04/03/2013 10:28 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2013

When Good Parents Grow Ugly

It all started with a friend's Facebook status update:

"[I'm] mortified. Poor screaming baby on the flight with mom yelling at him 'Do you want me to go get the pilot & have him come take you??' Nothing says love like threat of kidnapping."

The comments that followed ranged from outraged to humorous, but one or two were actually empathetic toward the mom. "Until you've been there, don't judge," said one dad. Because no matter what you might think of the flying mom's parenting tactics, can't we all relate to "growing ugly" at one time or another?

Whether you've screamed with reckless abandon, said things you wish you hadn't or completely shut down when the kids needed you checked in, parenting can bring out the worst in us. "K" isn't proud about "throwing a fit during the family advent reading" this year... "C" admits that the drama surrounding her child's preschool Christmas show was enough to send her on the first train to Emptythreatsville. "I threatened my poor son that if he didn't shut his mouth, I would keep him home from school (decorating gingerbread houses and his Grandma is coming to help) and that his grandma would have to help some other little boy."

And who hasn't been busted growing ugly by unexpected onlookers? One mom admits, "I start in about how when we get home, they are going to bed IMMEDIATELY and how embarrassed I am by their behavior, only to glance over my shoulder and realize [my son] had rolled his window down and that the people trying to get into the car next to us are staring."

On a recent trip to an indoor play area with a friend and my three kids, I witnessed a father of four boys unraveling rather quickly, snapping at his kids over what appeared to be absolutely nothing. But as I noticed the critical glances coming from other parents, I couldn't help but empathize with his "bad dad" moment and made what I hoped would come across as a supportive comment. Within just a couple of minutes, my friend and I could visibly see a change in the dad's behavior, now engaging and laughing with his little guys; proof that a little understanding can go a long way.

Because, like any difficult situation, parental mishaps also come with an opportunity for growth. In fact, psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser says it's actually a good thing for kids to realize that parents aren't perfect. "Admitting to our faults and taking responsibility not only teaches our kids that it's OK to make mistakes, but can help them become more compassionate adults."

Besides, who says that the second we have kids, we're supposed to behave like saints, suddenly free of the baggage we've carried around for years before the title of "Mom" or "Dad"? I personally wish someone had pulled me aside at a young age and explained that parents and teachers are no different from kids, all just trying to find their way as they go. I think my high expectations of adults in general not only set them up for failure in my eyes, but often left me disappointed and discouraged.

That's not to say we should just let it all hang out. "While it's natural to make mistakes, we also have an obligation to provide a loving, secure environment for our kids," says Kaiser. "Find an outlet to work out frustrations and you'll all be better off."