Confession: Parenting is Hard (Even for the Experts)

By , Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt, Ph.D.
Even though I consider myself to be a parenting expert, with multiple degrees on my wall and years of research under my belt, no textbook or research study could ever prepare me for my role as a parent.

A couple of weeks ago, my 8-year-old son had an outburst (that’s what I’ve termed it), which could be likened to a 3-year-old tantrum with a 13-year-old attitude.  I told him to go to his room.  He answered, ''I am not going to my room.''  I tried to calmly explain that there would be consequences for his behavior.  To this, he responded, ''I don’t care.''  I reminded him that his behavior was rude and inappropriate.  He replied, ''No, yours is.''  Through all of this, he went between being defiant and crying.  We covered a lot of ground.  As I went along, I searched my brain using terms like ''discipline,'' ''defiance,'' ''authoritative parenting.''  My searches eventually came back with ''no results found.''  I was at a complete loss.

Within a couple of days of my realization that parenting was more difficult than I thought and that I was the model for failed parenting, I happened to be on the phone with my friend and colleague who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and two school-aged children of her own.  I learned that our boys, who are six months apart, had both recently relocated to a parallel universe. And, quite frankly, we were both stumped.

It was not until a week or so after the outburst (and some serious consequences and follow-up discussions) that I learned that there are times when we simply do not know what to do as a parent.  We do the best we can.  We try to remain calm.  We try to be the adult and maintain control.  We remind ourselves just how much we love that little person who transformed into another person before our eyes.  We pray.  We bargain.  But sometimes, our heads do spin and the world seems completely out of control.  And I am here to tell you that it's okay

My advice this week is to forgive yourself for those moments when you did not have the answer.  For every 100 episodes we face with our children, there will undoubtedly be a few in which we find ourselves utterly clueless about how to respond in order to have the appropriate impact.  Be a parent; do the best you can.  But, remember, sometimes you just need to give yourself a break and know there will be a next time to redeem yourself!   

Have your kids ever ''stumped'' you?  How did you handle it?  Are you forgiving of yourself?  Or, do you think too long and too hard about those moments when you maybe didn’t do the right thing or didn’t act quickly enough in the moment?    

Michelle Stroffolino Schmidt is Chairperson of the Department of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on social and emotional development in childhood and adolescence. She has published research on parent-child attachment, friendship, peer relations, bullying, and mentoring. She has also done consulting work with schools as part of their bullying prevention and intervention programs. Michelle recently published the book Friendships in Childhood and Adolescence (Guilford Press), which explores the significance of friendship from toddlerhood through adolescence. The book examines factors that contribute to positive friendships, how positive friendships influence children’s lives, and interventions for those who have friendship difficulties. Michelle is the mother of a 7-year-old son, William, and a 2-year-old bulldog named Eve. She enjoys yoga, kayaking, writing, and cooking.