Parents tend to be our own worst critics. We should be doing more, performing better, and never missing a beat. Unfortunately for parents, in pushing and criticising ourselves so hard, the people who tend to get hurt most from this “self-bullying” are our children.
Photo by Iakov Filimonov
We tend to think of bullying as happening among peers, but even parents with good intentions can be (unintentional) bullies. Hands Free Mama blogger and author Rachel Macy Stafford describes the effect of always trying to be in control, dictating and criticising:
My internal drill sergeant was continually pushing me to make everything sound better, look better, and taste better. My body, my house, and my achievements were never good enough. Holding myself to such unattainable standards weighed heavily on my soul and my inner turmoil eventually spilled out at people I loved the most.
Sadly, there was one person in particular who bore the brunt of my discontent: my first-born daughter.
She could not make a mess without me shaking my head in disappointment.
She could not forget her homework, her jacket, or her lunchbox without me making a big deal about it.
She could not spill, stain, break,or misplace without being made to feel like she’d made the worst mistake in the world.
Although it pains me to write this, I remember sighing heavily in annoyance when she fell down and hurt herself because it threw me off my “master schedule”. My daughter was not allowed to be a child who learned by trying and yes, sometimes failing.
Stafford’s turnaround moment came when she realised she had blamed her daughter instantly and automatically for something she didn’t do — and her daughter’s automatic, dejected reaction.
At that turning point, Stafford admitted to herself and her daughter:
I sat down on the edge of her bed and began saying things I’d never said to another human being — not even myself. “I feel mad inside a lot. I often speak badly about myself in my head. I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy and then I treat others badly — especially you. It is not right, and I am going to stop. I am not sure how, but I will stop. I am so very sorry,” I vowed, trying not to cry.
Her “Stop! Only love today” technique is essentially about pausing before responding to children and letting them be the beautifully imperfect, perfect creatures they are. Basically, before you react, think: “Stop!” and instead of correction or perfection, react with as much love as you can muster. (That’s not to say you don’t need firm boundaries for specific situations.)
Parenting is a life-changing, soul-wrenching, patience-testing journey. Stafford’s call to ending the relentless pressure — on ourselves and our kids — is fuel for that journey. Hit up the link below for her eloquent post and, for further reading, Jennifer Meer’s post on the case against distracted living, when in two minutes she almost lost her daughter forever.
The Bully Too Close to Home [Hands Free Mama]