A lot of people tell me how amazingly patient I am and how wonderful a job I am doing with my son and always seem to know the right thing to say. Now, while I will take these compliments gracefully because I work damn hard to be patient and to learn and practice the ‘right’ things to say, I believe it would be of benefit to many of my readers to know that I have also failed at times.
I’ve decided to put together a little ‘montage’ of my most epic parenting fails to show that I do NOT always get it right. I am not ALWAYS patient, and although the things we say and do have a huge impact on our children’s psyche, it is also vitally important for them to see their parents lose it sometimes, and then deal with it. For a child to hear their parent admit that they were wrong, and apologise is really important. It teaches them that it’s OK to make a mistake. It teaches them that mistakes can be corrected. It teaches them that relationships can be repaired and that you can both forgive and be forgiven. All important messages.
So, as I heave a deep and nervous breath, I will now let you in on some of my least proud parenting moments.
The first one is one I rarely do any more, but the one that I have to try the hardest to stop from doing. It’s something I have witnessed parents doing over and over again out in public. I’m not sure whether it’s culturally explicit to Australians or not, but it’s definitely not a good thing to do.
When out in public, a stranger approaches and compliments you on the behaviour of your child. I have been guilty of all of the following responses.
“Yes! I think it has something to do with the donut he’s been promised later!”
“Thanks! What a shame he doesn’t behave like that at home!”
“Oh don’t worry, he definitely isn’t always like that!”
As I mentioned above, I’ve heard parents in the shops time and time again respond with a negative answer to someone’s compliment. I think it has something to do with either people being uncomfortable receiving compliments, or perhaps not wanting to sound ‘up themselves’. Maybe we think it’s funny and will let the other person know that we are a busy, hassled Mum, and that everything isn’t always going as well as it was in that moment when they spotted your child behaving nicely! Whatever the reason. Your kids hear that, and take it to heart. Trust me!
With just a small adjustment to my attitude, I now respond more like this.
“Thank you. Yes he does have lovely manners.”
“Thank you. He really is an excellent helper.”
Thank you. Yep, he’s a very considerate boy.”
My next one is also a hard one to break, but it can be conquered!
If my son is drawing a picture or trying to make something, and is struggling, I have been known to stand over him and pass judgement or even take the task away from him and do it myself. For example.
“You know, if you flatten the knife more, you won’t dig holes in the bread while you are spreading the topping” Or
“If you slow down a little, you won’t go outside the lines when you colour” Or…worst of all…
“Would you like me to do that part for you and then you finish it off?”
All of those kinds of things come from a good place in a Mum’s heart. Many Mums and Dads for that matter, want to see their child do things in the most efficient and best way. Sadly, what we don’t realise is that every time we do or say something like that, we are telling them that we don’t trust them to get it done. We are telling them that the way they are doing it isn’t good enough and that they can’t trust their own instincts.It also discourages them from having a go at something and is more likely to make them seek out someone to do it for them and then they’ll never learn.
So now, although sometimes I literally have to bite my tongue to stop from saying things, I have learnt that I need to just let him do things himself. Yes it might be done differently than I would have done it. Yes, it might also end up not working out how he would have liked, but next time, he’ll try it differently, get faster, make it neater, and he won’t be afraid to try and fail because I haven’t made any comment about it the last time!
Ok, so now some more specific ‘nasties’ I’ve said to my Son and had to apologise for.
After picking him up from pre-school and being told that yet again he had broken something, thrown things around, tried to escape, hurt one of the other kids, or teachers or generally shown the same behaviour again for which he had already been punished numerous times, I gave him a 45 minute lecture on the way home about actions and consequences. Some of the things I said were as follows.
“If you keep behaving like that at school, they won’t let you come back. No one will want to look after you and I’ll have to leave work then we’ll have no money and you won’t be able to have nice things or go nice places any more!” (It’s kind of ironic that I said that when he was three, and that’s exactly what happened by the time he was seven! Although it’s somewhat more positive than I allowed back then.)
“If you keep hurting other kids, you will never have any friends. No one likes people who hurt other people. If you behave like that when you are an adult, you’ll end up in jail!”
I think you get the idea… I was at the end of my rope, and thought that if I just told him all the outcomes, he would somehow finally change his behaviours. Wrong… of course.. I jut worsened his opinion of himself..at three. I didn’t know back then what an impact all those words would have on him, but I do now, and I’ve apologised to him since.
I’ll finish on one that I did just the other day. It’s hard to keep up with his feelings sometimes, and when you aren’t feeling the best yourself, it’s easy to say mean things when you’ve finally had enough of his arguing, whining, and seeming stubborn inability to stop behaving in certain frustrating ways.
Son: “I have no friends! No one loves me!”
Me: while standing at the ironing board all hot and cranky…”Well perhaps you should work on making yourself more lovable then!”
Cringe… but I wanted you all to know that it’s ok to get it wrong. Rupture in the relationship with your child is inevitable. The important thing is that you repair it when you are emotionally ready to be the adult and keep your comments under control.
Keep at it, and don’t give up!