Picture it: you’re right in the middle of making dinner, and your six-year-old, who has been eerily quiet, blasts through the kitchen with a bin full of dog food. Kibble sprays in every direction as he shoves the bin along the floor. The dogs joyfully romp behind him, barking and gobbling down food. It’s chaos. An absolute disaster. You’re now trying to feed your family in a veritable hurricane of Alpo.
Okay, maybe that’s not you, but it was me this evening. My kid dumped all the dog food from one bin to another (except for the quarter that didn’t make the transfer and littered the laundry room floor) before shoving the new bin around like a race car.
I don’t know about evenings at your house, but this kind of pandemonium always seems to happen when I’m trying to make dinner. Pretty much every night. It’s maddening, it’s frustrating, it’s demoralizing. Sometimes I just lose it, and I yell. I get so fed up that I just lose my marbles. Maybe I tell my kid he’ll have to eat that kibble for dinner if he doesn’t get out of my hair. I might even blow the entire situation out of proportion and throw myself a nice little tantrum. Extra points for stomping my feet and slamming a door or two.
This stuff happens. At your house maybe it’s marker on the wall or a toddler who gives herself a haircut. Maybe it’s indecision about which shoes to wear to school when you really, really need to get to work. It could be when the preschooler clocks the baby for daring to look at her Lego creation. Sometimes the shit just hits the fan, and we lose our cool.
Don’t despair! There’s good to be found here. There are actually some benefits to completely screwing up, yelling at your kids, and acting like the juvenile you proclaim your children to be. Here are four of them.
1. You can model how to apologize and mend relationships with grace.
Apologizing is hard. I’m pretty bad at it. Having a kid is giving me plenty of practice in saying a sincere apology with grace and without the qualifier of “I’m sorry, but you…” Admitting wrong is humbling as hell, and one way our kids learn how to do it is by watching us and by being on the receiving end of a good apology.
2. You communicate that making mistakes is okay
We all want to be perfect parents. Who wants to admit that sometimes they just don’t feel like they’re doing a good job? I remember the first time I had that awful, sinking feeling in my gut that accompanies the realization that something I’ve said might actually come up in my son’s therapy 20 years from now.
There’s just no way to be perfect , and that’s a good thing. If we expect perfection from ourselves, our children (those keen little observers) will extrapolate that we also expect perfection from them. If we beat ourselves up for making a mistake, our children will assume that we will also be disappointed in them for getting something wrong.
When we screw up, own it, and make it right, we’re communicating that mistakes are a fact of life. That failure isn’t a deep shame to avoid at all costs. That messing up just means you’re learning. And that’s a really good lesson for all of us to internalize.
3. You give them opportunities to advocate for themselves and express their emotions appropriately.
Recently my son and I had what he calls a “serious quarrel.” We both had some emotional battle wounds by the end, and I felt awful about how I’d manage my anger with him. When we were processing the argument and mending the relationship, my son observed that I’m much better at showing him compassion when he expresses sadness than when he expresses anger. He astutely observed that I can be disapproving of anger, even when it’s expressed appropriately (and even when I’m angry, too).
Bingo. He was right, and our argument had given him the opportunity to point out where I need to work on myself and how it made him feel. It was great practice for both of us in sincere, respectful, and authentic communication. It wasn’t easy, but we were both better for having that conversation.
4. You learn where you’re struggling so you can make changes
If you always lose it at bedtime or when it’s time for your kids to do their homework, it’s time to take a look at your patterns. Do you need to start bedtime 20 minutes earlier? Do you need to take some deep breaths and make a plan before you even attempt to help your kid with his math homework? Be aware of where you’re struggling so that you can be more intentional with how you respond to your kids. At times you might find them infuriating, but you are always and without exception responsible for how you choose to show up in your relationships with them.
We love our kids, and nothing feels worse than recognizing we aren’t being the parent they deserve. Remember that we’re all doing our best with the skills and resources available to us, and screwing up can actually be turned into a positive learning experience for everyone involved. The key is to extend yourself grace and remember that you, as with every other person on the planet, are a work in progress.