Fear-Based Parenting

There was a time in my life when parenting was EASY. There was nothing I couldn’t do. That time was 1977-2001… also known as BEFORE I ACTUALLY HAD CHILDREN.

I could have told you everything parents did wrong and what the right choice would be. I could have fully explained proper discipline, correct bedtime routines and what constitutes a healthy meal.

Then of course I had kids.

This week there is one thing running through my head.

“This is haaaaard.”

But even now, I look at other parents and think that perhaps they have it easier. Thankfully most of my closest friends are parents and they are there to hold my proverbial hair back while I purge all the complaints and whines of the day.

You can tell me parenting isn’t rocket science, but I could probably find you a rocket scientist that’s as confused about it as I am. He or she is probably wondering how they can figure out the vector something something of a rocket leaving orbit something something… but can’t get their kid potty trained.

I sit down defeated some days and wonder how I can learn to read an ECG but can’t figure out the hockey championship schedule for minor hockey.

There are some things that parents just can’t do. For example,  I can hold my son accountable for his chores and homework and how he treats other people. But I can’t *make* him behave at school. It doesn’t matter what treat I dangle in front of him, he still makes some poor choices. And in some cases, it makes things worse because he thinks “not only have I lost my footing here at school, but now life at home is going to be horrible” because of whatever privilege he imagines he’s just lost.

And I sit down, head in hands and try to remember: How does the wise man learn to make good choices? By making bad choices.

And it doesn’t just work for the kids, that’s kind of how parenting works, too.

How do I know that yelling at my kids doesn’t work? I’ve yelled at them, and it didn’t work.

I think… I think that perhaps you have to learn to NOT take things personally with kids. Which is hard, because what is more personal than your children??

Case in point: yesterday I had a fever, was exhausted after three days of 12 hour night shifts, and I took my son to his hockey game. I cheered, I encouraged, I tried to keep his spirits up after a loss. It seemed to be going well.

But our stumbling block was my lack of cash and his deep, essential need to have some ice cream from a specific ice cream machine in the rink. And I said no.

The pouting began.

And the hardest thing in the world at that moment was to control my temper.

What I wanted to say was “I’m your sick, tired, overworked mom and I’m trying my best and have gotten you to hockey, I make sure you get to every hockey game and practice and organize everything I can do to get you to where you need to go…. and yet I’m currently seen as a total failure by you because I can’t make ice cream come out of this machine with $3.75.”

What I did was tell him to get in the van and stop pouting. And then I cried. Which probably freaked him out a little bit more than the previous paragraph would have. But it was an honest emotion.

The paragraph I wanted to say was not an honest emotion. It was a list of complaints detailing why he was wrong and why I was right. How well does that every work when you are in conflict with someone?

Oh, I’m upset with you and so to prove how this is your fault and not mine, I’m going to list my awesomeness and then list your failures. Not a good tactic at any time.

And yet I think parents do this – I know I have in the past.

We react in anger. And anger is just a mask for a different emotion, usually fear.

In this case, I was sad that I couldn’t do everything for him and fearful that he would see me as a failure because I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) buy him the ice cream. The little voice in the back of my head was saying “I bet his dad would buy it for him”. And the fear that being the parent in charge of all the discipline and all the instruction and all the day-to-day worries will result in him overlooking the good things I do… that fear was overwhelming.

I’m done with fear-based parenting. A parent who parents out of fear is an angry parent.

I don’t want to be that parent.

But Lord, it’s haaaaard.

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