As a parent, one is required to dole out punishment in proportion to the offense. Nothing confuses a child more when such is not the case. What seems so self-evident is often hard to practice in real life unless you happen to be the perfect parent. I have slipped up on this rule several time in the last ten years that I have been J's mom.
Back in the day, I attributed it to unmanaged stress, having too many balls to juggle and no one to help - to err was human . With DB coming into my life and taking on the responsibilities of the dad J never had, I no longer have the same excuses. And yet, I ranted at her furiously for ten minutes straight while driving her over to her friend's birthday party.
As her life has become more and more "regular" ( two parents, a home instead of an apartment, multiple vacations in a year, a closet full of clothes, more media and electronics than she has ever had ), J has relaxed. Used to be that she thought it was her responsibility to work around the constraints of my "situation". She bore it without complaint or question - at the cost of thwarting the natural flow of her childhood. That has since changed - J now has the ability to be a child and a tween, act up sometimes in ways that drives us crazy. Her offense was just that - she was being her age. I read into in quite a bit more than I should have, did not react until the tenth repeat of the offense. Basically, she had no idea she had been doing wrong until I blew up - suddenly and uncontrollably.
I came home and shared with DB - told him that I felt like a monster for saying cruel and hurtful words to J; I feared that what I said may leave scars for life. He advised not to apologize to her to make it right. "Talk to her about how her behavior disappointed you and that you got really frustrated. Let her talk about how she felt. The love you have for each other is too strong a force for something like this to weaken it" and then when I felt a little better he added "Extend the most patience you have to J - that way you will not have such severe reactions"
When I tucked J in at night, we had talked about it - she realized where she had been wrong and what she could do different. I told her that we could not pretend that I did not say what I said or that she did not feel what she felt - we had to acknowledge that. Despite my failings, I felt well loved - by J and by DB and I was very grateful for that.