Is it normal to have a bad day with your kids? Do traffic lights seem to turn red when you’re in a hurry? Does your baby seem to poop in their diaper two minutes before you need to leave the house or, worse, in their potty-training underwear? Does your 5-year-old son say they have to use the bathroom five minutes into a long road trip?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

No one wants to have a bad day, especially when little people depend on you for their wellbeing. And we do everything we can to prevent our little people from having bad days. But guess what? Sometimes they happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There are days where you’re less patient, more irritable, snappy and short, tired, or sluggish. It’s part of life. You’re human, and life happens. We experience stressful seasons at work, deal with pain and loss, and have unexpected circumstances pop up. Sometimes, you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You’re not your usual self, and you take it out on your children. You fuss at them for being a kid. You over-punish them for making too much noise. Or you snap at them for bothering… I mean wanting your attention. Maybe I’m projecting my experiences and the experiences of the parents I know onto you. If so, I apologize.

Let’s not even talk about your kids having a bad day where nothing you do seems to help. Those days where your 4-year-old is just constantly whining, your 6-year-old breaks everything he touches, and your 8-year-old can’t get along with anyone, including you.

I could give you story after story of my bad days, and bad days my seven kids have had. In fact, that’s how I let go of the pressure of not having a bad day. I talked to other parents in the same season or a little further along in their parenting journey, and heard their stories. I saw their laughter. And most importantly, I noticed their relationship with their child wasn’t negatively affected by their bad days. In some cases, the relationship seems to have been strengthened by them.

Crazy, isn’t it? Bad days can strengthen your relationship?

Some of our bad days have resulted in laughable memories, like the time my spouse, myself, and my 3-year-old daughter were at a friend’s house. We were filming a promotional video about parenting. Ironic, to say the least. I was frustrated because work was stressful that day; I got home late, they weren’t ready to go, we were stopped by every traffic light, I got pulled over for speeding, and of course, we were late. And my daughter cried while we were there for a solid hour and a half. 

To this day, we don’t know why. (I’m still not sure how we got the filming completed. She wasn’t scheduled to be filmed, thank goodness.) She was having a bad day. I was trying to pacify her bad mood in the midst of my own frustrations with no success.

We look back on that day and laugh. It was stressful at the moment. I struggled for a few days because the cat was let out of the bag with everyone there… We’re NOT PERFECT PARENTS. We were late. I was clearly flustered. And my daughter cried forever. 

What eased my struggles?

A couple of days later, I was talking to several parents who heard the story. They started sharing their bad days. For 20 minutes straight, parents kept adding their stories, sharing their experiences, and laughing. 

On its own, this may not have been spectacular. Some of them were older parents (aka grandparents) who were talking about their kids: friends of mine that I have the utmost respect for as people, friends, and citizens. I could see the richness of their parent-child relationships. I could see the love, emotional connection, respect, and care in their relationships. And, I could see that the best relationships often happen through the bad days. 

My 13-year-old daughter and I still laugh about that “horrible” night. And when we do, she and her six siblings start telling stories of some of my bad days.

Days I may have fussed at them for no good reason or gone overboard in punishment for a minor offense or an offense they didn’t even commit.

  • I realized having a bad day was not a reflection on my parenting skills. 
  • Bad days haven’t altered my course of life or my children’s. 
  • I wasn’t always to blame. And even on the days where I was the catalyst behind my bad day, it didn’t make me a horrible parent.

In the midst, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously as a parent. My kids have learned that their parents are human and make mistakes. What’s most important is the relationship, not getting everything just right. I don’t ever wake up planning to have bad days. In the midst of the bad days, I often don’t realize it’s happening. 

Sometimes there’s acknowledgment and apologies that follow a bad day. Sometimes there’s laughter. 

There are often talks where we have to correct behavior and help adjust a mindset. Sometimes there are consequences my children experience because how they were feeling doesn’t excuse the behavior. 

With experience, you learn ways to shorten a bad day and help your child get through it. 

Bad days are part of the relationship-building process, and they will occur with anyone you’re spending that much time with. Remembering that will help you use your bad days to embrace everyone’s humanity. Ultimately this strengthens your relationship, one apology and one story at a time. And if not, call my kids; they’ll make you feel a whole lot better about your bad day.

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