Perfect Parents Don’t Exist: Forgive Yourself For These 6 Parenting Mistakes

Perfect Parents Don’t Exist: Forgive Yourself For These 6 Parenting Mistakes

Guilt and parenthood just seem to go together. Maybe you lost control and  screamed at your child today, or perhaps you’re struggling to give your kids  enough—or you might be worrying that you’re doing too much. Whatever the cause,  most parents experience guilt regularly. I’ve talked with so many people who  were beating themselves up over something they’d done, sure they’d “failed as a  parent.” But as James Lehman said, “It’s not about blame or fault; it’s about  taking responsibility.”

This takes the blame out of the situation and helps parents to focus on  the next step. Here are six parenting moves to forgive yourself for—that means  putting aside the blame, forgiving yourself for your mistakes or perceived  shortcomings, and moving forward with a fresh perspective.

“It’s  not about fault; it’s about responsibility.”


1. Losing it and yelling at your kids out of anger or  frustration.

Unless you’re straight out of some squeaky  clean 50s TV family, you’re bound  to have negative feelings toward your  children at times. It’s normal to feel  angry, frustrated, or disappointed when  your children don’t behave the way you  expect. It’s certainly not easy (or maybe even possible!) to stay calm  all the time. If you’re like most parents, you probably raise your  voice, yell, or even scream at your kids now and then. And let’s face it, for  their part, kids are great at pushing your buttons. Your child  studies you  for a living and knows just what will push you over the edge. It’s normal to  feel guilty after “losing it,” but there is a silver lining  here:  you now have an opportunity to model responsibility and   problem solving for your child. For example, you can approach your child and   demonstrate a sincere apology (taking responsibility). You can also  tell her  how you will solve the problem more effectively next time  (problem solving), by  saying something like, “Next time that I get that  frustrated, I will walk away  and take a break to cool off.”

Related: “It’s not about blame; it’s about  responsibility.” How to make the next move as a parent.

2. Being inconsistent with discipline.

Part of a parent’s job to set limits on their kids. It’s  also normal to  have difficulty being consistent with those limits. Maybe you’re tired, feeling  overwhelmed and frayed, or just not sure how to handle your kid’s behavior.  Perhaps you have a child who “pushes back,” and gets really mad when you do  set limits—and this makes being consistent even harder. If this is the case  with you, remember this: if your  child doesn’t get upset with you at all,  ever, then you probably aren’t doing  your job very well! When you’re setting  healthy limits and boundaries for your  child, there will be times where he  will feel sad or angry with you. It’s  your role to set limits and your  child does not have to be happy with them.

To start being more consistent, you’ll need to assess the situation:  what areas are you inconsistent in? What causes you to falter with consequences or follow-through? Is it that you’re   forgetting what you said you would do, or that you are too exhausted hold  your child accountable and stick to the limits? Identify your personal  obstacles, and then make a plan to tackle them one by one.

A note for parents who are worried they’re too permissive: Maybe you  feel that you don’t set enough limits or that you give your child  too much free reign, and her behavior is starting to cross the line. It’s never  too late to start defining those boundaries. Choose one  area to focus on first  (let’s say it’s backtalk) and slowly start introducing more limits into  your home  life. Decide in advance how you will hold your child accountable if  they don’t  respect the boundaries. Remember that at first, your child may up  the ante a  bit and try to push back, but stand firm and things will settle  down.  It’s not easy, but it’s never too late to start setting more limits or  being  more consistent.

3. Blaming yourself for your child’s behavior.

When times get hard, it can be so easy to blame yourself and feel pity for   your child. This can happen when there’s a death in the family or  in divorce situations. It’s easy to let go of some of  your standards and  limits because you feel that your child is going through  such a tough  time and he needs a break right now. Or maybe your child’s  co-parent has  gone AWOL and you feel like you have to make up for their absence  in some way.  Whatever your situation is, remember that this is part of  life. As difficult as  it is, bad things happen to everyone. Of course you want to be empathetic and  listen to your child (and get him or her outside help or counseling if they need  it) but it doesn’t mean that you should allow them to behave  inappropriately. It’s a tough lesson for kids, but nobody has that  picture perfect life and  no child grows up in a bubble that protects them from  struggles and negative  emotions. As parents, as much as we’d like to,  we just can’t foresee and prevent conflict, tragedy, or  loss. Trying  to “make up for” life’s struggles by being overly permissive  or by having deep  pockets and doing too much for your child is a mistake.

Related: Is your child’s behavior making you  crazy?

When times get tough, children really just need someone to listen and  to take  responsibility and continue to guide them along in a regular  routine with  healthy and appropriate structure. Children should still have  rules and  consequences, as well as chores and responsibilities. Do your best to  strike a  balance and also provide your child with open arms and ears to love  and  guide them through it. You can’t control other people or the world around  you,  but you can control yourself and how you parent your child. It’s always  best to  focus on what you can control and remind yourself that you’re doing  your best, and you are enough.

4. Doing too much for your child.

Doing too much for your child, or “over-functioning,” is another role   that’s easy to fall into for parents, especially when they are feeling guilty.   Every day parents all over the world tell their child to do their chores, for  example. They tell them once, and then three times, and then six, and then   finally it’s just easier to give up and do it yourself. Or perhaps your child   is struggling with a school project and crying and carrying on about how it’s   too hard. It’s very important not to step in and rescue your  child from  challenges. Whatever those challenges are, doing too much to help  your child  through them is only going to give your child the message that you  don’t see  him as capable, or smart enough, or able to do it on his own. The next time  you think of doing something for your child that he can do on his  own, and  really should do on his own,  think about how you can guide him through  rather than depriving him of the  opportunity to learn a valuable life  lesson.


5.  Giving ineffective consequences and  threats.

“You’re grounded for life!”


“You’re  never going to ____________ again!”


“If you  don’t stop it right now, I’m packing up all of your toys and  throwing them in  the trash!”

Sometimes when parents get overly frustrated, they  reach too far in an  attempt to find a solution that will get their child to  immediately change  their behavior. Most parents have done this at one time or another, which is why  “You’re grounded for life!” is such a classic (and humorous) catchphrase for  parenthood.

First, forgive yourself. No parent is perfect, and we all say things that we  don’t mean when we’re upset or angry. There are a few issues with this type  of  parental response that you should know about. When you threaten or give  consequences in the heat of the moment, the things you say you’re going to  do are often things you can’t realistically enforce. What  also happens is that you use words that aren’t effective in  teaching your child the skills he needs to change his behavior. It  also teaches your child that he can use threats in the future to get his  way. Giving consequences that you can’t (or don’t want  to) follow through on sends the message that you don’t mean what  you say; your words will start to be meaningless to your child. Your  best bet? Take a deep breath, and stop giving consequences in the heat  of  the moment. Walk away and cool off, and then later on you can hold your  child accountable with consequences that are well-thought out, logical,  and meaningful.

Related: How to give consequences that really work with  your child.

6. Feeling like you never have enough to give.

Many parents feel that they aren’t able to spend as much  quality time as  they would like with their children. Part of this is the world we live in; we  work hard to support our families, and modern life is fast-paced and  frantic. Remember that you are only one person. There is only so much you  can do in a  day. Keep your to-do list and expectations realistic. Second,  schedule some  quality time with your child each day, whether it’s playing a  board game after  dinner, helping with homework, cooking with them, or going for  a walk. You  might also try to establish some regular weekly family time, if you  can, where you all take  turns choosing a family activity. The phones go  off, laptops are put away, and  you focus on just having fun together.

On top of  never having enough time, does anyone ever really have enough  money? For most of us, there are always bills to be  paid and expenses that  come up unexpectedly. Life  costs money and it seems like parents are constantly  in competition with others  to give their children the most and the best. The  best house, the best phone,  the best clothes, the most toys, and so on. Often,  your child’s best friend  will have something super cool that you can’t afford,  and your child will feel jealous and left out. You might feel guilty that you  can’t buy your child the  things all his friends seem to have. One way to think  about it is to realize that how you deal with your feelings about this is a  choice. You can choose to dwell on it and feel badly, or you  can decide to shift your focus. Ask yourself, “what’s most important  here?  What do I want my child to learn in life?”

If you ask me, it’s more important  that you are teaching your child  strong values: hard work, saving money, careful spending, gratitude for  what you have, giving to others who are less fortunate. Considering all these  things, is it really that important for your child to  upgrade to the new  iPhone? Instead of wracking your brain to figure out how you can buy that  fancy item for your child, why not help your child think of some ways to  earn and save money to buy it himself? Perhaps if he earns a certain part  on his own, you can reward his hard work by matching a portion of  his  earnings. The point is to try taking the focus off of the material  things and putting some back on values. Be the kind of parent you want to  be, not the kind of parent you think others expect you to be.

The bottom  line here is that perfect kids and perfect parents do not exist.  Parenting is a  learn-as-you-go thing. James  and Janet Lehman say to “expect setbacks with  progress.” We all make  mistakes or do some things that we regret, or  that are ineffective  for our kids. That’s okay. The great thing is that  tomorrow is a new day—and  you can forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes and move on.


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