Reality: parents make mistakes, and many of them.
What types of parents make mistakes? The human ones.
Who is exempt from making really stupid, parenting mistakes? No one. Yes, even you.
So take hope! You are not alone. However, when the mistakes are made this is an incredible opportunity to grow in God’s grace, not make excuses, and become more Christlike. I think God has used parenting more than any other life experience to teach me more about Him.
Here’s a few things to consider when you feel like a parenting failure:
What is parenting failure?
This is a little tricky – because theologically there are several truths that need to be considered here.
For the believer in Christ, there is no condemnation in Gods eyes (Romans 8:1), but there is unquestionably the possibility of running the race of our life poorly (1 Cor. 9:24), which includes parenting. So, as a believer, there is no condemnation coming at you from God in any area of your life, but there is the very real possibility of going through life and having nothing to show for it. This is the life that is absorbed with self and not Christ. Even though you will never receive condemnation from Christ, there will be opportunity one day for commendation from Christ. As parents we can make the mistake of thinking our parenting won’t have eternal significance. That’s a lie. The choices we make in our parenting will have a ripple effect in eternity. That should sober us all up a bit.
But because there is no condemnation from God in our Christianity, that’s a good reminder that God won’t give up on you and your parenting; neither should you. Every day is a new opportunity to remind yourself of God’s grace, not your inadequacies (Lamentations 3:22-23).
What are the facts?
When we feel like a failure, we often times have a distorted perspective on truth. We can become emotionally involved, and that can skew the facts:
“I’m the worst parent ever.” (Not true, there are others that were worse…guaranteed)
“My kids hate me.” (Not true. They may really, really not like you right now, but it’s probably not hatred)
“My kids are toast because I’m a horrible parent.” (Not really – lots of kids have been very successful coming from horrible scenarios).
When we blow it often times we under estimate the gravity of our errors or we over emphasize them (and this is based on my personal experiences and in counseling parents). The truth is probably somewhere in between.
A good thing to do in life – but particularly when you feel like a failure – is talk yourself through the truth (read Philippians 4:8). If you’re having a hard time thinking through what the truth is, it may be good to get someone else involved who can help you think through what is true and what isn’t.
Do I need forgiveness?
We often times feel like a failure because we have genuinely not lived according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-23). We have made mistakes and acted in the flesh (yelling, disrespect, selfishness, etc). In these situations we need to seek forgiveness because we have undoubtedly hurt our child. We need to go to the one we have offended and seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:23-24). Forgiveness begins with humility. Until you’re willing to go to your 5 year or 18 year old and ask forgiveness, there can never be genuine restitution.
Who is helping me think through my ‘failures’?
If you are like many parents, you would answer this question with “No one”. Stop pretending you are the parenting exception and that you don’t need to talk to anyone about things you are facing. A good sign that you are prideful: no one has access to your life. In your circle of relationships you have at least one or two parents that would be more than willing to sit down with you and talk about your parenting. Give someone access to your life and allow them to fulfill the command of Galatians 6:2 (“Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” NASB) This is not time for defensiveness – this is an opportunity for vulnerability. Having a hard time with vulnerability? You need to get some coaching on that also.
What’s the plan going forward?
Think it through: what about ‘X’ issue needs to be tweaked for the next time? What changes need to be made to my tone, approach, conversations tactics, etc.? How can my spouse (or a friend, if you’re single) hold me accountable to changes that need to be made? In what ways do I need to demonstrate next time the same grace and mercy that Christ demonstrates to me?
Yes, you may have genuinely made some mistakes. But by God’s grace you can learn, grow, and continue to become the child of God and parent that God is grooming you to be. What you see as failure is actually an opportunity to move forward. Walk through the above questions and maximize on your mistakes for greater opportunities to reflect on and exemplify Christ’s grace.
Scott Foreman is the Executive Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. He has been active in full-time vocational ministry for almost 20 years as a Camp Director, Radio Host, Missionary and now Pastor. You can follow him here at The Ministry Dad, and also on Twitter: @scottdforeman.