I'm Ashamed of How I Talk to My Children

by Hallie Sawyer
Originally Published: 
A small and young blonde child with brown eyes in a white tank top

Rather than make New Year’s Resolutions when 2015 rolled in, I committed to being better than I was the year before. I have many areas to work on, one of them being a better mom.

You see, I’ve been ashamed of how I talk to my children. While I know I’m okay at teaching my kids proper social etiquette, the value of hard work, and how to start the lawn mower, my inner troll comes out more often than I care to admit.

I lose it when they don’t do what I ask them to do, which are usually things that I ask them to do EVERY…SINGLE…DAY.

Did you brush your teeth?

Is your bed made?

Hang up your backpack.

Put your dirty dishes away.

(You’re nodding, right?)

Dear God, they have to be sick of me asking because I know I’m sick of asking. But I’ve always justified the yelling because “I asked nicely three times and they didn’t do it” so in my troll mind, they got what they deserved. So why do I keep up the nag game yet expect different results?

Why can’t you just do it without me having to ask four thousand times?

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

If I have to tell you to do ____ one more time, I’m going to lose it!

What I’m doing is not parenting, it’s shaming. When I look at my true self, I know that’s not who I really am. Inside, I’m a mom who wants to laugh and love on her kids, show them compassion and empathy, forgive them, and lead by example. I’m a mom who wants to forge iron-strong relationships with family that no misstep, big or small, could possibly damage. Instead, I fear, I’ve been driving a wedge between us.

How can I possibly have that type of relationship with my kids when I shame them? Parenting is not about shaming kids into doing what we want them to do, it’s about loving them in spite of what they do…or don’t do.

As I’ve struggled with my own insecurities, I’ve read enough to know that, as parents, we tend to repeat behaviors that were “bestowed” upon us. There is a great piece in Psychology Today that highlights this lovely family tradition as “a legacy of distorted love.” Bingo!

Brené Brown dedicates an entire chapter in her book, Daring Greatly, to shame. I highlighted this when I read it because it was such a harsh realization for me.

“Often, not being good at vulnerability means we’re damn good at shame.”

Shit, another bingo.

It’s weird because I’m quite vulnerable in my writing (this article), yet I don’t like feeling vulnerable as a parent. I’m supposed to be the one who knows what to do. I’m supposed to be the one who has it all figured out. I’m supposed to teach my kids how to find their paths in life. I can’t let them know I don’t have all the answers!

My mistake hasn’t been that I’m not the perfect mother. My mistake has been that I haven’t shown them my own gifts of imperfection.

My mistake hasn’t been that I’m not the perfect mother. My mistake has been that I haven’t shown them my own gifts of imperfection. When my kids have “failed,” I’ve felt as if I failed as well. Then, rather than create an opportunity to discuss what happened and learn from their/our mistakes, I ended up creating a shame shit storm (credit: Brené) as a distraction from my own feelings of shame and failure as a mother. That type of reaction just keeps adding to the shame shit storm, and before I know it, any potential life lesson is blown away by the swirling bits of shattered self-esteem from the shame shit storm that I created.

Why is there not a manual for this?!

Each time, as I survey the damage after a shaming incident, there is a pile of guilt among the rubble:

What if I’ve damaged them beyond repair?

What if they look back on their childhood and wonder how they made it out alive?

What if they think they aren’t good enough?

What if they grow up to hate me?

What if they can’t get a good enough job to pay for therapy?

I’m learning, slowly, that my past is not who I am. Brené says in Chapter 3 of Daring Greatly, “Understanding and Combating Shame”:

“Own the story. Don’t bury it and let it fester or define me…If you own this story, you get to write the ending.”

So here I am…writing a new ending:

*Because I love my children, I will teach them how to be strong and independent by acting with courage and living according to my beliefs.

*Because I love my children, I will teach them how to dream big and listen to their souls by living what is in my heart and what feeds my soul.

*Because I love my children, I will teach them how to cultivate strong relationships with others by showing vulnerability and being a marble jar friend.

*Because I love my children, I will teach them the value of hard work and humility by working alongside them doing chores and letting failure work its magic.

*Because I love my children, I will teach them about abundance by practicing gratitude daily and not giving power to fear and scarcity.

*Because I love my children, I will teach them to appreciate the beauty in their imperfections by creating and owning my story .

*Because I love my children, I will give them a better mom, by respecting them for who they are and parenting with love, not shame.

I’m so ready for the calm after the storm.

This article was originally published on