I have a confession. I’ve had some pretty epic parenting fails. This isn’t news to my kids or anyone who has been around our family.
Actually, anyone who has parented for any length of time has experienced parenting fails. Times when our responses are less than ideal and may include some shouting, possibly tinged with a bit, or a lot, of anger or sarcasm. (BTW, kids don’t get sarcasm. It’s not an effective parenting tool).
When that happens, it’s easy to beat ourselves up while feeling like a loser parent. Shame can also creep in. But here’s the deal: I’m not perfect. Even though we may not have met, I know you’re not perfect either. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. Really, He doesn’t.
Actually, perfection is not expected in parenting or in anything else in life. When we stop expecting ourselves to be perfect, we are better able to accept imperfection in our kids. If we receive grace for ourselves, we can then turn around and extend grace to our kids. A home where grace is extended and imperfections are accepted is a much more fertile environment for growing healthy kids and long-lasting relationships.
So what can we do when we’re imperfect and those inevitable parenting fails happen?
Here are some ideas:
Take a deep breath.
If needed, parents can take a time out, too. If your kids are small, you may need to put them in a crib or Pack ’n Play so they can be safe while you get a few minutes to yourself. Remind yourself that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and in a marathon, stumbles will happen. Perfection is not the end goal. Then get back in the race.
Ask for forgiveness.
If your kids are old enough, model to them what it looks like to apologize when imperfection happens. Rather than just saying “sorry,” be specific in asking for forgiveness. “I’m sorry that I lost my temper and yelled at you.” Train them in asking for and giving forgiveness. Help them understand that no one is perfect and that we can learn and move on after mistakes are made.
Talk it over with a buddy.
I’ve heard parents say that their preschooler or teenager is their best friend. If you’ve said that, please reconsider. Our young kids are not equipped to be our BFFs to talk through the annoying traits of our spouse or our unreasonable boss. As parents, we need a peer or mentor to challenge and encourage us while helping us process various situations and parenting imperfections. My friends also remind me who I am when I forget: a pretty decent mom who does sometimes make mistakes. They help me put my failures or stumbles into perspective and give me ideas to avoid this type of parenting fail in the future.
Set realistic expectations for your kid.
Some of my most epic parenting fails have happened when my expectations were unrealistic. It’s unrealistic to take kids to the grocery store during nap time and then expect them to be pleasant and compliant. I once left a full cart in the middle of Kroger (I did stop by customer service with three screaming kids, while I may have also been crying, to report the abandoned cart) because I ventured out in the middle of what was supposed to be nap time. Also, avoid restaurants or activities after bedtime. Tired kids have a hard time behaving in socially acceptable ways. Let’s set our kids up for success by understanding what they are realistically capable of doing, and putting them in situations where they can win.
Get some time to yourself.
Join the YMCA and put your kids in childcare. Put your kids to bed early or give them extra screen time so you can sit down and recharge. Yep, I just suggested you plop your kid in front of a screen. Limited screen time can be OK, especially if you’re at the end of your rope and need some time to get yourself together. Sometimes we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do. And that might involve our kids watching 30 minutes of Paw Patrol. It’s OK to need some time without little ones pulling on us or asking for something. When my kids were little, I removed all the shoes from the floor of my closet to create a small oasis for myself, as they had already discovered my initial hiding spot of the bathroom. Parenting is a 24/7 job, so look for ways to get some respite.
Phone a friend.
Often we think we’re a burden to others, and truthfully, sometimes we are. But some of my deepest relationships have come as we care for each other in the midst of challenges. When my toddler removed his diaper during nap time and wrote all over his room with his diaper’s contents, the smartest thing I did in the moment was call my sister. I didn’t say, “I need you,” but apparently my shaking voice did. She hopped on over and bathed my budding artist while I cleaned and sterilized his crib, light switch, door handles—you get the picture. It’s impossible to be the perfect parent, especially when there’s crap (literal crap) smeared all over our walls.
Take a couple minutes, even if it’s in the midst of the chaos of our day, to thank God for the ways he’s blessed you and to ask for patience, energy, or whatever you are currently lacking. I’ve found that when I stop to pray I’m often reminded that I’ve been in situations like this before. And I survived. I’m also reminded that God is way bigger than the situation I am facing.
Just as we can’t expect our kids to get it right the first time, let’s not put that expectation on ourselves either. God doesn’t expect perfection. God doesn’t look at every act of disobedience as an opportunity to discipline. Sometimes He disciplines, but many other times he extends grace and blesses us in the midst of our disobedience and failures. It’s often through the most challenging situations that we grow the most. So in the midst of an epic meltdown in the middle of the mall, remind yourself: This is an opportunity for huge growth. Then head to the car with your screaming child while ignoring the gawking bystanders.
If you doubt how God feels about parents, check this verse out:
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
God isn’t just waiting to scold us. He’s not shaking his head at us. This verse tells us He’s gently leading us. God has experience as a parent, as he parents us. He understands that sometimes kids don’t comply; they try to do things their own way and they can make some really dumb choices. In the midst of our parenting fails or our disobedience, He gives us grace and is cheering us on.
It’s also helpful to remember that God gave our kids to us. On days when I think there is no possible way I can parent this kid (please tell me you occasionally have that thought, too), I’m reminded that God chose me to parent this child. He intentionally put this delightful and sometimes exasperating little one in my family.
Parenting is about building a lifelong relationship with our kids.
It’s about fun shared experiences. It’s about training and coaching. It’s not about perfection—in us or in our kids. As parents, let’s give ourselves some grace. Let’s do the best we can. When we fail, let’s take a deep breath and ask for help. Find people with whom we can be vulnerable. Pray for wisdom and patience. And pick ourselves up off the floor and try again. It’s not always an easy journey, but it’s so worth it.