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The Struggle Is Real: Practicing What I Preach Can Be Difficult

It was 8:15pm on a Wednesday night. After sitting in our older children's bedroom for what seemed like forever (probably about 45 minutes), our eight year old started whining about who knows what and how he wasn't tired and BLAH BLAH BLAH. It had been a long day and I snapped. I completely lost it.

"Go to FREAKING SLEEEEP! Stop talking and GO TO SLEEEEEP! I don't want to hear about anything! Be quiet and GO TO SLEEEEEP!"

Then I threatened to leave and not sit with him again the next night. The eight year old in question subsequently yelled and screamed in protest. I walked out in anger and slammed the door.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, in our house, situations like this are not as uncommon as I would like them to be.

Here's a little background about me: I'm 35 years old. I have been married since 2007 (dating since 2000) and we have four young children (boy/girl twins born in 2009, a boy born in 2012, and a boy born in 2015). My husband works in home construction and I am an assistant professor of communication studies at James Madison University. I'm also the director of The RLH Project (www.RelationshipsLoveHappiness.com).

We're tired. All of the time. And just like you, we're only human. As humans, we sometimes struggle with life. But we also try our hardest to enact the parenting behaviors that we both believe are important for raising happy, emotionally intelligent, well-adjusted humans. Things like: speaking as respectfully to our children as we do to each other, empathizing with them by taking the time to take their perspectives, helping them work through their emotions by allowing them to express their feelings in a safe place, developing secure attachment bonds with them by responding in consistently sensitive ways, and giving them confidence to explore the world independently, among other things.

While I wake up just about every morning ready for a new day, where I plan to enjoy my children's company, speak to them with a loving heart, and appreciate their quirks and even their annoyances as part of their unique personalities, I struggle to keep the momentum of my morning goals going for very long. I struggle. Like, really struggle. Some days, I only make it 30 minutes before I find myself screaming, "PUT YOUR DAMN SHOES ON!" or "STOP ARGUING WITH EACH OTHER!" or the hilariously hypocritical, "IF YOU DON'T PERK UP AND STOP BEING SO DAMN CRABBY..."

I threaten, I scold, I lose my patience unnecessarily, I yell about shit that in hindsight is totally ridiculous, and sadly, I sometimes even engage in the incredibly damaging criticism and comparison ("You always spill at dinner! Why can't you act like your sister at the table?!").

And if engaging in these destructive behaviors wasn't enough, I'm constantly reminded of my parenting mistakes and inadequacies when I go to work. As I said, I teach at JMU in the School of Communication Studies. Most of my courses focus on interpersonal communication, where I teach students how to effectively communicate in family, friend, and romantic relationships. So I go to work, teach for hours about having positive communication interactions filled with love, empathy, and patience with others, and then I come home and my fuse shortens to a length that does not allow me to practice what I preach. Don't get me wrong, I have good days. Lots of really good days. But I also have bad days. And sometimes, the bad days consume my thoughts. They fuel my guilt.

Why am I telling you all of this? Why am I airing out my dirty laundry? Why am I admitting that I'm not always the parent that I would like to be? Because I know that I'm not alone in these mistakes. Every parent feels this way at one point or another. And even though I'm an expert in communicating in close relationships and I talk about these positive communication skills on a daily basis as my job, I STILL STRUGGLE to follow my own advice. And if I struggle, I know others do, too. The struggle is real.

What can we do? We can apologize. To our kids and to ourselves. Own up to these moments of weakness. Tell your children that you're sorry for loosing your cool, for talking the way you did, for not respecting them, for not treating them the way they deserve to be treated. And apologize to yourself. You're human. You make mistakes. Parenting is hard. Actually, it's way fucking harder than I imagined. Apologize to yourself for being so hard on yourself. Lastly, we can make a conscious effort to improve our communication with our children. Make a list of things you want to work on. Then for each item on your list, write out 2-5 specific things you can say, do, or avoid to help you achieve that goal.

For example, one of the things I want to do is end criticism with my children. Instead of saying something like, "You always spill when you get drinks by yourself!" (a critical remark), I could realize that spilling a drink is not worth lowering my child's self-esteem and I could say, "It's okay if you spill your drink. I just ask that you clean it up."

Writing out a plan for each goal and then working on ONE GOAL at a time (don't stress yourself out by trying to do too much at once) can help you systematically improve your parenting skills by implementing some good habits into your daily routine.

Whatever you do, know that I stand with you. The struggle is totally real.

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