The “F” Word in Parenting

Upset child and shadow of parent yellingFrustration. Most parents are very familiar with this emotional state! For some parents, frustration is an occasional and fleeting emotion. Some parents, however, live in a chronic state of frustration. Frustration is the feeling that you experience when there is a discrepancy between how you think things should be and how they actually are. Many parents suffer from a case of the “should’s”. For example, you think your baby should sleep happily in her crib, but she cries every time you try to put her down. Or you think your toddler isn’t showing any interest in using the potty and you think he should be potty trained by now. Or your school age child is shy and you think she should be more outgoing and make more friends.

Often parents experience a feeling that they label as anger when underneath that anger is really frustration and sometimes unacknowledged losses. As children move from developmental stage to developmental stage, parents can experience a sense of loss–children can too. Lots of losses; loss of sleep, loss of their “baby” who is growing up, loss of the envisioned child the parents expected, loss of parental availability when a sibling is born or a parent returns to the workplace…

Acceptance. Accepting things for what they are. Simple concept, not easy to do! There are several tools for you to choose from to deal with frustration. Tools for resolving feelings of frustration can include:

  • Prayer (to a God who is accepting and forgiving)
  • Meditation (calming your mind so that you can accept and forgive)
  • Talking with friends and loved ones (who are accepting and forgiving)

Do you seem a theme here? Acceptance and forgiveness is the remedy for the problem of frustration. Having realistic expectations is also helpful in dealing with frustration. This is remedied by talking with experienced parents, or reading books about child development, or talking with a family counselor, all which can reassure you that these things pass and are normal.

Many parents have unrealistic expectations about parenting and child development. This is indeed frustrating when your experiences don’t match up to your expectations. Listen to your inner dialogue as you go about your day. You may be so consumed with feeling that you haven’t noticed the thoughts running through your head that are contributing to those feelings. You may notice thoughts like “she should know better”, “I can’t believe he is doing that”, “I’ve told her a million times not to do that”. Or you may even be saying those things out loud. Notice those thoughts non-judgmentally and accept them and then notice and accept the reality. For example, I’ve told her a million times to put away her toys before she gets out new toys and she just won’t listen. Then you might tell yourself something like this: She is playing with her toys and isn’t putting away as she goes, I forgive her and going to teach her how to clean up as she goes. I will model putting things away and encourage her. That may be enough to teach her. If that isn’t sufficient, I will also tell her when she doesn’t put something away, I am going to put it away and she won’t be able to play with it for the rest of the day as a logical consequence. Simply being told this probably won’t be sufficient for learning and I very well may have to follow through with this. After she has experienced the consequence, she will probably learn to pick up. Also take time to talk with your parenting partner about these things and listen to each other, support each other, and encourage each other.

The answer to frustrating behavior by a child isn’t punishment. Take time to think before you act; so that you can respond, rather than simply react. Think about what is happening. Think. Pray. Meditate. Sometimes a parent realizes that the situation calls for acceptance and no change is needed. Sometimes a parent realizes while they need to accept the problem for what it is, they also need to take action to promote change and growth. As a Marital & Family Therapist, this is the first step I take in doing a family assessment. Many times a family comes to counseling with a problem, or a problem child, and the parents want the child “fixed”. I need to assess the family carefully to see what is happening in the family system. Sometimes change is needed and I help parents help their child and we have a goal of what we are trying to help the child learn, sometimes the change is helping the parents with acceptance and forgiveness and the child doesn’t need to change a bit. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes there is a marital problem that needs to be addressed.

In the autistic community there is a tension between interventions to teach children with autism desired behaviors and knowing when and what to accept and not try to change. Some individuals with autism have spoken out and said, “stop trying to fix us and accept us for who we are”. Parents often need to stop and think and look at the big picture and see if they are helping or hindering. Is the child benefiting? What do they need? For a young child, what would they say, if they could? When is enough, enough? Many parents will tell you how helpful a certain intervention was for their child and how their child and their whole family benefited from it and in other cases, parents will tell you they tried various interventions without benefiting and after experiencing a lot of frustration they deciding to stop intervening.

Acknowledge and grieve losses. Telling yourself and/or a trusted person, that you miss the person you were before you had kids, or that you are tired, or that you love your child but they aren’t what you expected; is healing. Denying feelings of grief and loss won’t make them go away. To deal with grief, you need to go through it, not around it.

Freely apologize and ask for forgiveness. Over time, this is the best way for your child to learn to do the same, by following your example. Forgive yourself for being tired, impatient, frustrated, angry, and imperfect. Forgive your child for the same.

© Copyright 2010 by Susan Martinez, MA, LMFT, therapist in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maddie


    March 2nd, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    I find myself having to take a step back at times when my daughter is really making me angry, because I do not want to react to her in anger and frustration but only with love even when she misbehaves. I have to take a little time out for myself to think about what I am going to do before making that decision to react. This does not always work but I know I feel a lot better about the outcome when I do this than the times that I have reacted sheerly out of this anger and frustration and have not carefully though things through. This has been very much a learning experience for me because I do have a quick temper but it is so much better for the relationship that I am trying to create and maintain between me and my child.

  • Jennifer Schafer

    Jennifer Schafer

    March 2nd, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    I enjoyed the article very much! As a mom, I can relate to the “F” word! Thanks for the suggestions, I found them very helpful.



    March 2nd, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Each one of us needs to realize that all things will never go according to plan. But that is what makes life and this world interesting. Wouldn’t it be boring if everything went according to the plan? We wouldn’t have anything to do then because everything would go just as we want it to…it would be no fun… :)

  • Eliza


    March 3rd, 2010 at 11:49 AM

    It is also important to recognize that life is full of many frustrations and that the ideal thing is to learn to deal with that frustration in a manner which is not going to cause even more stress or frustrating issues to come up. When you can’t handle something take a step back and look and see if there is another or a better way to handle things that will not cause the f word to pop up so frequently in your life. Frustration stems from other things that are going wrong in life, things or issues that are not being dealt with in an effective manner. Take the time to resolve some of these other issues and it is almost assured that your typical level of frustration will diminish.

  • susan martinez

    susan martinez

    March 29th, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    Maddie, I am struck by your comment and the mindfulness you are bringing to your relationship with your child. Parenting is indeed a wonderful learning experience.

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