Another early dismissal? Another snow day? I think that we can all admit we are exhausted by winter and COVID, but it may be hard to admit that we are exhausted by parenting too. Well, I am going to put it out there. I feel like my parenting reserves are severely depleted these days. This means that I have less patience, I am crankier, and I have a lower threshold for the day-to-day at home.
Normally, even when our parenting skills are entirely depleted, we might depend on a friend or family member to give us a respite. The reality of COVID is that there isn’t really a respite. When you and your partner argue over who gets to go to the grocery store, you know you have hit a new low. Prior to COVID, I would say “ugh, there is a line at Trader Joe’s”. Now, I am thinking, “I hope the line is pretty long so that I can have a little alone time while waiting in line.” Being a parent is already difficult, but these days, it seems like we are on a reality show of “Survivor, Parent Edition”.
Even school is not a respite since they don’t quite seem to be in school (either in-person or virtual) with the weather these days. The irony is that I have a hard time not taking it all on myself. I tend to fall on my sword a bit. My husband always offers to watch the kids so I can have time for myself, and I just can’t seem to take it or use it effectively. It is hard to take that time when there really is nowhere to go. I can’t seem to shut it off even though I know I need it.
It is ok to acknowledge that some days (many days) are not good parenting days right now. I think that our kids are feeling the same way. Most of our kids are trying their hardest to be the best they can be, but COVID makes that so challenging. We tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive. I try to consciously make myself catch my kiddos in a positive moment so that I can praise them. I don’t want my feedback to always be negative.
I thought it might be helpful to just remind ourselves of some simple parenting tips that can make a big impact on the day-to-day.
Discipline is Different Than Punishment
a. Discipline helps to create boundaries, correct behavior, and guide towards better choices.
b. Punishment is more about shame and guilt. Sometimes it isn’t the consequences that create the shame, but rather the words that we say.
Here is an example from my own world where I unknowingly confused these two concepts.
I have a white fabric footstool in the room where my twins do virtual learning. (Mistake #1 was obviously mine in not moving the footstool) When I came home from work one night, there was a red marker soaking into the white fabric. I recall immediately calling over my kids and saying rather angrily and sarcastically “WHAT could possibly be the reason that someone would leave a red marker on white fabric? WHY would someone think that is ok?”
Without me thinking about it, my knee-jerk reaction was a form of shaming. It is ok for me to be frustrated and upset, but sarcasm and rhetorical questions really have no place here. It doesn’t teach anything. In fact, it probably makes it less likely for them to come to me when other things break or get ruined. I needed to take a breath before I reacted.
If I could do that scenario over, it would have been better if I had said something like “Guys, it makes me really angry that you left a marker on the couch. Why did you choose to do your work there instead of a desk? Now it has to be cleaned and it might be ruined.” At this point, most younger kids (these kids were 7 at the time) wouldn’t have needed further punishment because I made my point. They didn’t deliberately try to ruin the footstool. Their faces showed that they felt very bad about what had occurred. Part of the discipline (rather than punishment) was to tell them that they needed to work at their desks with markers because that was the space that could be marked up. If they couldn’t do that, then we couldn’t use markers anymore.
We know as adults that there are plenty of times that we mess up, and we are SO grateful that there isn’t a parent watching us and getting upset. We already feel very responsible and know we should do better next time. Sometimes, we just need to remind ourselves to do the same for our kids when appropriate.
Discipline in Public
Discipling when out and about is even more of a challenge. We might think that publicly calling out a child on a playground or in a store shows other parents that we are “on top” of the behavior. We want to make sure that we give the impression that we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. We try to save ourselves embarrassment.
Have you ever been in the grocery store and said more loudly than is needed….”No, you may not have that toy and I don’t appreciate your behavior. It is unacceptable.” Well, I certainly have. This is usually said more for the spectators than for the kids involved. Alternatively, we may not even be thinking about our own embarrassment, but rather, we are just so angry that we speak loudly or yell in front of others. The irony is that you may feel you have protected yourself from embarrassment, but you end up humiliating your child.
I am not suggesting that rules can’t be enforced and discipline occur, but that should be done away from other children and parents. If something negative happened to you at your workplace, you would hope that your boss showed you enough empathy and respect to take you to a private area before talking. You may be seething, but bite your tongue and calmly ask your child to take a break and come over to you. If your child isn’t listening, then try going up to that child and whispering in their ear so that they will come with you to a private area.
It is never going to be perfect, but give yourself and your child the grace to try to solve this out of the public eye. It may not go as smoothly as you had hoped the first few times you try this, but once your child gets used to this routine, they will welcome it and often come more willingly.
Trying to speak to a child away from others shows a sign of respect for your child because you are not looking to shame them. When things are done publicly, kids can’t even focus on what they did wrong because they are so embarrassed that others saw their error and witnessed a dressing down. These types of scenarios can be practiced at home with other siblings. If you practice at home, and you let your child know that this is how you will handle things outside of the home, it often goes much better for all.
Model the Behavior You Want
Basically, we need to practice what we preach. That is so much harder said than done. More often than not these days, it feels like I am not modeling the behavior I want out of my children. In the morning, I promise myself that I will stay calm and be a Mary Poppins, not a Miss Hannigan. At the end of the day, I will think back and realize some of the stuff that felt so upsetting was not a big deal. I remind my kids to lower their voices and use a respectful tone. I should try to do the same thing. My kids know that they should speak to me respectfully in front of others. They should be able to expect that I will speak respectfully to them (even when angry or in public).
Acknowledge When it Goes Poorly
Kids do best when there is honesty and a lack of secrets. Kids that feel they always need to be their best often have anxiety and depression later on. Their day is spent avoiding scenarios in which they might “fail” rather than trying out new adventures. Focus on the behavior and not the child. Children are inherently good. Behavior can go haywire. Fix the behavior…..don’t try to “fix your child”.
There have been several days since COVID where I have called my kids together at the end of the day and apologized for my behavior. I acknowledged that loudly closing my bedroom door or stomping around and sighing really did nothing. It didn’t actually make me feel better, and it confused my kids. They felt guilty and shameful, but I am not sure they really learned anything about what brought me to do that in the first place. I want my kids to admit when they didn’t get it right……when their behavior was less than what they had hoped for. I try to model that by admitting when it was just a bad day for their mom. Thankfully, they know that I am not a bad mom….just a mom who is human and lost her way that day.
As with everything else, forgive yourself AND your child when your best intentions go poorly. We are not always going to be able to do it “right”. In fact, it is so much easier to do it “wrong”. Try again the next time. The more we try and practice these behaviors, the better we will be at them.
Give yourself space. If you don’t think that you can possibly do anything helpful in that moment, remove yourself while you take some breaths and calm down.
If you are feeling like you are at the end of your rope or have behavior concerns about your child (or yourself), feel free to call us at Doctors’ Pediatric. We will try our best to guide you and make things a little less stressful in your day-to-day.