3 Reasons Parents get Frustrated with Children

mushroom shaped cloudLast week I shared the story about me getting angry with the older boys and taking a time out by leaving the house for a while. It wasn’t a fun day, but things worked out better than I would have predicted.

John’s comment under the post really got me thinking. Here’s part of it: Walking away definitely makes sense sometimes. It is surprising how challenging it is for families to get along without getting really frustrated.

Boy, that really got me thinking. Why do families get so frustrated with each other?

Let’s split this into two questions: Why do parents get frustrated with children? and Why do children get frustrated with parents?

Today we can talk about the first question, and we’ll dig into the other one soon. So. Why do parents get frustrated with children? I see 3 different reasons. Entitlement, ineffective discipline, and challenging behavior problems on the part of the child.

Entitlement

Many times in life people will say “I have a right to (insert benefit here)”. For example, I may say “I have a right to a clean house.” The truth is, a clean house is neither a constitutional nor a fundamental right in any sense of the word. What I’m really saying is “I believe I’m entitled to a clean house.”

Now, feeling entitled to something isn’t wrong in many cases. But when I start to believe that a benefit is rightfully mine AND I get angry when I don’t receive that benefit, then I’m straying from the straight and narrow. If I believe that I am entitled to well-behaved children, it’s easy to get angry when they’re not well-behaved. No child can be perfect. Acting as though they can and should be is wrong on my part and will lead to frustration when they fail to attain expectations that are too high.

I am right to believe that my children should be honoring and obeying their parents, and that they should behave themselves at all times. But I’m not entitled to that obedience, and I should not get upset with them when they prove their humanity by being imperfect.

When I left the house last week, I called a friend who is tremendously wise. One of the things she reminded me was that God wants me to do my best as a parent but He never promised that my children would turn out as I want. They are separate individuals and I don’t get to control their destiny. This? A hard pill to swallow. I’m working on it.

Ineffective Discipline

My friend also reminded me that as human beings we all resist change until a situation becomes painful enough. We don’t go on a diet until we dislike the way we look or feel. In the same way, a child isn’t going to change annoying behavior unless there’s a pretty good reason. All of us behave in ways to get payoffs. Until you remove the payoff or add in painful consequences, the behavior will stay the same.

Case in point: TechnoBoy and Captain Earthquake are experts at pushing one another’s buttons. Drives me crazy! And of course they routinely dragged me into it. “Mooo-ommmmmm! Will you tell him to stop making that noise?” Ugh. I couldn’t stand it! And they wouldn’t quit. It took a lot of careful thinking, but I finally figured out that the most painful thing is for them to spend extra time together. After all, THEY should be solving this problem, not me. So! I explained that the next time they fight, I would handcuff them together for 30 minutes. If that doesn’t help them get along, then the next time they fight we’d try it for 60 minutes, and the time would double every argument.

Wouldn’t you know it? Not one argument since I made that announcement. Not one.

Heh.

Challenging Behavior Problems

Thus far I’ve given reasons that hold parents responsible for the frustration. That’s because parents are the adults, children have brains that are not yet fully developed, and as such, the parents are the ones who should be acting like grown-ups.

However, it’s true that some children are strong-willed and have more serious problems with which to deal. In those cases, seeking professional help and parenting classes can often help.

Coming soon: reasons why children get frustrated with parents.

Earnest Parenting: Help for parents who care about being the best.

photo courtesy of de rigueur, via Creative Commons license

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  1. “They are separate individuals and I don’t get to control their destiny. ”

    I totally agree with that line. I think sometimes as parents with can get so frustrated by a situation that we want to control it and control our children. The thing is, we wouldn’t do this with other adults so why would we do it with our children? Stepping away and reassessing can be a great way to get a grip on a situation and I also think it can help us not add drama or get sucked into our children’s issues.

    I also agree with you too that children should work out their issues between each other instead of a parent always intervening. I think its good that parents do but it should be to aid in discussion on how they can settle their differences so eventually they can work things out between themselves without a mediator. I think those are great skills to learn.

    • Marie, they are great skills but SO difficult to implement! It takes conscious effort and focus every day.

      I love your point about us not trying to control other adults. You’re right. I think there is some wiggle room there, because I’m not ultimately responsible for the actions of other adults the way I am for my children. At least when they’re young. It makes sense to me to view it as a continuum to slide across. At birth, I have total control. When they’re 18, I’ve gradually slid the controls over to them.

      Boy, that’s a scary thought!

    • Excellent point, Tanya! Carrying a grudge in any form only hurts everyone. Showing respect can be difficult sometimes (my pride can get in the way), but it’s awfully nice to be able to look them in the eye and say, “I get up every day and treat you well and cheerfully. Are you doing the same?”

  2. Whaaaaat… My children wont’ turn out how I want.. oh…….right. ok. moving on. ..

    My daughter is at the stage where is ‘hates me’ all the time… then cuddles up and says I love you Mommy. both are true. She’s working hard to find her independence while being a little girl. so it’s a tough time for her to work out the feelings. I have to stay the adult. don’t freak out when she throws a tantrum, or says she hates me, as that would create a huge drama in the house. I let her feel her feelings, and I feel mine. and it clears the air.. without the drama.

    (in my mind anyway)

    • Michelle, I’m glad you can go through that without the drama. I bet some day you see a payoff in depth and maturity and think “whew, that was worth it”.

      I’m still wrapping my mind around the I don’t get to control how they turn out thing. It’s not the career path that bothers me. As long as they don’t choose politics, I’m fine with anything they want. Garbage collector….rocket scientist….whatever. Doesn’t matter. But how they develop as individuals, that’s a big deal. I know how I want their hearts to develop, and letting go of that is harder. The thing is, I think if I do let go of it and trust them to grow into the men I know they can be, they’re more likely to actually do that. It’s a lot about letting them instead of trying to force it. You know?

  3. Amy

    The biggest problem is….they don’t tell you this stuff BEFORE you have your kids…only AFTER. And then it’s too late!

    I’ve found there are no rule books…there are no guides…as a parent you can only do what you feel is best. And sometimes your best will be the wrong thing to do!

    Andrew
    Andrew @ Blogging Guide´s last blog post ..How Blogging Can Help You Sell

    • Andrew, I think you’re right on all counts. I think if there was one thing every parent should know, it’d be point 3: “sometimes your best will be the wrong thing to do.” It’s not an easy thing to accept, but realizing that we’re human and going to make mistakes helps keep life more realistic, you know?

  4. Love it Amy. the handcuffs. I did that to my 2 oldest girls once. they just kept hitting each other and I couldn’t get them to stop no mattter what I did or said. One day I had all I could take and got out the handcuffs. Handcuffed them together and sit them in the middle of the room. Told them that now they could just hit each other as much as they wanted, I really didn’t care. Took the fun right out of it and stopped the hitting for good. Glad i am not the only one that has done this. LOL

    I do admit sometimes you just have to walk away, so you dont hurt the little buggers. Been there.
    Thanks for sharing Amy and you put a smile on my face. Parents do have to be creative at times to survive.
    Debbie

    • Debbie I’ll admit that I have threatened the handcuffing again instead of following through and actually doing it. Very bad to be so inconsistent, but to be honest I don’t want to do it. Mainly because the two having an issue aren’t the same age and I’m concerned about putting that much responsibility on the older one. But I’ll do it if I absolutely have to. When the older boys were about 7 I refused to step in and stop them from beating the tar out of one another and that sure slowed down a lot of the fighting. They were counting on me to rescue them and when I didn’t they reacted just like your girls. They quit.

  5. You closed with this statement, AMY –

    “Thus far I’ve given reasons that hold parents responsible for the frustration. That’s because parents are the adults, children have brains that are not yet fully developed, and as such, the parents are the ones who should be acting like grown-ups.”

    I have heard this said in a meaner way – a lot.

    I make the rules around here. When you have your own house – you can make the rules.

    By the way, I am entitled to a clean house too.

    • Oh Corinne, I hope that I didn’t come off as mean! I meant that parents are the ones who should be held more responsible for their actions, whereas children should by default be assigned more latitude. Parents who are frustrated with their children should look to themselves first for both the root of the problem and the solution.

      Please enjoy your much-entitled clean house. I don’t have one of those yet. :)

  6. Very interesting Amy, I’m more interested in it now that I will become a parent myself in the next week or two! I might have to buy some handcuffs in preparation if he doesn’t get along with our cat :)
    Joel´s last blog post ..Creating Blog Addiction

    • LOLOLOL. Joel yours was the first comment I read today after a long and busy day and oh my goodness I didn’t see that coming! I’m so excited about your impending baby! How cool is that?!? Congratulations!!! I’ll be laughing about your poor cat for a while.

  7. My take on why parents get frustrated with children is more about getting frustrated than with children. My reason for saying so is my wife and I had the same child, but we weren’t frustrated the same [at all :-]. If acting frustrated is tolerated or held up as model behavior, the “excuses” for doing so will be plentiful – maybe more plentiful when kids are around … for sure :-]. If acting frustrated is seen as something to be avoided, the reasons for doing so are equally plentiful – kids or not. I guess my point is, it takes the same amount of work to be frustrated [with one’s kids] as it does to remain grateful [to have one’s kids].
    – Beat

    • Beat that’s an interesting poing. I don’t think that acting frustrated is a good parenting model, I was just exploring the whole idea. Not sure I agree that it’s as easy to be frustrated as it is to be grateful. I find frustration a much easier response than gratefulness when things get tough. It’s something I’m working on.

  8. My children are now all away at University, but return quite frequently. So now they are young adults are relationship is different – but sometimes you still get very frustrated! Surprised your handcuff statement didn’t lead to some embarrassing questions, but perhaps they have different purposes in the US!!!
    David Rogers´s last blog post ..Self Confidence more useful than Self Esteem

  9. Hi Amy,
    I’m glad that you took a time out – for yourself – rather than just stay in the situation boiling mad. Whether it’s kids or adults, we seem to get more frustrated when we think we have the right to have control over how others behave. The RIGHT! When I forget that being in other people’s lives is a privilege, not a right, then I’m able to take a deep breath, leave the situation (very important to take this break) and then sort out why I’m feeling so frustrated. There’s usually something else going on that is bothering me.

    If all else fails, I like your clap them in irons solution :)

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  11. Just wondered if you had a chance to see the photo of the 2 kids wearing a large t shirt (with another hole for 2 heads). On the shirt it read “Get along shirt”. They looked pretty unhappy. Just a thought.

  12. I just stumbled on this article, and it has some good advice. I feel frustrated, mostly, because I put all of my time, energy, heart, and soul into parenting, but I feel like I’m failing at it. I can see elements of all three of the points you listed: my children have extra issues (special needs, etc.), I feel entitled that they should reach certain milestones (especially potty training, at 5 and 3.5 we haven”t gotten anywhere and it’s wearing on me), one of my kids is afraid of eating solid food which makes every meal a battle. My discipline techniques are not effective, partially because I’m at a lost as to when something is a discipline issue, and when its a sensory issue or the like. I also have a hard time with consistency because I’m more of a creative than organized person, and I can’t follow a schedule to save my life!

    Anyway, we are getting professional help on several fronts, and hopefully it will get better when they mature a bit. I just thought there would be more good parts to having kids. Every week we try to do something fun (kids’ museums, etc.), but it’s always awful. They yell at us the whole care ride, they both have an accident, and have to be cleaned up, I forget something important causing my husband or I to have to leave in the middle to go get it, the kids won’t obey the rules of wherever they are at and I feel like a broken record trying to stop them while everybody stares at me…

    Ever since I became a parent, I just feel like crying all the time. I think maybe I feel entitled that we should have fun as a family.

    • Alice, my heart goes out to you.

      I wrote that post over 2 years ago, and it was very interesting to go back and read it now that so much time has passed. I don’t see anything wrong with saying, “this is hard and I don’t feel great right now”. That’s certainly been true for me a lot in life.

      There are good parts to parenting. Really. Mostly it’s just moments. You grab them when they come and hold on tight, because they’re sure to be followed by hours of difficulty.

      I have found that when I accept and even embrace my limitations, life gets easier. There is freedom in not trying to run to the latest and greatest activity when I know that my kids won’t like it or for some other reason it’ll be a disaster. Finding success in the small things gave us strength to try bigger things. Your kids are little. They’re not going to remember if they went to a museum at this age. They will, however, remember the sensation of a peaceful and happy life. Go for that. Don’t worry about being SuperMom.

      The older the boys have gotten, the more I have seen the wisdom in taking my time to figure things out, and in not reacting with any emotion to the situations put before me. The calmer I am, the calmer they are. Just yesterday 2 of them woke me up from a sound sleep having a huge argument. So I sent them both to their rooms and took a few minutes to wake up. We took our time to figure things out from there.

      We had a minor issue with foods with The Manager. I instituted the “No Thank You Helping” that my mom invented for my sister. The child is given a very small bite of whatever the objectionable food is. They only have to eat that one tiny bite. If they don’t like the food at that point, they can be excused from eating it. It did take a lot of insisting, but eventually he got with the program and will try new things now. You know. Some of the time.

      The truth is, you’re not going to get everything right as a parent. None of us will. Forgive yourself, and do your best again next time. Pick one battle to deal with and deal with it. Ignore the rest. Once that is under control, move on to a new one.

      I hope that you’re able to look back at this in 2 years and realize that you’re a different person in a better place.