Parenting Help: Do You Ever Lose it with Your Kids?

Have you ever yelled at your kids when you get angry? Ever lose your temper or your patience? Say things you swore you'd never say, like, "Because I said so!"

I know I have; every mom has. How do you feel about yourself as a mom when you turn into witch Mommy?

Here's how I feel: That I'm screwing up my kids. That a good Mom wouldn't yell or lose her patience. That I'm the only Mom who acts this way.

In her fabulous book, Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunch Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting, psychologist and mother of two Dr. Ann Dunnewold says that these thoughts are all symptoms of perfectionist parenting. Every mom can experience them. But that doesn't mean they're true. When we think they're true, they undermine our ability to care for our children, causing anxiety, fear, and restlessness, where we feel like we're never doing "enough..." or enough "right."

The truth is much more complex, and also more forgiving. Dr. Dunnewold rightly points out that while yelling at our kids may not be ideal, a little display of anger may benefit our children. The fact is, we can't control the world. While we may wish that our children will only be spoken to with kind, soft voices, that is not reality. Parents get angry. Teachers get angry. Aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas and brothers and sisters get angry. Sometimes people are short and impatient and hot tempered, and it has nothing to do with our child. These are healthy lessons for our children to learn. In Ann's words: children need to learn that people can love them and also be mad at them.

Likewise, our children need to learn that we can be irritated at each other and still love each other. That we can be annoyed by each other and still love each other. That we can disagree and still love each other.

Being able to hold two conflicting emotions at the same time---one positive, the other negative; to be able to love someone, but not their behavior; to be able to love someone and yet also feel comfortable expressing anger at them---are signs of emotional maturity. So says Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a child psychologist. As Dr. Dunnewold suggests, what better arena for your children to learn this skill than in the safety of a loving, secure family environment?

Let's go back to those thoughts, those Mommy myths. How about turning them around?

1. I'm not screwing up my kids. "Trust that your children are resilient:" that's what a child psychologist once said to me. I know I've been guilty of disaster thinking: imagining my children as homeless street bums, or in need of therapy because of my parenting mistakes. Because of this fear, I tried for years to mold and shape and harbor my children's childhood so that it was as nurturing (read: perfect) as possible. While that is an admirable goal, it's an impossible one. I was also forgetting an important truth: that a little adversity can help children's development. Learning how to deal with anger and families and conflict will only help my kids in the "real world." It's not just warm fuzzy experiences that help us grow: it's the messy, thorny patches that also propel us forward.

2. A good mom does yell sometimes and lose her patience. Kids can push our buttons. They know how to get a reaction. Sometimes, we get hooked. We say the wrong thing, we get angry, we forget the words of every parenting book we've ever read and we splutter out the first thing that pops in our heads. But guess what? This is true of every relationship. One of the things I try and teach my children is that it's okay to be angry at me, to not like me sometimes, to be mad or sad with me. Here's a revolutionary idea: how about giving myself the same consideration?

3. All moms have these moments. I remember a woman who raised several children, now all grown, telling me for years how she never raised her voice at her kids when they were young. (Yes, it made me want to pull my hair out, especially when I'd been yelling at my kids.) I've had other women say that they look at me in this way. We all put our best foot forward, particularly when we're in public. But, the truth is, I do yell at my kids. I do get frustrated and short tempered. I do lose it...regularly. And I now make a point to convey this to other Moms, to help them understand that I am not always sweet and smiling. This is important, because upholding the ideal of the perfect, gentle mother causes real moms to think that something's wrong with them, when they can't meet the impossible standard. There's nothing wrong with a mom who loses her patience; what's wrong is the absurd notion that a mom should be perfect.

Trying to seem perfect to other moms undermines other women. It's the worst kind of pride, where you pretend that you've got it all together, not realizing the impact your model serves to those around you. Worse, it closes you off from others---from sharing with and learning from other moms, so that we all can learn and grow. Can we create a Mommy pact, and try and be more honest?

The truth is that there are times when we are gentle and compassionate and warm and loving. There are times when we love connecting with and nurturing our kids. But there are other times when we are bored, irritated, restless, and angry. There are times when our anger and frustration get the better of us.

We can honor both sides of parenting, and accept it all as good, as a natural part of raising a healthy family.

I'm not a perfect Mom. But I'm a good mom...even though I lose it. You are, too.

Karly Randolph Pitman can be found at


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