When You Realize You’re Parenting Wrong

Mom and her kids

When our kids were babies, I thought we had it tough. I mean, those newborn and baby days are so physically challenging — the lack of sleep, the constant tending to this little person, the spitup and the diapers and everything else. And it absolutely is one of the most physically difficult things I’ve ever done. But when my kids both hit the toddler years was when I found that the “parenting” really started getting tricky. Because now they’re more physically independent, but you’re guiding them through intellectual and emotional territory. And every step of the way, you have to figure out if you’re doing it right.

The other day, I was doing it wrong. And it actually took me a few days to realize that. Henry goes through these waves of emotional issues every so often. He’ll be his sweet, kind self one week and then the next week every little thing we ask of him causes a huge tantrum. Or he’ll just want to whine about everything for days on end and then suddenly it’ll stop. This last week he’s been having some big feelings and some tantrums. I don’t know why, but my immediate response when they started was to strong-arm him into submission. To just bring the hammer down on every tantrum, drown him with time-outs, take away toys, and discipline at every turn. This had been going on for about three days and it was absolutely no fun for anyone.

Yesterday, we were having a so-so day. Not terrible but not great. We put him down for his nap and he was quiet for a while, then out of nowhere started to cry and ask for me. So I went in. He was sitting up in his bed, genuinely crying. Not tantrum tears. Sad tears. I asked him what was wrong and he shook his little head and said, “I don’t know, Mama.” And right then and there, I realized I wasn’t giving him what he needed. I was dealing with him upside-down and backwards from what he could tolerate or what would actually help. It was one of those moments that was so crystal clear, and sent to nudge me in the right direction. So I said, “It’s okay buddy, I got ya. Let’s start over.” And I stayed with him while he fell asleep.

Afterwards I went to Ryan to tell him what happened and we agreed that “laying down the law” is not what our little buddy needs right now. So we decided to just love him through this one. After nap, we both took the afternoon off of work and went to the library as a family, one of Henry’s favorite things. We found every single thing we could find to say “yes” to, instead of telling him “no” at every turn. And we didn’t indulge him, but we just softened our edges. No, he’s not allowed to be rude or mean or have a tantrum, but the tantrums faded as soon as we softened anyway. It’s like he was asking us to draw nearer to him and we were distancing ourselves by being too tough on him, and it was all backfiring.

And at the end of all of this, my biggest takeaway (once again) is that the amount of grace that kids have to offer is almost unending. Henry was trying, clumsily and in the only way he knows how, to tell us that he needed something else. And he forgave us for not realizing it, when we weren’t doing right by him. And he gives us new opportunities every day to keep trying to be the best parents we can. If that’s not grace then I don’t know what is. xoxo

P.S. If you’re a parent, or have kids in your life in some way, I’d love to hear your take on all of this. Have you ever experienced something similar? Or just totally realized that you’ve been parenting in a way that your kid isn’t responding to? It’s unimaginably hard to tell if you’re doing the right thing, but those little ones are sure good barometers. 😉

17 thoughts on “When You Realize You’re Parenting Wrong”

  1. Yep. Came to this realization a few months ago. Big feelings and tantrums for our little guy and they just set me off, which left us all feeling disconnected and horrible. Obviously something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be a three-year-old having tantrums! I reached out to the Gentle Parenting Institute and talked through things a bit. I was raised by parents who “laid down the law” as you put it, and I was having trouble seeing how to soften, or even that softening did NOT mean indulging. I decided to talk to a parenting counselor and things are slowly but surely looking up. Good luck to you too! This work will not only benefit you and Henry, but Maggie too once tantrum time comes 😉

    1. Yep, sounds like you totally get me here. “Disconnected” is exactly the right word. Interesting! And now I’m off to Google the Gentle Parenting Institute. 😉 We’re having a better week so far, but it all comes in waves, doesn’t it? So we’ll see how we are by Friday. Ha!

  2. Oh my goodness, your entire post made me nod along the way. Sometimes I just CAN’T with the tantrums, because a toddler and a pre-schooler are loud, wild and generally exhausting. Our 21 month old is still not sleeping through the night, so the sleep deprivation (of nearly four years, ha!) is still going strong and I’m just lacking the patience at times.

    But deep down I KNOW that being harsh during tantrums only makes the situation worse. Thank you for the reminder, and thank you for sharing so openly – it makes me feel less alone in this crazy thing called parenting ❤️

    1. Oh mama, you are doing it all right! And I can’t believe you’re powering through with night wakings! Sleep deprivation is so, so tough. I hope you have a chance this week to just take some time for YOU, to take care of yourself for a few moments. Thanks for taking the time to share here. xo

  3. Oh wow. Thank you for being so honest! My little one is still too young to tell you my take on this, but I love your new way. I think it’s the direction of “attachment parenting”?!
    All the best to you and an awesome weekend with a lot of happy moments.
    Eva

    1. Hope this was somehow a ray of light for you! Take heart mama, we all feel defeated some days. I think even the fact that you care is telling of what a great mom you are. <3

  4. I almost cried at “I don’t know, Mama.”
    OMGGGG Chelsea heartbreaking!!! Sounds like you are doing a-ok to me because you heard him, hit the brakes, and tried something new. <3

  5. Oh Chelsea, I’m a Grandma, and this made me cry. Just this morning I was reflecting on how I think I was too hard on my youngest when he was little. He was a wild man, full of energy and only slept about 4 hours a night. He was the youngest of four and I was exhausted. He turned out terrific, but I wish I had been gentler with him.

    1. Liz! I know that youngest one and he turned out to be a heck of a man. But I completely understand that feeling, when you’re at the end of your rope and just turn to discipline to try to keep it all together. You’re an incredible mom (I know this firsthand!) and I think you can rest assured that you did an incredible job raising some outstanding people. <3

  6. Thank you for being open and honest! I feel like there’s so much pressure to be the perfect parent that this type of reflection is so rare and necessary. My little one is 3 months next week, so I’m still mostly physical support at this time, but I appreciate hearing your experiences. You sound like a wonderful mama!

    1. What a sweet stage you’re in! It’s so hard but also one of the most wonderful times to be a parent. And thanks so much for your kind words — I think at the end of the day we’re just all trying to do our best, huh? xoxo

  7. So I’ll say at the outset that I don’t have kids. But I think I was that kid. There are a lot of stories of me as a kid that sound like that. Even now, my parents remember me (not sleeping through the night, having tantrums out of nowhere, being unexpectedly moody) as a difficult child compared to my sister. But it turns out that I have an anxiety disorder and I was just anxious all of the time. I am 100% not diagnosing your child over the internet because that would be insane. But whenever I hear stories like this from anyone, I feel the need to say something because while I was a anxious child, I was also an outgoing, gregarious, chatterbox. So that other part of me when unnoticed for far, far too long, being dismissed as me being difficult or moody. And early intervention is the best intervention. So, if no one else has mentioned this possibility, think about it. There are a lot of easy things that could help, if thats it.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to share, Christa! I so appreciate your perspective. And we’ll absolutely be on the lookout for signs that might point toward anxiety. So important to keep in mind. xoxo

  8. Parenting is so hard, and seeing that you need to switch directions while parenting is sometimes nearly impossible to do. Being willing and able to change your approach is more than half the battle. I struggle with that a lot. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the reminder that sometimes the best parenting is just listening and loving.

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