Unrealistic Expectations as Parental Anger Triggers

**This is a guest post by Jennifer of Hybrid Rasta Mama**

Unrealistic Expectations as Parental Anger Triggers originally appeared here. This version has been updated.

Parenting is one of the most stressful jobs you will ever undertake. Each stage of a child’s growth and development has its stressors. However, I believe that parents often add to these stressors by placing unrealistic and unfair expectations on their children. When these expectations go unmet or challenged, parental anger can creep in.

In an effort to assist parents in managing parental anger, I would like to highlight those expectations that I see as having the potential to lead to stress and anger. My hope is that as parents, you will take a look at how you interact with and parent your children as well as your mindset on these areas and see if your expectations are indeed causing you to feel stress and anger towards your children.

For parents of infants, there is a lot of talk around “getting baby to sleep through the night.” The reality is that every child is different. Some may easily sleep 4-5 hours at a time by the time they are three months old. Other children will not sleep all night until they are three or four years old. The pressure to figure out why your child is not sleeping through the night like Aunt Matilda said she would is totally unnecessary. Accept your child’s sleeping abilities and do what you can as a parent to make sleep a confortable, desirable activity. Stressing out and getting angry at your child for something he or she cannot control is neither healthy nor productive for either of you.

Toddlers bring a new set of challenges to the table. They are into everything, all of the time. Their energy seems unlimited. Naps and nighttime sleep can take a turn for the worse. “No” becomes a favorite word. Limits are tested. Tantrums from frustration are common. Parents will set themselves up to fail if they try to curb these typical toddler tendencies. To keep parental stress and anger in check, it is advisable to learn and practice effective methods of gentle guidance, positive discipline, and peaceful parenting. A power struggle or battle of the wills will not end well for either the parent or the toddler.

School age children become extremely inquisitive, more aware of their preferences and ability to express them, as well as their awareness of their parents’ hot buttons. Parents will more gracefully move through the school years if they are aware of the developmental and cognitive stages their child is in. Again, getting angry at a child for asking questions during the inquisitive seven year old stage is harmful to the spirit of the child.

Teenagers are just one big challenging package as hormones rage out of control and the desire to pull away from their parents takes hold in a big way! Anger in parenting can really rear its ugly head during the teenage years. Rebellion and a personality shift in your child can be something a parent takes very personally. Continuing to parent from a place of love and warmth is essential during these years.

Here are some more specific unrealistic/unfair expectations that I see as triggers to parents to losing their cool or completely blowing a fuse:

  • Feeling entitled to a break from parenting and then getting angry at your children for disrupting your “me time” plans. Yes, all parents need some sort of time away from their children to become refreshed as a parent. However, you are still a parent 24/7 and as such, need to be aware that sometimes “me” time will have to take a back seat to your child’s immediate needs. A sick child should not be made to feel guilty for ruining mommy’s lunch date and is certainly not worth any feelings of anger that mom might be festering.
  • Children are incredibly messy. Whether you are dealing with a toddler or a teen, a child’s lack of housekeeping skills becomes an issue for many parents. Parents can model good housekeeping skills but should be aware that most children will not fully come into their own with housekeeping until they are adults themselves. Allowing children the opportunity to help with household duties from an early age will set a solid foundation for better housekeeping but will in no way assure that said child will engage in daily household chores and routine cleaning of their personal space. In addition, if one or both parents are messy or disorganized, it is unfair to require a higher level of cleanliness from your child. Getting angry, yelling and punishing your child for not adhering to your standards of cleanliness will do more harm than good. Work WITH your child and find creative ways to engage them in the cleaning process. At the end of the day, this is not an issue worth getting your blood pressure up over.
  • Children are noisy. They do not have volume control until they are 21. Seriously. I have read many a study indicating this. Expecting a child to use their “inside voices” is unreasonable. An inside voice sounds very different to children than it does to adults. In addition, if parents yell at their children or at each other then get mad when their children yell, it is setting a double standard in place that will only end up with an angry parent.
  • Caring for children requires that you do many repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Yes, the “again, again” phrase can get rather agitating and yes, it can be boring and frustrating to read the same story five times or play the same game all afternoon. However, children learn through repetition and they are SLOW. They have no concept of hurry up. They exist in the moment. Parents who understand this concept and accept it rather than fight it or get annoyed by it will likely have less stress from a dawdling child or a child pulling on your leg saying “again, again.”
  • Children are not aware of their parents’ level of stress. We cannot expect our children to be sensitive to our “fragile states” when we’ve had all we can handle. Getting angry at them for agitating us further simply by being a child is immature and poor parenting. Shelving our stress momentarily and being present for our children is extremely important.
  • Children push the limits. It is the parent’s job to set the limits. Unfortunately, it is the child’s job to test the limits. Enough said.
  • Children need tremendous amounts of attention and approval. Children want to be noticed. Their behaviors, all too often, are attempts to get our attention. Parenting from the couch, from being our smartphone, while zoning out in front of the t.v., and other non-engaged behaviors will probably afford you the opportunity to be started into reality by a child “acting out” for any attention. Again, no reason to get angry when as the parent, we were not parenting.

Here are a few other areas where parents expect their child to behave one way while they themselves behave another. These unfair expectations can be met with anger from parents who do not recognize that they are parenting from a hypocritical space:

Sarcasm – Children do not understand sarcasm until they are around 12 years of age. However, they will happily mimic the tone used in sarcasm since that is how mommy and daddy speak. Parents must be mindful of their word choices and vocal intonations.

Cussing – Parents will drop the “F-bomb” and may or may not apologize for it but are shocked, dismayed, and angry when they get a call from their child’s school telling them that their child is cussing up a storm.

Want But Don’t Get – There are a lot of things that children will want. It is perfectly fine not to give them everything they demand however, if your child is hungry and asking for a snack and you say no while you yourself are buying a granola bar and then eating it, your child will surely be upset. Upset could lead to whining and whining could lead to an angry parent.

Hitting/Physical Aggression – As a parent you do not want your child to hit others or use physically aggressive actions. However, if you are a parent who spanks or uses physical force to discipline your child you are sending a confusing message.

Food/Hunger – Putting children on a rigid eating schedule is a recipe for disaster. Children should be encouraged to eat when they are hungry and I see so many parents getting mad at their children when they ask for a snack before a designated meal time. Seriously? You are getting mad at your child because they are hungry? Children might be little but they can feel hunger just as much as adults.

Honesty – All parents try to instill the value of being honest in their children. When a child lies or avoids the truth, parents will get upset. However, I see sooo many parents lying to their own children. They seem to feel the need to make up a story to get their children to “behave.” And then they are mad when their children lie. On the flip side, I also see parents who model honesty and whose children are honest yet the parent gets mad at the child for telling them the truth about something they did or said.

Sharing – I won’t get into this here, but parents really jump on the bandwagon of forcing their children to share and take turns. However, if a parent is not modeling this behavior it sends a confusing message. Parents get angry (and embarrassed) when their child won’t share a toy during a play date but refuse to share something of theirs with their own child.

Comfort Zone – The majority of parents teach their children about personal boundaries and comfort zones along with the idea of stranger danger. Generally, parents help children learn that talking to strangers can be dangerous. In addition, they discuss appropriate forms of touch both from people the child knows as well as strangers. The anger comes into play when the child will not say hello to some random person in the grocery store (yet the parent has discouraged talking to strangers) or the child will not hug and kiss a family friend or relative because they are not completely comfortable with that person.

Forced Apology – Forcing children to apologize for something (even when they do not mean it or developmentally do not understand the concept) and then becoming upset when they refuse is something I see riling a lot of parents up. In addition, I know that I often refuse to apologize to my husband when I know I am in the right on something. So getting upset at Tiny for not apologizing when I do not always do it myself (because I believe it needs to be sincere and not automatic) is terribly hypocritical.

Interested in some other posts on anger in parenting? Check these out:

Anger: 10 Ideas on How to Stop Reacting and Focus on Responding

The Angry Parent Phenomenon

Anger In Parenting – Consider the Impact

Anger in Parenting – Ways of Reconnecting

Anger in Parenting – Addressing Your Anger

What other areas do you see as potential triggers for what I like to call “unwarranted anger?” Are you guilty of getting upset or angry with your children for not meeting what I see as unreasonable or unfair expectations? I’ll be honest, parenting in general has a lot of frustrating moments and there are times when I have to check my exasperation at the door. I am human after all!

About Hybrid Rasta Mama

Jennifer, author of Hybrid Rasta Mama, is a former government recruiter turned stay-at-home mama to a precious daughter (“Tiny”) brought earthside in early 2009. She is passionate about conscious parenting, natural living, holistic health/wellness, real foods, and a Waldorf inspired approach to education. Jennifer is committed to breastfeeding (especially extended breastfeeding), bed-sharing, cloth diapering, green living, babywearing, peaceful parenting, playful parenting, and getting children outside. She is a hybrid parent, taking a little of this, throwing in a little of that, and blending it all together to create a parenting style that is centered on what her daughter needs in order to flourish as a human being. Jennifer also lives and breathes reggae music, the Rastafarian culture and way of life. Reggae music and its message touches her soul.
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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

4 Responses to Unrealistic Expectations as Parental Anger Triggers

  1. This is a wonderful article. And although I’m trying very hard to parent more gently and positively than I was parented, I can see a few of these triggers creeping in. This is a great reminder and I need to have my husband read this as well. My biggest challenge is keeping my cool in the moment. It’s hard to be rational when you’re frazzled! Have a great weekend!

  2. Thank you for this thought-provoking and helpful piece. Many great ideas here.

    One thing, however, is the idea that we can be present, mindful and regulating our anger and other negative feelings even while we “accept” that our baby is waking up every two hours and screaming (nursing on demand, in our bed, always comforting–rocking, singing, patting) for, in our case, 14 straight months. I am not advocating any harsh methods of sleep training, just putting it out there that long-term sleep deprivation isn’t conducive to thoughtful parenting and platitudes like “this too shall pass” or “enjoy this time while you can” don’t help much when you can barely hold a thought in your brain for thirty seconds.

    I don’t have a solution. I’m just pointing out that the two ideals/goals don’t always jibe. In my case, my daughter was such a poor sleeper that I ended up not being the mom I wanted to be for my older son and I have a lot of guilt about that. And my son and I are just starting to work through some of his feelings if anger and sadness.

    I think, from where I stand now, that doing a little gentle sleep training with my daughter could have helped us get to a better family place sooner.

    • Meghan,
      Thank you so much for your comment and your thoughts. This was a guest post but I wanted to say that I can related because sleep deprivation does take a toll and it’s VERY difficult to get through. I found that with my 3rd, being patient, calm and collected with the other two was a challenge like no other before in life and it was certainly when I realized for sure that perfect parenting just doesn’t exist 🙂 I hope your process of healing and restoring your connection with your son is going well.

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