A few years ago I was walking through the grocery store when I encountered a mom and her toddler who was giving her a run for her money. As we were both walking down the aisle, I could hear her whispering, “You can do it, Susan! Hang in there. Just a few more minutes.” 

At first I thought she was talking to her daughter, but then I realized she was encouraging herself in the midst of a hard moment with her child. I thought to myself, “You go girl!” I can remember plenty of hard moments, and just plain bad days with my daughter that I didn’t handle well. Even into a new day I found myself struggling to get over the bad day we had the day before.

Fortunately, I had some moms in my life who were further down the road in their parenting than I was. They didn’t judge me, which I am very thankful for. They did take me under their wing and offer some wise words to help me get over the bad days. Now, I’m passing their wisdom along to you, with a little of my own.

Realize that it’s not usually about you.

Believe me, I know it’s hard not to. When they act a fool in the checkout line or look straight at you and do exactly what you asked them not to do, it’s a challenge to remind yourself: it really isn’t about you. However, if you can train yourself to do this, it will be helpful.

Avoid beating yourself up.

We all have bad days, kids and parents alike. When your child is especially challenging, it can bring out the absolutely worst in us and it just goes downhill from there. The natural tendency hours later or the next day is to say, “If only I had…”  or to question your ability to be a good parent. None of this is helpful to you or your child.

Acknowledge your emotions.

Listen, parenting isn’t a walk in the park. Tell me something I don’t know, right? Some stages are more challenging than others. I remember calling a friend after a particularly bad day with my daughter. I was crying, actually sobbing and I said, “I’m an utter and complete failure at parenting.” She point blankly said, “No, you are not a failure. You just haven’t figured out what works yet with your daughter.” Then she talked me down off the ledge. 

There literally may be days where you are asking, “Where do I go to resign?” because you are angry, resentful, hopeless, and exhausted. Believe it or not, it’s very helpful to say those things out loud or to write them on a piece of paper.

Look for underlying issues.

For example, COVID-19 quarantine has had all of us out of sync from our normal routines. As adults, we can talk about how much we don’t like not knowing what tomorrow will bring. But for a child, especially a young child, while they pick up on your stress and anxiety, they aren’t able to verbalize it, so they act it out. Hence your very own child creating their own version of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” A death in the family, something happening to your dog, overhearing you fighting with your spouse—any number of things can bring on a bad day.

Seek to restore the relationship.

Once you have taken a moment (or a few hours) to calm down, find your child and apologize straight up. Don’t add on, “but if you had done what mommy asked…” Just apologize. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” You might say, “If that happens again, let’s do things differently,” and calmly talk through a better way to handle the behavior or the day. All of this models behavior you want your child to learn and the skills they need for healthy relationships.

Spend some time together doing something fun.

After apologizing and spending a little time talking about what happened, find a way to spend some calm, easygoing time together. Take a walk, play with blocks, read a book (The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions is a great read), play “I Spy” or make cookies together.

Never underestimate the power of a hug.

Adults and children alike need them, especially after a bad day. Even if you aren’t completely over the bad day, you still want to avoid withholding hugs. Loving, physical touch can be as healing as spoken words.

There will be days when you don’t like your child’s behavior or your own for that matter. However, don’t confuse not liking their behavior with not liking or loving them. Our children need to know that even on their very best or worst day, there isn’t anything they could do that would make us love them more or less. 

For the most part, I am on the other side of the bad days. In the midst of them, I often questioned my Fit Mom Card, and I had a hard time believing there were better days ahead. In case nobody else is saying it to you—you are a good mom. Even on your worst day, you’re a good mom. Stop telling yourself otherwise. It’s a wild ride. We all have moments we want to forget. It is unlikely your child will hold your bad days against you, especially if you put into practice what we have talked about.

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