Last week I shared the story about me getting angry with the older boys and taking a time out by leaving the house for a while. It wasn’t a fun day, but things worked out better than I would have predicted.
John’s comment under the post really got me thinking. Here’s part of it: Walking away definitely makes sense sometimes. It is surprising how challenging it is for families to get along without getting really frustrated.
Boy, that really got me thinking. Why do families get so frustrated with each other?
Let’s split this into two questions: Why do parents get frustrated with children? and Why do children get frustrated with parents?
Today we can talk about the first question, and we’ll dig into the other one soon. So. Why do parents get frustrated with children? I see 3 different reasons. Entitlement, ineffective discipline, and challenging behavior problems on the part of the child.
Many times in life people will say “I have a right to (insert benefit here)”. For example, I may say “I have a right to a clean house.” The truth is, a clean house is neither a constitutional nor a fundamental right in any sense of the word. What I’m really saying is “I believe I’m entitled to a clean house.”
Now, feeling entitled to something isn’t wrong in many cases. But when I start to believe that a benefit is rightfully mine AND I get angry when I don’t receive that benefit, then I’m straying from the straight and narrow. If I believe that I am entitled to well-behaved children, it’s easy to get angry when they’re not well-behaved. No child can be perfect. Acting as though they can and should be is wrong on my part and will lead to frustration when they fail to attain expectations that are too high.
I am right to believe that my children should be honoring and obeying their parents, and that they should behave themselves at all times. But I’m not entitled to that obedience, and I should not get upset with them when they prove their humanity by being imperfect.
When I left the house last week, I called a friend who is tremendously wise. One of the things she reminded me was that God wants me to do my best as a parent but He never promised that my children would turn out as I want. They are separate individuals and I don’t get to control their destiny. This? A hard pill to swallow. I’m working on it.
My friend also reminded me that as human beings we all resist change until a situation becomes painful enough. We don’t go on a diet until we dislike the way we look or feel. In the same way, a child isn’t going to change annoying behavior unless there’s a pretty good reason. All of us behave in ways to get payoffs. Until you remove the payoff or add in painful consequences, the behavior will stay the same.
Case in point: TechnoBoy and Captain Earthquake are experts at pushing one another’s buttons. Drives me crazy! And of course they routinely dragged me into it. “Mooo-ommmmmm! Will you tell him to stop making that noise?” Ugh. I couldn’t stand it! And they wouldn’t quit. It took a lot of careful thinking, but I finally figured out that the most painful thing is for them to spend extra time together. After all, THEY should be solving this problem, not me. So! I explained that the next time they fight, I would handcuff them together for 30 minutes. If that doesn’t help them get along, then the next time they fight we’d try it for 60 minutes, and the time would double every argument.
Wouldn’t you know it? Not one argument since I made that announcement. Not one.
Challenging Behavior Problems
Thus far I’ve given reasons that hold parents responsible for the frustration. That’s because parents are the adults, children have brains that are not yet fully developed, and as such, the parents are the ones who should be acting like grown-ups.
However, it’s true that some children are strong-willed and have more serious problems with which to deal. In those cases, seeking professional help and parenting classes can often help.
Coming soon: reasons why children get frustrated with parents.
Earnest Parenting: Help for parents who care about being the best.
photo courtesy of de rigueur, via Creative Commons license