First things first– this is not some guilt trip about how precious children are and how we should be thankful for and enjoy every moment. Parenting is hard and sometimes we need to vent to people we trust even when we are fully convinced of how wonderful and lovely our children are. I’m in support of being honest when the going gets tough and having a team of people who can support you. Getting the support you need requires honesty which can sometimes sound like complaining.
But here’s the thing– I’ve got to start correctly identifying when I’m venting about an actual problem with my kids and when I’m just revealing that I’m not doing a great job as a mom in helping to equip them to handle life.
It’s not that our children’s behaviors are always an indicator of how we’re parenting (as a foster mom, I KNOW this to be true), but there are definitely times when that’s exactly what they are. Their struggles may show our priorities much better than any family “mission statement” ever could. When I publicly complain about my kids, I might do better to first evaluate how I’m unintentionally promoting or allowing the very things I’m complaining about.
I wanted to whine about how the house is always a disaster, but whose fault is that really? The kids are messy because they are kids, but if they aren’t cleaning up after themselves, why does that make them bad kids? They will do what I expect of them and if I haven’t reinforced that they need to pick up their messes, that’s on me.
Do I spend most of my day making food? Yes. And it’s exhausting and I’d like to complain about that. BUT I have able-bodied kids around who are more than capable of frying an egg, making a sandwich, or even just setting the table. If I’m grumpy about how much time I spend doing meal prep, maybe I need to do more to enlist the help of my kids.
We can’t have it both ways– we can’t insist on doing everything ourselves AND complain that our kids don’t do more to help. Many of us don’t think we’re insisting on doing everything ourselves, but when our kids try and help, we end up shoving them out of the way (metaphorically speaking) because they’re doing it “wrong.” Spending the time to teach them how to do it correctly is a worthwhile investment, but it can seem overwhelming when you feel like you’re just barely keeping your head above water.
Our kids are constantly giving us parenting clues about where we need to focus our attention. Sometimes those clues are our feelings of frustration and irritation. If you are tempted to complain about your kids, turn those complaints into questions: Why is my child disrespectful and am I doing enough to model respect to him and respect for myself? Why do my kids beg for screen time and am I modeling to them that that’s my only relaxation activity, too? Why is there so much yelling and am I contributing to the problem by always yelling over the yelling?
There are the moments we throw our hands up and ask, “What can I do with this kid?” and we genuinely are asking for help because we don’t know what to do. Those aren’t complaints, those are cries for help and hopefully we have a community around us that will try to help us find solutions. And there are times when our child’s behaviors and our own struggles don’t have simple answers at all (for years we wrongly thought our child’s sensory quirks were reflecting a parenting problem we needed to correct). But I think some of us have found ourselves venting about issues that could potentially be solved if we stopped complaining and started looking for solutions.
As much as we can’t control our kids’ choices, we do have a great ability to influence them. Especially during these formative years, we need to be looking beyond our annoyance at them or our irritation at their behavior. We need to be looking at what kind of adults we’re raising. Are we teaching them that other people’s time doesn’t matter, that someone else will clean that up, that passive aggressive pouting is how we get what we want? If our kids are consistent with these behaviors and we are consistently annoyed, but not willing to confront them with gentle correction, then we shouldn’t be surprised when these issues don’t magically straighten themselves out.
It’s worth doing the hard work to address the problem areas. And it’s important to have supportive friends who will listen to you vent and will also challenge you to work on the struggles that need to be addressed. This is not a mom guilt trip, it’s an admonition to figure out ways to encourage our kids about what they’re doing well and be willing to do the uncomfortable work of following-up when they’re doing something wrong. Sometimes the frustration is a necessary step to helping identify the areas we need keep addressing with our kids.