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I care for my children deeply and I want them to do well. I want them to do so well sometimes that I can’t handle it when they don’t. I’ve been losing my temper over it recently. I haven’t physically harmed them but I’ve come close. My anger triggers a response of punishing the kids through extensive physical work and chores. This feels logical and justified at the time but I sometimes feel ashamed about it afterwards, like I’ve gone overboard. My wife has noticed this of course and thinks I am being too hard on the kids. She wants me to find other ways to assert the rules. My father was pretty aggressive and abusive with us growing up. It was mostly out of love but he could get mean at times. I always told myself that I didn’t want to be like him when I was a parent and now I am fulfilling my worst fear. How can I be a good father and hold my kids accountable when they mess up without going overboard?
Dear Overboard Father,
Although you want to be a good father and a disciplinarian, you’re having a hard time finding the balance. You know that your children need direction and parenting, but this is heading into dangerous territory. I’m glad that you haven’t resorted to physical harm at this point and that you are questioning your actions.
Being a parent isn’t easy. Managing relationships with fully formed adults is hard enough, but trying to reason and discipline little people with still developing brains is much harder. Frustration with your children is quite normal but allowing that frustration to become harmful to your children is not. It may seem harmless in some ways but the guilt you feel is likely suggesting something more is going on. Even if you are not physically aggressive, your words could still be emotionally harmful. No matter what your children do or how frustrated you feel, the responsibility of managing your frustration falls on you. I would start by making a promise to yourself and to your children that you will manage your anger. This example is a little cheesy but can be helpful.
Frustration with your children is quite normal but allowing that frustration to become harmful to your children is not.
Next, I would work on new ways to manage your emotions when responding to your children. Approaches like deep breathing and relaxation can be a good start. Even reminding yourself to walk away when you’re feeling angry or frustrated can give you time to calm yourself down.
Lastly, both you and your children will need to find new ways to communicate. Programs like this one can be helpful as well as books like this one. Also, remind yourself that you are not in this alone. Your spouse as well as other parents in your life can help you to find the balance that you need.
Dear Overboard Father,
Why are you so angry? I’m sorry to hear about your childhood abuse. Your father’s abusive behavior was unacceptable and left an obvious emotional scar.
If you are pushing your children beyond their limits you aren’t showing them love. You are asserting authority that borders on abuse. Chores can be an effective way to teach a child responsibility, but extensive physical work? What lesson are you trying to teach them? If you want your children to be successful in life and school they need adequate sleep, nutrition, love, and encouragement, not long hours of tedious labor.
You resent your father for his behavior. Do you think they will resent you?
Instead of using chores as a punishment, make them a weekly responsibility so your children feel like valuable contributors to the household. If you want to teach them accountability, build up positive momentum when they’re doing the chores and encourage them! You can find a list of manageable age-appropriate chore recommendations here.
You resent your father for his behavior. Do you think they will resent you? If this is the worst fear you have, then it’s important that you address it NOW. Seek out an anger management counselor, or a therapist to help you channel your anger into a healthy response.