“I don’t want a bagel for breakfast,” my five-year-old stated.
“Sorry, but that’s all we have time for this morning,” I called over my shoulder as I stood at the counter, spreading the cream cheese.
“NOOOOOO!!! I will NOT eat that bagel! I will not eat anything except a pancake!”
I spun around sharply. “Now you listen to me. If you whine one more time…”
I cringed as I said it but felt powerless to stop myself.
My preschooler had spent the last three days griping and moaning over every small disappointment. With each new complaint he made, my patience dwindled and my voice escalated.
I was on the verge of losing it, and I knew it.
Inside I felt that tension psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” It’s when your behaviors contradict your values and beliefs, and you feel icky about it.
I knew my son was whining because he needed connection. We’d recently been so busy and on-the-go, away from his usual structures and routines, and I’d spent more time planning and scheduling than talking and cuddling with him.
I also really wanted to be the parent who deals with the whining by offering support and connection, rather than through fear and empty threats.
But I couldn’t. It’d been a long week, and I was just too drained.
The Truth About Positive Parenting
First let me say: I love positive parenting.
I love the emphasis on relationship and mutual respect—instead of a strict hierarchy.
I love the concept of gently influencing our children—rather than trying to mold them to our wishes.
I love natural consequences instead of punitive ones. I love time-ins instead of time-outs.
I love encouraging good behavior through connection rather than fear.
BUT HOLY MOLY, IT’S EXHAUSTING SOMETIMES!
With all the burdens parents are carrying today, positive parenting is often just one more emotional and physical drain. It requires us to give even more than we already do—which is impossible when we’re already running on empty.
And so we snap.
And then feel deeply guilty about it, which just adds one more layer to our emotional pile-up.
This has been happening to me too much recently, so I’ve developed a little action plan to build up my reserves and get back to being the type of parent I want to be (and truly am). Here’s what it looks like.
7 Things To Do When Positive Parenting Is Too Exhausting
1. Trade off with your partner.
Assuming you have a good one, which I hope you do. I’ve told my husband that my patience just feels too thin right now, so whenever he’s home, he’s stepping in and handling things even more than he ordinarily would.
2. Get a babysitter.
For a few hours, if you can. When positive parenting feels impossible, it’s usually because we need a chance to TRULY recharge—which means more than just an hour away. Usually we need a full day, or at least half, when we’re not parenting or working or both.
3. Let yourself explode—within limits.
Obviously it’s never ok to hit your children. Obviously it’s not acceptable to demean them or break their spirits in any way.
I’m just saying that sometimes we are going to lose our tempers with our kids; it’s inevitable and it’s ok! (As long as we’re not crossing those unacceptable lines.)
What’s important isn’t so much that we exploded, but what we do next.
If we lose our temper and then take steps to effectively repair the relationship with our children, we have actually done a lot of good in the long-run. We’ve let our children see that we’re imperfect humans—and we’ve modeled how to properly communicate and connect after a mistake.
4. Make a game plan when you’re feeling calm.
Reacting positively in the moment is so tough. What helps me is deciding ahead of time exactly how I’m going to react when my kid is pushing my buttons (intentionally or unintentionally).
It’s easier to stick to a script than to try to manage your own fluctuating emotions in the heat of the moment. It’s also helpful to share that script with your child. (“From now on, when you…here is how I’m going to respond.”)
5. Find a small daily escape.
Reading a novel. Coloring. HGTV. Yoga. What can you do every single day for 30 minutes or so to bring yourself some inner peace?
6. Carve out quiet.
Similarly, how can you find moments of quiet for yourself in the midst of your parenting frustration? So much of our exhaustion, I think, is due to the constant clamor that comes with the parenting territory. Sometimes silence is golden.
7. Keep it in perspective.
Being a positive parent 100% of the time is impossible, so don’t give yourself such lofty goals. Do you handle it well 75% of the time? Pat yourself on the back, mama. You’re doing just fine.