The Cycle of Bad Parenting

Okay, here it is. I feel worst about myself when I lose it with my kids. And when I’m feeling bad about myself, it is hard for me to be a good parent. The more it happens, the less I feel I’ll be able to successfully change it. This is the cycle of bad parenting for me. I feel worst about myself when I seemingly go from regular Mommy to “Mommy Monster” in one breath. The truth is that the frustration has been building inside of me until I can’t take it anymore – the whining, the disobedience, the ignoring – and then I “explode”, not too differently from the way my toddler handles her emotions.  I feel worst about myself when the scary monster voice comes out of my mouth, startling the kids, and saying things that I wish I hadn’t said. (Nothing too damaging, I hope – just very unhelpful messages like “Little Boy, you better do what I say!” Phrases that are not suggested in my favorite parenting books. Words that  MJ then cries about, saying, “Mommy, why did you call me ‘Little Boy’ when I’m not a little boy? That hurt my feelings.” I’ve even mumbled  “You’re making me consider spanking. Do you know what that is?” (I didn’t do it!) When I know, as I tell the kids, no one can MAKE you do anything or feel anything. YOU are in charge of yourself. Blah, blah, blah – it’s so damn hard in the moment!) I feel worst about myself when because of how I have responded to a situation, BOTH of my children are now crying and/ or screaming. And I’m thinking to myself, “I just want PEACE in my home! Why does it have to be so hard???”

As a parent of young kids, do you ever feel this way? Once a week maybe? For me it’s been once a day recently, and it’s really bringing me down. Yesterday I had a good day with the kids (granted, they were both at school for much of the day).  MJ and Ellie (4 and 2) climbed into my bed about 7:15, and we had a fun family snuggle. They were playing so well together, and being so cute, banging their heads on the pillow, and crawling under the covers into the “boggy pit”. That was certainly a “good thing”. MJ actually cooperated getting “out the door and in the car”,  and I count that as a good thing, when half of my children cooperate! After dropping Ellie off at her school, MJ and I had time to wander through the school garden together, smelling the lavender, following the leader over the little footbridges, and doing a shadow dance. Then we got to school with enough time to read our favorite fall “Picking Apples and Pumpkins” book in the car and take a walk around the building before the doors opened.

Picking Apples and Pumpkins How Do I Love You?

When I picked Ellie up at school, we came home and had a snack at the table together, and I read to her “How Do I Love You?” before we went to pick up brother. While Ellie was taking her nap, MJ did an “Apple Show” for Mommy and Daddy in his room, enthusiastically showing us all his apple work from school before Daddy left for his evening shift. Later, I had a good evening stroll with the kids, singing all our favorite songs, and talking about all the fun fall activities coming up. The kids helped host dinner for our neighborhood friends Kara and baby Ethan, and we all enjoyed a game of “Hide and Seek” for family play after “toys away”. “I’m doing it”, I thought to myself. “I’m handling both children all by myself and things are going well.” After the guests had left and the kids were ready for bed, we enjoyed snuggling and reading “Good Night Moon” in brother’s bed, finding the little mouse hiding on every colored page. We turned the lights off and I told the story of “Goldilocks and the 3 Bears”, followed by “good things” and the children singing lullabies to each other – all good things, for sure! (In our family, pat of our bedtime routine is to share “good things” from our day, in an effort to focus on the positive, teach gratitude, and end the day on feeling thankful.) “Quiet and Still” was not really working with Ellie, so I told MJ he’d have to stay in his room while I got Ellie down. And here comes the “losing it” part…

A HUGE new challenge in our family is the fact that Ellie is now regularly climbing out of her crib, and wandering out of her room. (Don’t worry, she does it safely, but it IS time for us to come up with a “big girl” bedtime plan.) But this has taken away the wonderfully simple routine we’ve had for 15 months (since we moved out of our 2-bedroom apartment) of being able to rock her and put her down in her crib awake, allowing her to fall asleep on her own while we tend to MJ. NOW it seems we have to stay and rock until she is asleep in her bed, and then we (Mommy or Daddy) sneak out. This is workable when there are 2 grown-ups around: 1 for each kid, but with Dustin working nights, and Mommy teaching some evenings, this is not the norm. Soooo, you can probably guess how the conflict started last night. MJ wandered into the room while I was rocking Ellie to sleep, completely setting us back. I sternly told him to go back to bed and wait for Mommy, that he would have to be a big boy and wait a while…A few minutes later, he was just outside E’s door yelling. This is when I lost it! I’d been patient and loving all day, and now it was after 8:00, the children were supposed to be asleep, Mommy was supposed to be having a break, and I could not figure out how to get control of this bedtime situation that until recently I’d had complete control over. And for a controlling person like me, this incredible frustration is what leads me to lose control of myself. So, I did, dragging MJ back to his bed while yelling at him, still holding Ellie who was now crying, then holding MJ’s door closed as he screamed, trying to get out. AAAAAGH! (Not the best strategy in retrospect, I know….) Thankfully, Ellie ended up staying in her crib when I put her down, probably because she got the correct impression from me that it was not a good time to “test” Mommy. And I was able to go back to a crying MJ, we apologized to each other, and then lay quiet and still together. The conflict only lasted a few minutes, and in spite of all the good, fun, loving moments we’d had throughout the day, I was left feeling completely defeated and awful about myself as a parent. Instead of doing the work and reading I had planned and getting to bed early, in my guilty, depressed state, I just wasted my time watching “Gulianna and Bill”, trying to escape into someone else’s life, and staying up too late, which only extends the cycle. Then the next morning, I wake up tired, feeling like I’m bound to lose it again today! THIS is the cycle of bad parenting for me: Losing control as a parent, feeling guilty and defeated about it, then losing motivation to make healthy decisions for myself that would help my parenting like getting more sleep and exercise.

Part of me knows I should give myself a break, and remember that I’m a “good enough” parent (advice I recently gave you in my post selected snippets on love, laughter, and life.) Another part of me knows that there are 2 kinds of guilt – the kind that you have to let go of because there is nothing you can do about it (or could have done), and the kind that is a signal for change and reflection and effort. I know this guilt is the latter. I also know that when you parent from a place of guilt, you are unable to parent authentically, and your children sense that. So… time to make a change, break the cycle, and MOVE ON!

I know I can’t necessarily break the cycle of my children’s misbehavior – that is something I have to accept that I can NOT control. But I CAN and SHOULD control my own misbehavior. I know that the missing link which I don’t always grasp is the “assertive” parenting that exerts calm control before it becomes too much! I also know that another missing link for me is the “power of acceptance”, that sometimes everything WILL go wrong: Michael James will argue with me about turning off the computer while Ellie is refusing to take off the dirty pants she has worn for 2 days, just minutes after Ellie was yelling in the car because she dropped her pink pacifier, and brother was crying because I locked the window he’d been rolling up and down. But this does not have to be “too much”.  I can breathe and handle it. They are just kids…doing what kids do…it is not the end of the world. And I’m thinking maybe Mommy needs to start her own reward/ accountability system. Give myself a gold star at the end of the day if I’ve managed to hold my sh** together! Reward myself with a few M&M’s and a good book. Earn a whole week of gold stars, and take myself out for dinner and a margarita! So, starting today, I’ll let you know how it goes. You can hold me accountable.

{Update: I wrote this a couple of days go, and wanted to sit with it a while before putting it out there into the universe. I’m happy to report that I’ve had 2 good days in a row, with the brief exception of yelling “NO!” pretty loudly at Ellie when she threw her open lunch box all over the kitchen floor which I’d just swept. I went ahead and asked Dustin to make me a margarita last night so we could celebrate while watching the season premiere of “Modern Family” on DVR. Tonight should be easy as well since I’m away and have a babysitter..I’ll keep you posted – wish me luck!}

And let me know…any advice or tricks to pass along?


  1. Jenni says:

    Great post Lowry! Forgiveness is required before you can “move on”. So while you are forgiving MJ and Ellie for their behavior, make sure to remember to forgive yourself too in a real and legitimate way. Literally speak the words to yourself, or at least think them, just in case someone thinks you’re talking to yourself :)

    Love to gold star idea too!

  2. Kara says:

    Every parent has gone through this guilt and frustration. I rely on grace. If I truly do hurt my child in some way, I pray that my child will tell me so, so that I can apologize and make amends. It sounds like MJ feels comfortable enough with you to tell you when you’ve hurt his feelings, and that you are humble enough to listen, value what he says, and respond. The fact that you have not shut your children’s emotions down like many parents do speaks volumes of you as a parent. We are all human. We are going to make mistakes as parents. That is why Grace is so important. You can accept yourself as imperfect because we have a Savior who was perfect. He allows us to forgive each other so we can move on with a clean slate. Children praise God perfectly….if MJ says he forgives you, he does with his whole heart. Now the only person left to forgive is you! (I may need you to repeat this back to me some day!) 😉

  3. Kerri says:

    Lowry, I just read two of your posts and I can honestly say, I could have written this myself. I’m constantly feeling like Mommy Dearest. I have 4 1/2 year old twins who fight constantly. My daughter is very independent, which is good and VERY BAD! I’m constantly losing it. I feel so horribly about my “moments” that I just bought a book this week called “Love and Anger”. Of course, I haven’t read it yet, but that’s my plan. I am a stay at home mom whose hubby works late and has the “children should be seen and not heard” thought most of the time. He does whatever he wants to do and the kids don’t bother him. This is also something that doesn’t help when I’m feeling the steam growing within me ready to explode through my head. I just give myself a timeout, take some breaths and hope for the best. Hopefully the book will give me some good advice. Good luck! You are not alone!

    • mommymanders says:

      Kerri, so glad you can relate. That’s why I started this blog to let other GREAT moms know that they are not alone in making their mistakes. Even experts like me do it, often, and somehow, it just helps to be honest about it. Sounds like a great book – let me know if you learn anything fabulous! My favorite is “Easy to Love: Difficult to Discipline” by Becky Bailey, and I am constantly trying to channel her “The moment is as it is” to calm my own anger, but it is hard, to say the least. (Especially when my son’s been up since 5am this morning like today.) Peace be with you, new friend! So glad you found me. I really appreciate your comment.

  4. Lauren says:

    We’ve all been there and done that. thanks for your honesty. I’ve held the door closed too, trying to keep my daughter from coming out, yet one more time., out of frustration and pure readiness to have some time to myself. I only have 1 child but I feel the same way, so I can’t imagine trying to manage more.
    Have you heard of Discipline without Distress, by Judy Arnall? I recently started reading it myself. It provides good reminders. I also like Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort.
    I saw you at story time at the library today. I’m going to try to make the Parent with a Purpose class coming up on the 28th. I feel like we already have a lot in common!

  5. Irina says:

    Lowry, thank you for your honest accounts of your parenting challenges. We all have them, no exceptions, and hearing/reading it from someone else is really comforting and reassuring. All (expectant) parents should read your blog, as anticipatory guidance. Thank you.