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Parent Guilt Part 2: "I get frustrated with my child"

As parents we understand that guilt is part of the parenting role. We can’t hide from it and sometimes we can’t foresee when it is going to hit us in the face like a piece of Lego being thrown in a tantrum. I used to take pride in the fact that my child has taught me patience, however as she has grown and is now well into the toddler stage, I can be brutally honest with myself and say… I was mistaken. From talking to other parents, having low frustration tolerance levels for our little ones is not uncommon, especially at this age. Whilst this is comforting to know, the guilt that follows my impatient behaviour can at times, be a little overwhelming. Contributors include the usual suspects; tiredness, life stresses, juggling too much, having no time etc. This ‘life fatigue’ leads to an inevitable low bar for patience and an ease to lose one’s temper very easily.

I have done a bit of research around this as I find that some of the situations where I turn into She-Hulk are actually very minor, yet it still brings an immense feeling of remorse, guilt and worry. The following are just two examples of where I find my low frustration tolerance comes to the fore and from the research, ways that may help to address them.

Hurry up

Kids seem to operate at two speeds: lightning fast or limping snail slow. The first isn’t too much of a problem apart from in a heart stopping near a road moment, but the latter at times can push our buttons, especially if you are late or rushing or just need them to hurry up. I had never known it take so long to do up a Velcro shoe until I experienced a strong willed 3-year-old trying to do it, on the wrong foot…twice. Their cool calm nature of packing and unpacking their rucksack, or running in to get their coat only to be distracted and start playing with their dinosaurs when they are already running 10 minutes behind almost seems to make the situation worse – why aren’t they as stressed as we are about being late for swimming? Cue the shouting of ‘hurry up!’, the snapping back at them, the pulling and snatching – it is hardly role model behaviour and yet the button has been pushed and it is hard to bring our patience back. Once the dust has settled, the guilt for yelling and acting bullish descends.

So how can we address the guilt after this situation. This one is reasonably simple, as we can pinpoint our behaviour as the reason for feeling guilty. Our behaviour comes from our thoughts and beliefs. We need to change the demanding thought or belief to tame how we react, which will in turn increase our frustration tolerance level. How many times have we said, “we mustn’t be late!” or “we can’t linger” or “we shouldn’t miss it”? These are demands that are constrictive and limiting and make you behave accordingly. If you truly believe you must not be late, then of course you will lose your cool if little one has decided to hop all the way there. Try to change the demanding thought. You would like to be on time, but it might not be possible (and that is ok). You would rather not miss it, but there is a chance you might (and that is ok). Look at what the outcome would be and really in the scheme of things, is it worth the frustration and subsequent guilt?

The Cling-on

So, kids are socially and biologically programmed to form strong attachments with their parents. We represent safety, love, and a home where they can explore and develop independence. But this can (and does) cause stress and anxiety. We are currently going through a phase where my daughter wants me and only me for everything (bath time, making her sandwich, cuddles, carrying, getting a cup of water, changing her clothes, mending her broken biscuit, story time…everything). Being constantly on call and in demand can at times feel lovely and like I am fulfilling my motherly duty, however, it also feels overbearing and too much. It causes tension with my other half who want to be wanted and wants to help, and I want my child to go to him and for him to get more involved. The clinginess also means I am all ‘touched out’. Being consistently climbed on, pulled, stroked, jumped on and cuddled by a child means that after a while I want my space and I want to be alone and if that doesn’t happen, my frustration tolerance level is brought right down, and I get cranky. The guilt I then feel comes from thinking “I should love every minute of my child wanting me because as she gets older it won’t be like this” and “A good mum should always want to cuddle her children”.

Firstly, we need to keep our thoughts and expectations of being a parent realistic. Just because we love our kids beyond measure, it doesn’t mean we don’t have self-preserving boundaries with them. We are human and our own comfort (and survival) is important to us. What we need to do is calmly explain to our child and partner what we need and why. Removing ourselves from the clinginess means we can cool down, recharge, and have the time we need to come back and go again. Secondly, although being clingy may come in phases we need to be aware of our own reactions to this. If our child is clingy when they start school or are in a new environment and we act with a high level of concern, our child may be unsure that the place is safe and take our attention as confirmation for their unease. By keeping calm and confident, our child will feel they can cope with being separated from us or with others in a new situation. So, the guilt from losing it at the clinginess can be reduced if we keep ourselves grounded and aware of what we want (whilst articulating our feelings and what we need), and by reacting to the clingy in a way that signals calm confidence in appropriate situations.

There are many more examples and scenarios where our tolerance levels are challenged but most stem from our beliefs about what we should, need and must do in relation to parenting our children. The important thing to remember is that there is no right way to do this parenting thing and furthermore you are doing your best. Guilt can be worked on as long as you are willing to be kind to yourself and remain grounded, but how we make a child go at the right speed we will have to work out between us.

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