I'm not a perfect parent; not even close. While I would never intentionally hurt my children in any way, there have been times when I didn't realize I shamed them, usually for something that could have long-term consequences. I fear those moments might change the core of who they are, so after some late night reflection I feel nothing short of regret.
My kids are fantastic. They're growing into intelligent, independent little powerhouses and yet, most of what sticks out in my mind aren't all the memories of our heartfelt conversations or the intricately thought out life lessons but, instead, times I raised my voice a little too high, times my tolerance level was a little too low, and times I said things out of frustration and without thinking.
I'm sure a lot of parents have moments like these where, at the time, you're doing the best you know how. You can't raise people without making a few (read: many) errors. However, I want to learn from past parenting mistakes and be more mindful of what I say and how I say it so, in the future, my kids don't feel the shame that comes with so many of the sentiments below. With that, here are some of the ways you might not realize you're shaming your kids, so the next time we can all learn and be better parents than we were the day before.
You Tell Them You're Busy
I rarely if ever realize how many times I've said, "I'm busy," to my children, until I say it for the 20th time and my kids call me out on it. Because I work from home, my job has few boundaries. I work seven days a week, and while I try to stick to mostly days, my work can bleed into my evenings. I understand my kids need me so when I say "I'm busy" frequently, what I'm really conveying is that I'm too busy for them. Eventually, they'll stop asking for my help at all and then it'll be too late to fix it.
The shame they must feel when their own mother has little or no time for them (I do, but it might not seem that way to them at times), and they continue asking and reaching out anyway, just breaks my heart. This is why, at the end of every day and before they go to bed, I make a point to give them 100 percent of my attention. Maybe I'm not perfect, but I'm learning.
You Shout At Them To "Hurry Up"
Even when I don't mean to, if we're in a rush I tell my kids to hurry up. While this may seem innocent enough, what's actually happening is I'm only revealing my frustration while it never, in fact, makes them move any faster. All kids move at different paces and by shouting and yelling and griping over how late we're running, the better solution would be for me to inspire by action. If my son is having trouble tying his shoes, I can ask to help with the laces. If my daughter is missing her notebook, I can remind her to set it in a place she remembers the next time.
Kids are notorious for getting lost in their own, little worlds and losing track of time — a time I so wish I could go back to, myself. What I'm learning is to let my kids be kids so not to cast shame for doing typical things kids do. In the end, the ones I'm hurting, are them.
Drawing Out A Punishment
Saying things like, "Just wait until your father gets home," as a means to extend a punishment doesn't help much. If anything it's another way you're unintentionally shaming your children. If they're young enough like my 5-year-old old, he wouldn't remember what he did to deserve the punishment by the time his daddy is home.
If it's an older child, like my 10-year-old daughter, it gives her a lot of time to feel guilt — maybe an unnecessary amount of time. By dragging it out it makes me feel like I'm some kind of tyrant who enjoys watching them sit in misery. This will make them resent me, not respect me. I love my babies and am trying to find the best ways to teach them without shaming them.
You Use Unintentional Comparisons
My two kids couldn't be any more different and looking back, it was the same with my younger brother and me. Everyone compared his athleticism to my lack thereof and my creativity to his. No matter who was talking about us, it never failed to make one of us feel bad about whatever it was we weren't good at (despite the fact that we were both talented in our own ways).
Each child has their own temperament, disposition, and personality, so to compare one's achievements or failures to the other would't be fair. While most parents mean no harm when saying things like, "If only he could be more compassionate like his sister," it doesn't change who "he" is. All it does is cause a deep sense of shame for not living up to the impossible standard — to be like someone else — that's been set.
You Ask Them To Stop Crying
A natural response when you're feeling overwhelmed by the situation is to tell your child to stop crying. My daughter happens to be overly dramatic and very emotional, so she cries at the drop of a hat. At times, it wears on me. It's not that I don't want her to feel those feelings but I fear for her thin-skin and hope for her to toughen up so the world doesn't eat her up.
However, when I tell her to stop crying, I'm actually telling her that her emotions and feelings aren't valid. I'm actually telling her that she shouldn't express herself, because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
You Speak Of Weight Too Often
This should definitely be another one listed under "things I didn't realize." I only noticed my daughter's recent shame with her weight after seeing the scale pulled out one morning. I'm a competitive runner so, of course, I track my weight before and after runs so I know how much I need to refuel afterwards. But it's my use of the scale without full explanation, coupled with a never-ending weight battle within all female members of my family, that have maybe spilled over into my daughter's self-esteem.
I grew up with everyone always on a diet or going to meetings over their food issues and health problems due to weight. I certainly try to be more mindful with the whole weight topic in the future, so she doesn't have the same battles throughout her life. It's about being healthy. I just need to be a better advocate in making sure she understands and feels comfortable in her own skin.
You Say "I'll Do It"
It's natural to want to jump in and take over when your child is in the middle of doing something and you can see he, or she, is frustrated with. In doing this, we're showing them we don't trust they can figure it out. I'm a self-admitted helicopter parent but even still, I try to let them make their own mistakes when I can. If I jump in every chance, they not only won't learn how to forge onward without me, they'll feel shame in knowing I didn't believe in them.
We're all doing the best we can. We navigate with no instructions and (hopefully) learn from the things that aren't working. The point is, if you realize there are times you've shamed your child, resolve to do better the next time. Kids are resilient and genuinely compassionate to the mistakes we make— but only if we give them the chance to be.