Am I exasperating my kids?

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Whether you’re religious or not, most parents can agree on the absolute truth and wisdom of the verse in the Bible that says, “Honor your father and mother.” It’s such an important verse that it lands smack dab in the middle of the Ten Commandments, right above “Thou shalt not murder.” We parents are big fans of this particular rule.

Any time this verse get read aloud in church, every parent in the room cuts his or her eyes over toward their kids with a satisfied look that says, “See there? God said so.”

exasperate graphicBut lately I’ve also been thinking about another line from the Bible – one that kids are often thrilled to hear – which says this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (I’m pretty sure the “do not exasperate” line applies equally to mothers.)

I’m no parenting expert but I’m beginning to think that the essence of parenting lies in that magical middle ground between those two verses. How do you raise a kid to honor his father and mother without sometimes exasperating him?

With one kid firmly entrenched in the teenage years and another well on the way, I’ve noticed that a kid’s “exasperation threshold” drops considerably as he hits the middle school years. The other day I called one of the kid’s names and heard an audible groan come from the other room – the kind of groan that translates into something like this: “Oh no, not again. What does she want this time?”

That’s when it hit me. Sometimes all it takes to go from a state of peace to the land of exasperation is the mere sound of my voice.

It feels like this shift happened overnight. One minute, you’ve got this sweet baby in your arms who coos and grins when he hears your voice. The next minute? He’s wishing you’d shut up already so he could get back to a far more interesting app on his smartphone. Any mom who has experienced this drastic drop in the level of maternal adoration knows it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But I get it. I really do. I know how irritating I must be for them at times. Of course they don’t want to be reminded about homework. Or chores. Or piano practice. And they definitely don’t want to hear that tired old speech about how the toilet should be flushed every single time.

I distinctly remember when I was a teenager burdened with a mother who’d suddenly become supremely annoying. I wondered what had happened to her and was convinced it had nothing to do with me and the endless waves of moody hormones I was surfing. I look back on those days and feel sorry for my mom because I know now what she knew then: Trying not to exasperate a teenager can be, well, downright exasperating.

But if my mission as a parent is to raise kind, respectful, toilet-flushing citizens, there are bound to be times when those goals are at odds with what the kids would rather do. So they’ll get annoyed and they’ll mess up, just like most of us did at that age.

Tom and I are beginning to make peace with the knowledge that there’ll be times in the next few years when the kids won’t find us cool or funny or maybe even likeable. And that’s okay, as long as they treat us honorably even on those days we’re annoying.

And I hope that, even when Tom and I are supremely annoyed by the kids’ annoyance, we’ll find a way to correct and guide them without ever making them “lose heart.” More than anything, I pray that they’ll never doubt just how much we love their hearts.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of  To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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