I lost my temper with my daughter. I feel I’m failing as a parent

The Guardian
2020-04-28 | Since 5 Month

The dilemma I’m a single mother of two. My 11-year-old daughter and I have constant disputes and I feel I’m failing at parenting. I don’t think it’s normal to engage in blow-ups at her age and I don’t want this to be our relationship. I work and find it very hard to balance everything. I can be quite tired and emotionally spent and then not have the patience I need to be the mum I want to be. I’m not happy with the fact that recently I smacked my daughter. I know I need help.

A few years back we did a class together that was supposed to bring us closer, and it was great. However, things have gone bad again now that she’s getting older. Her dad and I don’t get along well, so I have no back-up from him and never had any while we were living together. We just aren’t on the same page when it comes to parenting.

I know my daughter needs more of my time, so the other day I took her out for dinner. It was just us and we had fun. The trouble is I don’t have a great deal of free time with the house, the cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries and working on top of that, too.

Mariella replies Of course you don’t. That’s why your letter is so heartbreaking. You clearly love your daughter and I’m so glad that you chose to write all the way from Australia. I’m not an expert on the law where you live, but I have checked and it is legal to smack your children, provided it is “reasonable”. However, if you act “unreasonably” you may be committing an assault. Letting the state dictate what’s “reasonable” or not in your family life may seem a slippery slope, but the reality is that hitting children is a form of domestic violence and should be treated as such.

It sounds as if it has only happened once and that may well be what’s prompted you to write. I hope that is the case, because it means you have the sense to see it for what it is: an unacceptable escalation in the already difficult relationship that exists between you and your child. It mustn’t continue, as you are clearly aware, so my first move would be finding a helpline or counsellor to provide you with coping suggestions and practical help on how to communicate better (a good place to start is raisingchildren.net.au). It may feel like an extra burden on your already stretched schedule, but your time with your daughter is finite. These are precious years that you don’t want to squander in unnecessary acrimony. Before you know it, she’ll be out the door and off on her own, so this important crossroads won’t exist forever.
That you are struggling is obvious and the reasons for it are not only understandable but commonplace. We live in a pressured world where making ends meet while raising healthy, happy kids is an everyday challenge. Try to remember that, as the eldest, her susceptibility to your stresses is far greater than you realise.

Your daughter is also stepping toward her teens, a process that often begins earlier when parental separation occurs. It bears repeating that there are two phases in our lives when hormones play havoc and rationality goes out the window. One is unfairly reserved for mature women as they approach menopause, the other is in adolescence. In youth, with the sufferer lacking the behavioural restraint and self-discipline that maturity brings, it can be a patience-sapping process for a parent to work through the throes of their child’s biological turmoil. The most constructive advice I can offer is not to make it personal, or take it personally.

You say you don’t have support from her father, and perhaps this seems like a misfortune, but bear in mind that it could actually be a blessing not to have to negotiate the extra discord provoked by differing approaches to child-rearing.

I can recommend two of the many books that are out there that offer insight into teenagers. One of my favourites is Get Out of My Life… But First Take Me and Alex into Town by Suzanne Franks. Not only does the title offer much-needed levity, but instead of giving out rules to fail at, the book tries to explain what is happening. Similarly, The Teenage Brain by Frances E Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt has some pulse-reducing scientific illumination to offer.

Spare time is something we’re supposedly reacquainting ourselves with during the lockdown, but anyone trying to balance parenting, domestic duties and any leftover crumbs of employment will appreciate that it’s in ever-diminishing supply. For better or for worse, bringing babies into the world comes with the expectation that you’ll deliver on your side of the bargain. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by what life demands of you and, as a single mum of two, you’ll know that better than anyone. You have my sympathy and my understanding, but the weight is still on your shoulders. Instead of trying to cram it all in, you need to work out what you can afford to let slip. And, as we both know, your relationship with your child is non-negotiable.


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