to nourish our spirit, we must lean on our support system and ask them for the time required to care for ourselves.
What does a mom timeout look like? Here are some suggestions:
- Take a walk in nature if that makes you feel good.
- Spend time with a cherished friend without any kids tagging along.
- Read a book that isn’t for children.
- Pick up your hobbies and let yourself enjoy them. I play guitar, and that’s one thing that always keeps me feeling like myself.
Get back to the person you are, and you’ll see you’re not bad at parenting, but instead, you’re bad at giving yourself what you need. And to fully give yourself to your kids, that’s what you need to do to have more of those golden moments you’ll want to freeze-frame forever.
If you’re not filling your own needs to the brim, it’s tough to pour into your children what they need from you.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Here are a few questions that will help you spark the right change:
- What makes you feel that you’re a bad parent?
- How do you feel when you upset your children?
- Does shouting accomplish anything?
- What do you do to handle moments where you drop the ball as a parent?
By thinking of these questions, you can see where changes need to be made and start implementing them to feel like you’re winning at parenting.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Create a journal where you write down the best part of your day as a parent, followed by any challenging moments. Make a point to write in it every day.
- Practice more peaceful methods of exerting authority to get your children to listen, such as the Inuit people do. Identify the triggers that set you off and work to change your behavior.
- Make sure to apologize if you behave negatively. It also serves to set an example for your children to follow when their behavior needs some fine-tuning.
- Try to take time for yourself every day to decompress positively that fills up your internal cup. Exercise and reading are 2 wonderful daily activities that can bring balance and help you parent better.
- Make sure you spend time on yourself weekly doing something just for you to nourish the person you are. Kids are only one part of your life, and while they’re an excellent part, you’ll be the best parent if you get back to being yourself.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.