Author: Amy Moran as published in Psychology Today
As a parent, you’re going to fail at one time or another. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll fail on a regular basis.
Parenting fails don’t make you a bad parent. In fact, every time you mess up, you have an opportunity to sharpen your parenting skills and teach your child valuable life lessons.
Social Media Has Changed the Way Parents Discuss Failure
Social media has led to an interesting shift in the way we talk about parent failures. It’s encouraged us to be more open about funny and relatable parenting problems while also discouraging us from talking about the deeper, more serious issues.
Look up the hashtag “ParentFail” on social media and you’ll find humorous parenting stories. A quick peek at Twitter reveals these parenting fail confessions:
- I’ve clearly done something wrong when [my] son Facetimes me from the driveway, asking me to bring him a yogurt before he leaves. #ParentFail
- My 3-year-old just said he loves Walmart. When I asked why he said, ‘Because they have free internet.’ #ParentFail
- Just in case all the moms and dads out there think they’re having a #parentfail today, you’re wrong. I’m winning. Two words: #SalsaFight
It’s great so many parents can laugh at themselves and share the humorous side to parenting. But not all social media discussions about parenting remain lighthearted. Parent shaming has become a serious problem.
Post a picture of your child enjoying a day at the beach and someone might be quick to remind you, “Too much sun exposure is bad for kids.” Or, share a photo of your child enjoying a hearty meal at his favourite restaurant and you might need to brace yourself for comments like, “I’d never let my child eat that much in one sitting. That’s why kids are so overweight these days.”
Who wants their happy memories and proud moments to be met with criticism and judgment?
Parents Are Shaming and Judging From Afar
Unfortunately, even tragic accidents often spur people to become the judge and jury in the court of public opinion.
When the news broke that child fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo in May of 2016, the parents were vilified. Many people demanded the parents be charged with a crime without knowing the details of how the child fell.
Just a month later, when a toddler was snatched by an alligator at Disney World, commenters on the media articles were quick to call the parents “careless” and “stupid.”
And it’s not just the readers who are shaming parents. There are many media outlets who are happy to point out parents whom they think aren’t doing a very good job.
OK Magazine ran a story about Charlize Theron “dragging her 4-year-old son” in a parking lot. The pictures appeared to show a preschooler who didn’t want to get in the car and the subtitle read, “Relationship experts dissect shocking photos.” The magazine invited readers to share their thoughts on Ms. Theron’s parenting habits.
The Fear of Looking Like a Bad Parent
Harsh judgment and parent shaming causes many parents to fear that they’ll look like a bad parent—even when they aren’t doing anything wrong. And that can lead to even bigger problems.
The fear of looking like a bad parent leads to three major problems:
1. Parents refuse to let their kids fail. Parents worry that their child’s forgotten soccer cleats or botched homework assignments will make them look bad. So they rescue them and prop them up. In the end, kids lose out on learning valuable life skills.
2. Parents hide their mistakes. No one wants to experience harsh criticism. So in an effort to avoid judgmental comments and unsolicited advice, some parents go to great lengths to hide their parenting mistakes. Secrecy can lead to shame and problems often go unaddressed.
3. Parents lose sight of their values. Some parents are changing their parenting habits in an effort to avoid looking like a bad parent. They give in to whining and tantrums in public because they’re afraid a child’s misbehaviour will make them look bad. Or they get so caught up in trying to look like a perfect family on social media that they don’t work on addressing their real-life issues.
How to Bounce Back From Parenting Fails
Whether you lost your temper and said things you didn’t mean or you role modelled some poor choices, parenting fails are inevitable. But, each time you mess up is a chance to become better. Here are five ways to successfully bounce back from parenting fails:
1. Acknowledge your mistake. Before you can fix it, you have to admit that you messed up. So take a minute to acknowledge your failure—even if it’s just to yourself.
2. Turn your failure into a teachable moment. If your parenting mistakes hurt your child, apologize. Role model how to accept full responsibility for your actions and show you’re committed to doing better next time.
3. Maintain your sense of humour. Sharing your silly and harmless parenting fails can be a good way to find joy in parenting blunders. And it may help you spark some conversation with other parents who completely understand. So by all means, share your stories.
4. Get support when you need it. Find a community of supportive parents who are willing to talk about tough parenting issues and epic parenting fails. Having conversations with other people who understand can help you become a better parent. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re struggling.
5. Create a plan to do better next time. Whether you’ve been bribing your child to behave or yelling more than you’d like, create a plan that will help you become the parent you want to be.
Parenting Is Never Perfect
If there’s anything certain about parenting, it’s that you’re going to fail sometimes. But even if you were a perfect parent, you wouldn’t be doing your child any favours.
Your child may grow up to live with an imperfect roommate, get involved with an imperfect partner, and work with imperfect people. Learning how to deal with all people—flaws and all—is an important skill.
That’s not to say you should mess up on purpose just to teach your child more life lessons. But it does mean you can take responsibility for your parenting fails.
In turn, you can role model how to build mental strength by bouncing back from failure, making amends when you’ve hurt someone, and learning from your mistakes.
Wellbeing Coordinator / Registered Pychologist