Good Parenting Advice from a Bad Mother.

June 6 1989, my 28th birthday and the day I pled guilty to a charge of Criminal Mistreatment, I got for spanking my then nine year old son with a belt and leaving serious bruises. I know that’s horrible and your ready to stop reading right now. But don’t because it took me being a bad mother to get the help I needed to become a good grandmother and a better mother to my now adult children.
First let me say, that although my children and I survived their childhood, child abuse is wrong. Period. If you need help, get it now. At the end of this article I will give you some places to do just that. I myself own a real debt of gratitude to the group Parents Anonymous where my children I attended for three years, until my older children were too old for play group.

1) Ask for help. Parenting is the most important thing you will ever do and you will, more than once, feel overwhelmed. Ask for help. New to a city? Single? Try teachers, coaches, pastors, preachers, priests, your kind neighbor, your sister even if you have to admit to her that you’re not as great as she is. Keep asking until you get what you need. That was one of my biggest mistakes. I knew I was in trouble and did ask for help, but didn’t keep asking until it was too late. I will never forget after I was arrested the school that I had begged for help telling me. “I guess we dropped the ball on this one.” The understatement of the year. If you show them how to ask for help, they are more likely to do it if they need help.

2) Admit your mistakes. It’s hard. We are the parents. We are supposed to know everything, and until they are preteens our kids believe that. But we are just human beings doing the best we can. Admit mistakes to yourself, your children and another adult who will help you see the mistake in a way you can learn from it. Your children will learn much about honesty and success by your admitting your mistakes.

3)Treat your children as people. That may sound odd but most of us don’t. We want to make their choices for them because we know best. If you have ever caught yourself saying “because I said so” you’re in that trap. I work in a store and I am amazed how people talk to their children. Be quiet, leave me alone, yelling, name calling. What adult in your life would you treat like that? When you talk to your child you have to be the one to set limits but you can do so in a respectful way. Instead of calling your child’s room a pig style and yelling at them about it either, shut the door or ask yourself how you’d talk to a roommate about the issue.

4)Pick your battles. (see above). Why does your teen’s room have to be spotless? Do you want to spend your evening arguing over her room or have the kind of relationship where she tells you her boyfriend wants to have sex or her best friend cuts herself? Your child is not going to open up to someone who makes them feel they are somehow flawed. Help them understand choice. “It’s your choice to keep your room that way. It bothers me so I am going to ask you to keep your door closed. It’s your responsibility to be able to find your favorite blouse or homework in it, and I only wash clothes that make it to the hamper.” You may find the room cleaner that way. If I could take back all the hours my children I and fought about their rooms when we could have been bonding it makes me sad.

5)Act like you want them to act. I was great at telling my children what to do but not very good at doing it. Do you want them to eat healthy? Stop taking them to fast food when you’re tired after work. Want them to pick up their messes. Pick up yours without complaining about it. Do you want them to be honest, then don’t lie to Aunt Gert that you don’t have time to come by on Sunday when the kids know you do.

6) Be forgiving. Our children are going to do some dumb things from breaking your mothers vase playing catch in the living room to having sex too young or trying pot at that sleepover. They are never going to trust you with any of that information if you are a punishing parent. Forgive what you can. Things that really need consequences (remember your picking your battles) the consequence should fit the crime. Don’t ground her for a month for coming home late, maybe she need to skip date night the next weekend. Never say its hurts me more than you (it doesn’t).

7) NEVER USE Physical Punishment. I know all the arguments for it, but it only takes the loss of control that one time to do harm that is permanent. I know. Also what are you teaching a child when hitting them is a method of control? I spanked when my kids were small until my arrest, and looking back it seems so crazy. I am going to hit you when you do things and I feelfeel angry, sad, hurt, confused or upset. But do not show those emotions when I hit you. And do not hit your siblings, me, your playmates etc. What a crazy message.

8)Treat your children as individuals. I thought to be fair to my children I had to treat them all equally. In reality though, they are each different people with different temperaments, personalities, needs and wants. One approach fits all does not work. Take them time to get to know them. Start young if you still can. Do not compare them to one anther, the other parent or anyone else. They are uniquely themselves and not anyone else. One of the worst things I have done and seen done is telling children when he is doing some behavior you don’t like that hey are just like the other parent. They are half that parent and you have just put them and the parent down. Especially seems to happen in cases of divorce. Avoid it at all costs.

9)Give them power. Children live in a world where they have very little power. They are told when to get up, what to wear, eat, how to act and play, what to learn, what are okay emotions, thoughts and behaviors and when to go to sleep. We tell them how to wear their hair and who they can be friends with, where they can go. Of course they are going to rebel. Plus when we do all of this for our children, we teach them that control is outside of them, we don’t teach them to control themselves. Let them make all the choices you can. It can start little with as simple as do you want to wear your blue dress or you jeans and green shirt. Let them know they do not have to kiss Aunt Gert unless they want to and no one has the right to touch their bodies unless they ask. Ask them, can I h=give you a hug? “Its more empowering than you can imagine. My daughter recently did something that I thought was great. Her daughter who is almost eight didn’t want to go to bed. So mom told her okay, you can stay up as late as you want, but you must be quiet for the rest of the family, have to stay in your room and you still have to go to school tomorrow. She stayed up almost all night. Was she super tired the next day? You bet, but now she puts herself to bed when she’s tired.

10) Indulge them. I know this is not what we hear anymore but let me finish. I don’t mean with an over abundance of toys or two many lessons or things. Indulge their interests, their fantasies and their needs. If she loves science help her explore it. If he loves boats find a friend who has one or rent one. If they like to play make believe, play along with them. Remember what may seem silly to you may be important to them. I know how hard it was for my kids to be the ones without the cool clothes and who had to have free lunches, if you can afford a couple of the cool outfits let them have them. (That doesn’t mean they need a closet full.) If you can’t try to find other ways, like buying them at resale shops or helping your child develop their own sense of style with what you can afford. Even though we didn’t have much my kids did get trips to the coast and maintains and as much as I was able.

11)Don’t worry about their self-esteem. Sound funny? Self-esteem is over played in this culture. They don’t need to think that everything they do is the best things in world history. Praise what you know is praise worthy and make it concrete. Say Wow I love your use of color in that picture” instead of oh how sweet. Share your failures with them. Let them know that failure is not a problem, that not trying again is. Teach them about famous people who failed lots of times before they got it right. If you encourage them with real praise, love and encouragement, their self image will be just fine.

12)Be spiritual. For me this does not just mean teaching them the particular faith (if any) that you prescribe too. I actually chased my children away from Christianity by being overzealous with them about it. Teach them to appreciate life, to treat all human being with respect, to respect nature, to give of their time, money and talent. To pray or meditate or some other way to access either a higher power or an inner voice. Teach them to follow their own path, to ask, seek and questing. Expose them to lots of life experiences inside and outside their culture.

13)Teach them values and accept theirs. In today’s worlds kids are bombarded with messages about drugs, alcohol, sex, money, success, fame etc. Many of these messages are making our children suicidal, anorexic and lost. Show and tell them about kindness, openness, respect, justice, peace, hope, compassion. . Teach them about things like sexual slavery, genocide, poverty, injustice etc. I had an amazing talk with my 12 year old grandson about sexual slavery and about Egypt. Things I had no idea he was already so informed about. In the teen years especially, teens like to try out new ideas and opinions. Don’t just dismiss them as wrong. Talk with them about why they believe what they believe, how they see that in the world, how they feel that impacts their life and the life of others. I saw a great video once about a Christian family who’d daughter was in a group advocating safe sex being taught at the public schools in their city. Although the parents believed in abstinence only, they listened to and supported their daughters fight. The result, she stayed within their belief system while trying to offer help for teens that do not.

14) Give them family. This is something I really failed at as a parent. They lived though divorce and remarriages and knew a lot of loss but not a lot of family, my second son once told me, in response to being told he was awesome( I should be with the group of people who have raise me. ) It was not a compliment. Let them get to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, if they are safe people. If not find a family. My youngest children did get to have the love of an extended community when we attended church but they never really had that wonderful aunt or special grandparent that could make such a difference in a child’s life. Family will help you too.

15) Don’t make school the most important thing in the world. School is important, grades not as much. Remember again that your kids are individuals. Little Johnny may make straight A’s without much effort at all while little Suzy struggles to make c’s. Don’t reward Johnny and punish Suzy. Teach them both that learning is the goal, not grades. I went back to school late in life to find a lot of kids who were there just to get a job, not caring what they learned at all. Then after school found themselves without a job and with a lot of student debt. Teach them about learning. Let them you will be proud of them if they are a plumber or a doctor, a peach corps worker or a lawyer. At the same time support them in school. Attend any of their events, performances or other things. I think my daughter will always be wounded that I did not take an active part when she was lettering in debate. You can say you’re sorry but you can never make it up.

16) Don’t make your career more important than your children. Oh, I hear you arguing that you have to make a living, but do you have to work 60 hours a week, travel all the time, come home late, miss school recitals, spring try-outs and Boy Scout camp? I was thrilled when I finally moved from welfare and part-time work to my first career as a chemical dependency counselor. I threw myself into it, loved it and was successful at it. But what did I lose? So much that my son said to me once during an argument,” I wish we were still on welfare, at least you were around then.” That son and I are still estranged and I know that I did my children a big disservice by putting my carrer first.

17) Touch them. I was a child sexual abuse survivor who had only know either bad touch or pretty much no touch at all. When my children were small I was able to cuddle and hug them, but as they got older, closer to the age when I was abused, I began to push them away. I wish now I could have that back so that my children and I were not now learning to hug each other all over again. I read somewhere that people need ten touches a day. We already know that children who aren’t touched don’t thrive. Find every excuse you can to hug, hold there hand, cuddle or jsut tossle their hair.

18) Be honest about family history. I grew up in a family I call the ‘cult of secret keepers.” They kept everything that happened in the family a secret, or did so as much as they were able. I was 26 before I found out I was adopted and it was painful to know they had lied for so ling. It’s important to tell you children about family members who struggled with chemical dependency, abuse, debt, mental illness so that these kind of issues can be discussed openly in your family. Teach them whets great about their family too. Was grandpa a great fisherman? Did great uncle Joe save someone life in Vietnam. did crazy aunt Lilly rescue dogs? Teach tem what makes your family special. Teach them the things you love and maybe they will share some of those loves with you.

19) Relax. I know after all I have said that probably seems hard but it’s true. Relax, do the best you can with the information you have. If you need more information or support seek it. But relax and know you’ll make mistakes but that you can admit them and start over everyday.

20) Celebrate. Life should be a place of fun. Celebrate the first and last day of school. Be silly, sing in the car even if you are off key, take a walk in the rain, have a pillow fight, chase fireflies, color outside the lines, blow bubbles, swing as high as you can,. Laugh together so you stay together when the time to cry together comes.

Will these things make you the best parent? No but they are going to make you a better one if you follow them. Now as I promised some recources:

Parents Anonymous
Boys Town Hotline
Focus on the Family (note-CHristian faith based)
National Domestic Violence Hotline:

Also most local area have crisis hotlines, try you white pages or even the non-emergency number of the police department to get it.

Author's Bio: 

I was a bad mother, and after years of fighting with the shame about it, I have come to a bittersweet understanding of it. I have made amends as much a possible with my children. I an gentle and loving with my grandchildren. And I believe I have real advice to those struggling with the same issues. I thank God for Parents Anonymous, Children's Services Division, and great individual and group counseling as well as education.