Why Do We Get So Defensive When Our Kids Complain About Us?

combative momWe parent-lunatics, as much as we are hard on ourselves about our parenting mistakes, can be remarkably defensive when our kids come to us with a complaint about the same. The purpose of this entry is to consider possible causes for this dynamic and to suggest some coping strategies.

Possible Causes

• We love our kids to a degree that is indescribable. I suspect there is part of us that believes that if they totally got this they’d cut us more slack. And, when they don’t, we imagine they are missing how much they mean to us.

• We bust our tails in service to our kids and we (perhaps unconsciously) believe that if they truly recognized that that they’d be more often keep their complaints to themselves. It’s almost like we voluntarily paved our driveway for a neighbor (and received only a brief “thanks” for the service). But then, when we walk on our neighbor’s lawn to retrieve a newspaper, get yelled at for damaging the grass. Yeah, we’ve committed an affront. But, the scolding seems to be missing the big picture!

• We often do better than was done for us by our parents. So, we want out kids working dadto say something like “Father, I so much appreciate that you had it tougher than me when you were growing up and are putting so much effort into rising above that and selflessly and graciously giving me a better childhood.” In these moments we forget that it’s more likely the family dog will sing the Star Spangled Banner.

• Our kids are WAY more self-entitled, irrational, ungrateful and unfair in their treatment of us than the other way around. So, when they come to us with their grievances we want to take out the scales of justice and do some objective analysis.

Coping Strategies

• The first thing is to give your child permission to complain and to express anger. This is not the same thing as allowing cursing or abusive language. But, creating a household where it’s safe to express such thoughts and feelings goes a long way to promoting your child’s long-term wellness and interpersonal skills.

blocking out stimuli• We all do well to remember that our children are exactly that: children. In other words, if your child’s brain was placed into a fully grown adult’s body, and a full battery of neuroimaging and neuropsychological were tests completed, the conclusion would likely be that brain damage exists.

• Sometimes when our self-care is out of balance it’s easy to look to our children to meet our needs. This leaves us vulnerable to overreacting to complaints (i.e., the outlet for my needs being met is being challenged). It’s probably better to make a plan to get some consistent “me” or “us” (i.e., parents) time.

• Taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective is helpful. Research suggests that our kids make less out of our conflicts than we do. When our kids come to us with lamentations about our parenting we can be more devastated, and think there is something much more wrong, than our kids do.

• Use empathy as much as possible. Just letting your kid know that you dadandsonunderstand what he or she is thinking and feeling can be very helpful. And, to be empathic with a position is not the same as to agree with it. It just lets your child know that you’ve heard and understand him or her, and that means a lot.

• This is the hardest part, but agreeing with any good points that your kid makes is very important to do. This will make it more likely that he or she won’t lie to you (i.e., what’s the good of bringing arguments to the bench if one never wins), models effective conflict resolution skills and strengthens your bond.

• Oh, and it’s probably not a good idea to expect much gratitude as long as your child has brain damage (see above). I know that’s very, very difficult given how selfless and gruelingly difficult parenting can be. But, we can always hope that this will come later, maybe after were dead, but at some point 😉

I’ll conclude by noting that the more years I get under my belt as a parent the more I have an empathic joining with one aspect of grandparenting. I CAN’T WAIT to see my kids in my shoes and to then go home to my childless residence! What’s that line about he who laughs last??

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