Before I became a parent, I don’t recall anyone telling me that parenting was going to be easy, but I also didn’t hear how incredibly challenging it could be. Even when I feel confident that what I’m doing is best for my children, they don’t always know that it is best for them. In fact, many times they think that I’m are out to ruin their lives. Asking a toddler to take a bath or not letting a child eat cereal for supper, for instance, will sometimes be met with the label of “meanest parent ever.”
Even though we as parents know that whatever prompted our child’s anger is the right decision, being called “mean” doesn’t feels good. When a child is angry with us and lashes out, it is common to second-guess ourselves and wonder what we’re doing wrong. Parents might even be tempted to backtrack in order to smooth things over with their child.
But even though no one likes to be called a “mean parent,” it can be helpful to remember the following in order to keep things in perspective:
In the thick of a tough parenting challenge, the head and heart do strange things. Many people assume that they are alone in their struggles and that difficult parenting moments don’t happen to others. But it is important to remember that you are not alone; that every parent has good and bad days. Nearly every parent will, at some point, be called “mean.”
Children lash out and say hurtful things when they are frustrated, angry, sad, or feel out of control. While most parents logically know that they are not, in fact, the “world’s meanest parent,” the words still hurt and a parent may second-guess their actions and core beliefs.
But the first component of the Connect Four Pillars is connecting with your positive core beliefs. When we get hijacked by negative self-talk, and take it personally, it can become more difficult to calm down and respond with empathy. Take a few deeps breath and remind yourself that lashing out is a reflection of your child’s emotions at the moment, and not a reflection on you as a person or your parenting abilities.
People – especially children – sometimes treat the people they feel safest with the most harshly. If the name-calling and outbursts happen relatively infrequently, your child’s lashing out may actually be an indication of a strong parent-child bond.
Because your child feels comfortable with you, she feels safe expressing her emotions and letting herself go a bit. If, however, the outbursts and name-calling happens on a regular basis, you may want to consult with a family or child therapist in order to determine if there is something more serious going on.
As much as we wish that parenting was always smooth sailing, there will be rough patches. What’s more, parents need to set limits, draw boundaries, and say “no” when a child’s request is not safe or in their best interests.
It is okay if our child doesn’t like us when we’ve had to stand firm in our limits. After the dust settles, do something that helps your child feel connected with you.
Although it can be difficult to keep our own emotions in check when our child calls us, “the meanest mom ever” or says “I hate you,” it is important to try to stay calm. I sometimes find it helpful to leave the room to collect myself for a minute or two when emotions are highly charged. By reminding ourselves of positive core beliefs like volatility is not productive, we’ll be showing our child healthy ways to respond rather than react without thinking first.
Once your child has calmed down, you can use the situation to implement the other pillars of Connect Four Parenting. Specifically, you can respond to your child with empathy, telling him or her that you understand why they are upset. And you can also teach them how to have empathy for others by explaining that their words were hurtful to you.
Sometimes the most meaningful discussions will follow a highly-charged emotional outburst. Once a child knows that you have empathy for them, they will understand that they are heard and understood. As a result, the child may feel more comfortable confiding in you, and you can fill her attachment tank. And ultimately, you can both move past the negative emotions of the situation so you can better connect with each other and process emotions in the future.