Am I A Revenge Parent?

Ariel Swift

Have you ever taken away screen time because your kid didn’t do his or her chores? You might be a revenge parent.

Have you flippantly decided your child won’t get dessert because they didn’t eat their dinner? You might be a revenge parent.

Have you ever yelled at your child because you have said to do something over and over and over and it was the only way they would ever hear you? You might be a revenge parent.

Hi. I am a recovering revenge parent, and I still relapse. It is and will be an ongoing series of choices moving forward because, like many, I had no idea I was using retaliation until it was brought to my attention by my friends.

It was so hard to see because it didn’t look like retaliation and it didn’t look like revenge. It looked like I was being firm. I was a parent with boundaries who used consequences. But not only was I firm, I was too firm.

My kid would not hear me ask her to do something because she was focused on her tablet, and I would take her tablet.

My kid would ask for something when we were out of the house, and I would burst into a lecture that she was not going to get something every time we went to the store.

And these too firm reactions hid the reality that I was mean. I was stressed or in a hurry. Or I thought my daughter should understand that if she wanted a gumball, she would need to plan, bring her quarter from her money box, and buy the gumball.

When I responded to her with these too firm answers or actions, I could see a physical change to her. Her facial expressions and posture would wilt. Looking back it is clear that it did not make sense to her why I was allowed to take her tablet. Or why it was her fault she didn’t have a quarter.

I was big, and she was small, and my words did nothing to teach her what I thought she should know. What I did make her feel was smaller, and powerless, and unworthy. It impacted everything: Her behavior in school, how we talked to each other when there wasn’t a conflict, and how she behaved around other adults in authority positions.

In these situations where I used revenge parenting I felt annoyed and angry, but later I felt guilty, and threatened, and lost.

I had been breaking one of the core values we have in our family, and I was not kind. I was acting out of the belief that I was the parent and I should be obeyed. I was mortified.

Since the first day of preschool and into kindergarten, we have shared that we hope she shows kindness to her schoolmates and teachers. Also, we taught that being kind was more important to us than her grades. But I realized I had been failing to live life with her in a way that taught everyday kindness looked like.

I have shared with my daughter that adults make mistakes, that adults aren’t always right, and that adults have feelings just like kids do, but that they have the responsibility to manage them.

I was failing at managing my emotions. In every instance where I was too firm, I never stopped to be a guide, build understanding, involve her in finding a solution to the problem, or let natural consequences unfold.

Part of what needed to adjust was reactions being a combination of being firm AND kind. I needed to return to our routine that helped her know what was coming next. I needed to remember my role as someone who helps guide and give opportunities to learn, not wait for failure and pounce with a punishment. I needed to root for her success and strengthen her feelings of belonging in our family.

So I chose to change. First I apologized and shared I would try harder to be a mom who helped her and remembered she is still learning. I asked her to forgive me when she was ready. And I asked her to help me come up with a schedule for the weekdays and weekends, so we could help each other with our responsibilities. Also, I let her know I would be working to stick to our boundaries.

Learning how to parent is hard, and I know we aren't alone in our mistakes. I'm sharing this because I don't believe adults admit enough when they are wrong. And I was wrong.

If you are curious about language, here are some of the phrases I worked to include in our lives:

I know it’s hard to stop watching, and it is time for dinner.

I can understand why you would rather watch tv than do your homework and homework needs to be done first.

You don’t want to brush your teeth and I don’t want to pay for fillings, so let’s go brush our teeth together.

I know you don’t want to do your chores and what did we agree upon for when they would be done?

I know you don’t want to go to bed, and it’s bedtime. Would you like to read or would you like me to read tonight?

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