Being Human as a Parent
anonymous Asks ...
I was frustrated with my 11 year old daughter and I was just in a bad mood and at the end of my rope. She is a little heavy but she is healthy and active. She was pestering me to sleep over at her friend’s house and I had already said no and then I said something like all you’ll end up doing is eating chips and drinking coke all night and getting even fatter than you are already. I don’t have a clue why I said it but she burst into tears and ran to her room. I apologized but I don’t think I undid the damage. The last thing I want to do is make her feel self conscious about her weight. How do I undo the damage I did? I am the worst dad in America.
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
Good parents want what is best for their children. However, even good parents say and do things that are not the best. It is impossible to always say just the right thing and do the right thing, particularly as your child becomes an adolescent and as they move on to become a young adult. So the first response to a father who is dealing with a situation like this is to acknowledge your humanness. While what was said is not the best thing to have said and it is clear that your reaction came about from your emotions rather than from carefully thinking out how best to respond, this is far different than being the worst dad in America. Unfortunately, there are men in our country who show no love or affection towards their children; there are men who continually put down their child and have nothing that offset that; there are men who are not involved in their children's lives; there are men who...; the list goes on.
Your humanity and how you deal with it can be a positive force for your daughter. Even if your daughter has accepted your apology (which is not clear from the question), you can still sit down with her and talk about how your mood and frustration took the better of you and the types of things you plan to do to help improve for the future. Of course, before the talk you will need to think about the strategies you could have used that would have led to a different response. Talk to her about strategies such as creating space from a stressor so that you can be in control rather than allowing your emotions to control you, or calling upon resources from within your spirituality, or talking with the other person about how their "pestering" is actually making the answer firmer rather than changing it, or other techniques that you find helpful. In fact, you can even invite her to suggest other things you could have done that would have helped in the situation.
You describe your daughter as being "a little heavy" and this could mean anything from a couple of pounds over her ideal weight to the low range of obese. Obesity has become more of an issue for children in the United States. Is there obesity in your daughter's family? Being open about why you have concerns can be helpful. At the same time, acknowledging the positives of your daughter's health and activity is also important. As you discuss these things with your daughter it is important to make sure the tone of the conversation is one that conveys your love, care and concern for her. This was not present when you were frustrated. You can also help her with making choices that are better for her health. Have her have her friend over for a sleep over that you have planned together that has better choices being made. Be sensitive that she is already aware of her own situation and work to be in better partnership with her.
So, while you may want to address the issue of your daughter's weight at some point, the more important thing is to look at how you (and her) respond when under stress. Let her know you are not perfect and invite her into the solution for the future. As a parent, you are allowed to be human and as a human you will make mistakes. Because you make mistakes does not make you the worst parent in the world, but it does provide you the opportunity to grow and to help your child to grow.