Parenting. Guys, it is hard. And I have a newsflash for you. Sorry for the honesty, but you are NOT a perfect parent. In fact, you royally mess up as a parent – often. I don’t even know you, but I know this about you for a fact.
Wanna know why? Because I’m one of those imperfect parents, right along with you. Because every single parent makes mistakes. Every single parent makes choices regarding their children that they regret. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the choices we make are or how long-lasting the consequences may be. We make so many mistakes and the guilt over these mistakes is all too common.
And the parenting guilt….it hurts. It worms its way into our heart. It threatens to paralyze us with fear. The fear of making a mistake again, the fear of putting our child in harm’s way again, whether that be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual harm.
We fear if we discipline too much or too little. We fear that we don’t spend enough quality time with our children or if we aren’t teaching them more independence. We fear and regret when we lose our heads and yell when our children are misbehaving. We fear that our kids don’t know or realize how much we really love them. We fear they won’t do well enough in school for their future. We fear they won’t grow into full-functioning, emotionally-healthy adults because of US. Because of our seemingly colossal, horrible mistakes.
I know this fear and this parenting guilt all too well. I’ve experienced it with every single mistake I’ve made too.
When my baby fell off the bed. When my 18-month old broke his finger because he fell over while holding onto a step-stool. When my 1 year old fell off of a 6-foot high platform at the playground onto the sand. When I went cliff diving when I was newly pregnant and was terrified afterward that I had harmed the new life inside of me. When I threw a toddler-sized temper tantrum toward my son for spilling his milk for the upteenth time and he just sobbed. When my husband and toddler got caught in a riptide in the ocean and almost didn’t make it when my son should have NEVER been out there in the first place. These are just a few of my hallmark moments of stupidity. I have plenty more.
Some of these were accidents and some were just stupid, stupid, STUPID choices me or my husband or the both of us made. Whether it was an accident or a deliberate choice, I still second-guessed myself constantly in every single one of these situations. I should have been watching him closer. I should have put that step-stool away sooner so he wouldn’t play with it. I should have given him a sippy cup instead so he wouldn’t have made such a giant mess. I shouldn’t have made such a big deal over something so small. I should have remembered that I have to be cautious and careful when I am pregnant, even if I am just a few weeks along. I should have seen the rough conditions of the ocean, thought about how young my son was, and said NO. Even though he was wearing a coast-guard approved floatation device, I should have just said no.
The should haves, would haves, could haves. They can drive you MAD as a parent.
I’ve been thinking about this so much, since my most recent horrible mistake was only yesterday. The riptide mistake, where my son’s life was in serious jeopardy because I thought it was fine that he and his daddy went out with some friends on an inflatable raft. I have been thanking God constantly since their feet both safely touched the sand that my son wasn’t required to suffer the consequences because of me and my husband’s stupid, stupid choice.
My guilt is fresh right now. It is raw and painful. I’ve been turning to God constantly since yesterday, thanking Him for their safety, begging for His forgiveness and His help in dealing with the pain.
So what do we do with this parenting guilt? What do we do with these mistakes, these mess-ups, these “What was I thinking?!” moments? What do we do?!
1. Learn From Your Mistakes
The number one thing we can do is to learn from them. Learn from these parenting mistakes so we can try not to make a repeat mistake again. If we use the lessons learned from these mistakes to improve our parenting and our decisions in the future, then our mistakes turn into learning experiences. Truly, they do.
We are all constantly learning as parents. Thank goodness we are not expected to be perfect parents from the moment we first bring that newborn home. And thank goodness our children don’t need perfect parents. Our children just need parents who love them and are committed to being the best parents they can be. They need parents who are willing to be humble and admit they make mistakes and then who are willing to work hard and try to be better.
When you make a mistake in life, you apologize to the offended party. The offended party just happens to be your child in this case. So apologize. Say you’re sorry. Apologize for getting angry. Apologize for disciplining too harshly. Apologize for for not listening or for hurting their feelings. Apologize for not keeping them out of harm’s way.
When you say you’re sorry to your children, you are admitting that you were wrong and that you make mistakes, just like they do. You are being an example to them of someone who is humble and who attempts to make things right again.
But also as you apologize, explain the things that you did right. That even though you made a mistake by yelling hysterically at your child, you still did the right thing by disciplining them for throwing their book in the toilet (oh my life). Not that what you did right excuses your mistake, but that way your child doesn’t get confused and think you’re apologizing for disciplining them or for doing your job as their parent.
3. Use Your Guilt Sparingly
The parenting guilt. For me as a mom, it’s mommy guilt. Oooo I hate it. Yet there is a reason why it is there. It can be a useful tool, but only if used sparingly.
Guilt can be compared to pain in our body. When our body gets injured, we experience pain. For example, if a toddler touches a hot stove it will injure his fingers and cause pain. But he won’t touch it again because the pain taught him a lesson. Pain is a tool our body uses to warn us of danger and also to prevent us from getting hurt again.
Guilt is the tool our souls use to warn us of danger and to prevent us from getting hurt (or hurting another person) again. If we never felt guilt after making a mistake then we would just make the same mistake again without thinking twice. Guilt can be useful and it has it’s place in reminding us to change our behaviors so we don’t have to experience that guilt again.
However, this useful tool needs to be used sparingly. Guilt has it’s place but only for a limited time. If we allow the guilt to linger and stay, long past it’s usefulness, then it will only be harmful instead of helpful. It will rob us of our peace, our confidence, and our ability to be good parents to our children.
I don’t know how long “long enough” is for experiencing guilt. I think it varies from person to person and it depends on the experience or the mistake. But I do know that eventually, you have to let the guilt go. And how do you do that?
4. Forgive Yourself
You let go of your guilt by forgiving yourself. This is easier said than done. But please try to remember – we are all parents who are learning. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a parent for a year or for 40 years, the learning process never ends. Just allow yourself some grace and remember that your learning as a parent is a constant thing.
I am in the process of forgiving myself right now for yesterday. It is hard and I am not feeling like I deserve forgiveness, but I am trying to remember that I am a human. I’m trying to remember that it’s ok to make mistakes as a parent and that everyone deserves forgiveness, no matter what they’ve done.
5. Remember You Only Have Control Over The Here and Now
Whenever I make a parenting mistake, the should-haves, would-haves, could-haves drive me crazy. They run circles in my head and drag me down.
But the only thing we as parents have control over is the here and now. Obviously we can’t go back and change the past, no matter how much we wish we could. We can only choose our actions in the present, in the here and now.
So don’t dwell in the past and get stuck in the should-haves. Live in the present. Just start taking steps in the right direction and commit to being a better parent today – not yesterday, but today.
We can do this parenting thing you guys. Our children will thankfully and mercifully survive our mistakes and hopefully grow into the people we are trying to help them become.
**Picture from Unplash