The Always-Fallible Parent

The Always-Fallible Parent
Mom is running late from work. The boss stepped into her office at the last minute and insisted on discussing a potential problem with an account. Though it only took fifteen minutes, this put her into the middle of rush hour and she was thirty minutes late getting home.

Jeremy will be late for soccer practice and his coach makes him run extra laps every time he is late. Also, Susan needed to go to the music store for an E string for her violin and the store is now closed. Both of the children are angry and Mom is feeling guilty, of which the children take advantage.

Mom apologizes profusely and repeatedly, but the children continue to moan and groan. Rather than insisting that they realize that life is not always smooth, mom continues to apologize in the form of fast food for dinner that she cannot afford and a delayed bedtime to watch television, even though she knows that Jeremy will be a bear to get out of bed in the morning. She is still apologizing the next morning when she promises to buy Susan the new dress for which she has been hinting for weeks and she tells Jeremy that she will get off work early before his next practice to be sure that he is not late. (What is a similar situation – or worse – happens? Then we are back on the hamster exercise wheel!)

Parents are never infallible; however, they are also not required to go overboard in making up for their mistakes. No one should consider themselves always-fallible and as parents we need to realize that guilt trips (and falling for them) rarely make for good parenting skills.

From where does this thought process begin? There are a multitude of circumstances that can lead to a parent who believes they are always wrong. There could have been extreme expectations as a child which could never be met. This could be followed by accusations of “not trying hard enough” and even the taunt that you will never be good enough or get anything right. Regardless of how illogical that may seem to an adult, when we hear the same admonishments over and over again, we begin to accept them as truth. Abuse, even verbal abuse, can lead to the belief that one is always wrong. Falling prey to negative thought patterns and believing that concepts such as luck control our lives is detrimental and can lead to the idea that we are always wrong or are doomed to bad things happening to us. When the thoughts become deeply ingrained so as to influence our decision-making, we need help in turning the tide of our those thoughts. Individual counseling, meditative therapy, positive thinking courses, and parenting groups that focus on encouraging the parent are excellent paths to break the thought patterns of a parent stuck in that frame of mind. Invest some of your time in learning how to break this cycle! It will be beneficial to you and your child(ren).

The pressure of being a single parent is great. In addition to being both father and mother in the home, you have to deal with coordinating visitation with the non-custodial parent and dealing with possible differences in rules and expectations between the households. You can quickly find yourself in the position of being the “bad guy” on a frequent basis. The last thing you need is to allow yourself to be drawn into the cycle of blame – your children blame you, your ex blames you, others blame you, so you blame you, too.

When you make rules, stick to them regardless of the whining. You are welcome to amend them and alter them, but only based upon your own observations and the needs of your family. Child-raising is a lot of trial-and-error. The rules that worked for one of my daughters were overkill for another. The rewards that worked for one were scoffed at by the other. Yet, in order to avoid the trap of being accused of playing favorites, I used the same rules with simple modifications to adapt to the individual.

Remember that you are in charge. Guilt is powerful tool that children will use to get their way if they can. They will whine, cry and get angry. They will refuse to do what you say. They will refuse to eat dinner. They will flunk a major test just to show you that they can. But if you don’t sway, they will come to the realization that they cannot win in this battle of control. You are; they aren’t. Bottom line.

This goes for outside influences, too. There may be different rules at the other parent’s home, at grandparents’ houses, and even at the homes of their friends. That does not mean that you have to change your house rules accordingly. Nor does it mean that the children can come home with a different attitude and expect you to accept it. With their friends it is easy to battle this situation. If your child comes home with an attitude of which you don’t approve, they don’t go back to visit until they can explain the situation and you can explain why you will never change. If an understanding is reached that you will not tolerate said attitude after a visit, then you can try it again. But a second trip that ends with a conflict at home ends the visits once and for all.

It is a little harder when dealing with the other parent and grandparents. You cannot refuse visitation to either, but you can address your concerns. Your first action should be to talk with the ex-spouse and grandparents and set clear expectations. If they disagree, you should calmly explain your position and listen as they explain their position. Hopefully you can come to a compromise; however, if you cannot, then you have to understand that unless the proposal will cause harm to your child, you have to live by give-and-take in such situations. You can explain to your children that you are not in agreement, but that you respect the other person’s authority when the children are with them and, unless there is a possibility of harm, you will honor their wishes. This works well for instances such as bedtimes, television limits, and study habits. Just remember, and I repeat, that instances that lead to the potential harm of your child are non-negotiable.

In short, keep telling yourself that no one is always wrong – even you. You are in charge. Stand your ground. Do what you know is right for your children. Finally, seek support to free yourself from the guilt and blame.

Remember, as a single parent, you must deal with double the dose of child-raising responsibility. It takes a strong person to accomplish this. Which is why single parents are the strongest people I know.

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