Despite our best efforts, we will inevitably make mistakes when raising a family. We may say or do things to our children that are inappropriate. Sometimes we mistreat or mishandle a situation with someone else, such as a partner, in front of — or within hearing distance of — our children.
Sharing some of the common relationship blunders that parents unintentionally model for their children. It’s important to note that if these behaviors sound familiar, there’s no need to berate yourself. Instead, you can use them as teachable moments and try to be more mindful in the future.
“If I could give parents perspective: Embrace your mistakes. They are inevitable and provide an opportunity to grow and learn, which is how we develop parenting wisdom,” said clinical psychologist Claire Nicogossian, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.
Mistake 1: Snapping At Your Partner When You’re Stressed
We’ve all been there: you’re rushing to meet a work deadline, your child is irritable, the fridge is empty, you need to leave for baseball practice in 15 minutes — and then your partner forgets they were supposed to pick up dinner tonight.
It’s no surprise that your patience is fraying and you’re losing your cool. However, our children notice how we behave when we are stressed, so bringing more mindfulness to how we react in these tense, everyday moments should be important.
“Children observe when we are reactive to stress, conflict, pressure or exhaustion, snapping at our family members, partners and spouses,” said Nicogossian, who is the author of “Mama, You Are Enough: How To Create Calm, Joy, and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood.” “In turn, they begin to internalize or learn how to respond and react in similar situations.”
However, by learning and implementing emotional-management strategies such as breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and mindfulness practices in your daily interactions, you are teaching your child how to do the same.
Mistake 2: Trying To Hash Out A Disagreement When You’re Heated
Couples may feel compelled to settle their disagreement as soon as possible, even if they are not in the right frame of mind to do so. According to clinical psychologist Laura Markham, that sense of urgency stems from a dysregulated fight-or-flight response.
“We think we are threatened with a loss if we don’t take action right now to win this conflict,” she revealed. “But when we are in that state, our partner looks like the enemy. We forget we are on the same side. We can’t possibly see their perspective or be willing to change ourselves.”
And the discussion often devolves into a shouting match, which isn’t good for the couple or their children.
“The research is clear that when parents shout at each other, their children get anxious,” said Markham, the author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.” “It’s also not what we want to model for our children about how to express our needs or how to solve conflicts.”
Instead, the best thing you can do is recognize and express your need for a break. Then, when cooler heads have prevailed, you can revisit the conversation.
“Summon up all your compassion and take care of yourself so you feel better, rather than stewing about how they’re wrong and you’re right,” Markham said. “Then, don’t avoid the issue. Write it down.
“Maybe keep a running list posted inside a cabinet door in the kitchen, and have a regular time at the end of the day or on Sunday morning when you talk about issues that came up this week.”
That way, your children will see that their parents don’t always agree (which is normal!) but that they can still be kind to each other and work things out constructively, according to Markham.
Mistake 3: Not Making Up In Front Of The Kids
Your children will witness you arguing and raising your voices at times. When this occurs, it is critical that you make amends in front of them as well, “with affection and forgiveness,” according to Markham.
“If you can course-correct after snapping at your partner, that’s ideal. But even if it’s the next day, be sure to share with your kids that you resolved the situation,” she said.
It might look something like this, Markham said: “Remember when Dad and I disagreed about whether it’s time to buy a new car? We got pretty mad, I know. But I want you to know that we’re working it out.
“We always do, because we love each other and our relationship is more important to us than any disagreement. You know that you can be mad at someone and love them at the same time, right? We still aren’t sure yet about the car. I’m worried that our car is breaking down a lot.
“Dad is worried about spending money on a car right now. It’s a hard decision. We’re going to keep talking about it. Sometimes you have to think and talk for a long time before you can make a good decision that works for everyone.”
It’s okay if you haven’t reached a resolution yet; many issues that couples fight about take time to work through. Simply demonstrating to your child that you and your partner respect each other’s points of view and are committed to figuring it out is powerful.
After the argument, check in with your child to see what they saw. Don’t try to downplay what happened or their reactions to it.
“Ask them to share their thoughts, feelings and reactions, and ask if they have any questions you can answer,” Nicogossian said.
If you resorted to name-calling, spoke harshly, or otherwise demonstrated less-than-exemplary behavior, let us know. Then, discuss with your child what you need to improve.
“Kids often have a perception that adults don’t have to continue to learn and grow. And, in reality, this is a lifelong process and what it means to be human: to be ever evolving, growing and developing wisdom along the way,” Nicogossian said.