Worried you’re messing up your kids? You’re not alone.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Alex Strauss of Marlton, NJ, the #1 question asked by moms and dads is “Am I a bad parent?”
“There are very few clear-cut rights and wrongs when it comes to raising kids,” says Dr. Strauss. “Still, there are definitely instances when you might be engaging in bad parenting.”
Here are 10 of the most common scenarios that Dr. Strauss is asked about, followed by his insights and analysis.
Am I A Bad Mom If…
1. I Scream At My Kids… Like, A Lot
Screaming indicates that you’re stressed and haven’t found a better solution to your tough problems. It may seem “effective” in the short-term, but at what cost? There are extensive resources available online including the APA website on anger management and articles like How To Keep Cool With Your Kids which offer practical tips and techniques. However, if anger is becoming a serious problem in your life, you should consider talking to a therapist or clergy member. Remember, just like when you’re on an airplane and the stewardess instructs you to put on your oxygen mask before helping your children, the same is true for your mental health. You might be surprised how addressing your own issues can help you become a more effective parent.
Verdict: Yelling doesn’t make you a bad parent per se, but you and your kids would be happier if you sought out the tools to help you keep calm.
2. They Hate Me
If your goal is to have your child be your friend and be happy with you all the time, you’ve entered the wrong business. As parents we need to set limits for our children. When you prevent your adolescent from going to a party with drugs and alcohol, or when you cut them off from texting or using the web, they are likely to be upset and say they “hate” you. However, it’s important to realize that ‘hate’ and ‘love’ are intricately related. People often say they “hate” people who are truly close to them and have disappointed them in some way. It usually just takes a little time… a day, a week, a month (and yes, sometimes years), but if you’ve done a good job raising them, that hate will turn into love as your children realize you were looking out for them.
Verdict: if your kids hate you, you’re probably not a bad parent. Most likely you’re a good parent.
3. I Constantly Drop F- Bombs
So you’re talking on your phone and you absentmindedly drop an F-bomb while your kids are within earshot, or you stub your toe and rain down a flurry of curses that would make the devil blush. It happens. You’re not a verbal ninja and eventually we all slip up. The proper response is simply to tell them you made a mistake and that “mommy shouldn’t use language like that”. On the other hand, if you’re cursing around your kids because you simply don’t care, then you should be aware that your kids are going to mirror your language. Don’t be surprised to hear them start getting in trouble at school for dropping F-bombs themselves, or using F-bombs while arguing with their friends.
Verdict: A slip of the tongue can happen, but if you want polite children who don’t use bad language, you should hold yourself to the same standards.
4. They Don’t Have Any Friends
It can be really tough when your children are struggling, especially if you had friends as a child and are a social adult. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, but it may mean you have to work harder. Your child’s social life depends on you to a certain extent, from setting up play dates to enrolling them in clubs and sports. You have a direct influence on putting them in the right social settings, of creating opportunities for friendship that they might not be able to set up on their own. Additionally, there are many types of mental illness from autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety disorders and depression that your child may be struggling with. These conditions can significantly impact a child’s social functioning. Working with your child, their school and professionals can help them significantly, as can resources like CHADD.
Verdict: Not a bad a parent, but you may need to step up and do more to help your child engage socially.
5. I’m Never Home (They Call The Nanny Mom)
Never being home can induce strong feelings of guilt in moms, but in this day and age there are just so many different ways to raise a child. Each of us needs to decide either by choice or by force (i.e, you need money to pay the bills) how we want to raise our children and how involved we are going to be. If you chose to hire a nanny to raise your children, then they are a representative of you, and it would be my hope that they are doing a great job to the point your kids are comfortable enough to call them mom. If you feel guilty about it, then you may need to reevaluate your career aspirations; but if they are being raised well by a nanny or extended family member then you’re doing a good job providing your children with a great growth environment. Also, they will see you as hard-working and dedicated to a job and this sets a good example.
Verdict: You’re a good parent, who probably just hired a great nanny.
6. I Love My Husband More Than I Love Them
In 2004, mother of four Ayelet Waldman got absolutely crucified by the audience on The Oprah Winfrey Show when she stated that she loved her husband more than her kids. You can read about the chain of events here. But the fact is, this is a perfectly natural and even healthy feeling to have regarding your significant other. Your husband is the only family member you picked. Your in-laws, siblings, cousins and kids were not hand selected. As a therapist, I believe parents should have the freedom to feel the way they want to feel. It’s wonderful that you love your husband, and if you demonstrate love in front of your children, they will learn how to love and be loved in kind.
Verdict: A great lesson and good parenting.
7. I Smoke Or Drink With Them
It’s a great idea to bond with your children over mutual interests… however this is not one I’d recommend. Unfortunately, I see this type of parenting a lot. Parents say they would rather bond with their adolescents and use with them then fight about them not using. This is a terrible idea. Research shows that it teaches them that you support, endorse and reinforce their use of dangerous drugs and increases their risk for life-long problems.
Verdict: Kids brains are not the same as adult brains. Smoking and drinking with your children puts them in harm’s way and that’s bad parenting.
8. I Miss School Events Because Of Work
Working moms often feel this way compared to their stay-at-home-counterparts who are more involved in school activities. However, it’s not like we’re still in the 1960’s when almost half of mothers stayed home. In 2012 only 29% of mothers stayed home. Of course it’s nice to attend your child’s school events, but you’re likely working to support the family, pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Again, it sets a good example.
Verdict: Good parent.
9. I Compete With Them On Social Media
If you’re competing in a game like Words with Friends, well then that’s great. A little friendly competition can help children grow, learn and persevere. However, if you’re competing for popularity in the number of “likes” or the sexiest selfie, I might just have to say grow up. At some point you need to decide if you want to be a kid yourself or be a parent to your children.
Verdict: You can do whatever you want in your private adult life, but once you start competing with your kids for attention, you’re setting a bad example and blurring the lines between friend and parent.
10. I Fantasize About Leaving Them
First off all, there is a difference between fantasy and reality. Fantasy is a healthy way in which we can explore different ideas. Now, if you actually up and leave your kids, without maintaining any further contact with your children or spouse, that’s another story. And this does happen — there are mothers today (historically it’s been fathers) who determine that parenting is simply not for them. They leave the kids with dad and start a new life. First and foremost, I would encourage you to seek professional counseling and do everything in your power to maintain your relationship with your kids. However, if you ultimately make such a choice, consider that there are ways of ‘leaving’ your kids without really leaving them. You can choose to live locally which may allow your children to eventually spend some nights or weekends with you. If you decide to leave the area, you should still attempt to keep in contact via phone or skype. You also can invite your children out for weekends, holidays and vacations.
Verdict: Not a bad parent. You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you can raise a child.
Remember: just as we teach our children to learn from their mistakes, we as parents need to learn from ours. And just as we teach our children to ask for help when needed, we as parents need to ask for help.
Alex Strauss, M.D. is Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in both Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. He received his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He completed his Adult, Child and Adolescent residency and fellowship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), a part of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He has expertise in the use of psychiatric medication and psychotherapeutic techniques for the treatment of all age groups. He also has a special interest in the treatment of concussion and psychiatric illness in athletes. You can visit his website www.alexstraussmd.com for more information.