Dealing with Feelings of Failure as a Parent
As I am writing this, I am rife with regret over how I just responded to the totally age-typical meltdown my 3-year-old had about nap-time. Of course, he did not want to stop playing in order to lie down and rest. Of course, he felt powerless to a situation that seemed to take very little consideration to how he was feeling about the moment. But my lack of patience in the moment kept me from seeing the situation from his perspective, and instead I used my parental authority to require nap-time commence without further discussion.
Parenting is challenging, no matter the circumstance. The relationship is a highly emotional dynamic. After a particularly tense conflict, mothers and fathers may find themselves experiencing feelings of failure. If you are a parent who also struggles with depression or anxiety, then your setbacks may feel tenfold. When I find myself ruminating on how I parented a situation, I find these reminders helpful to move forward:
Because You Care
Your strong feelings about parenting (for success or failure) are evidence in and of themselves that you care for your children and want to do well by them. If you were not a good parent, likely you would be so self-absorbed that you would not experience feelings or guilt or concern over your child at all. Your involvement in their upbringing is a statement of your attempt to be present in their lives and make a positive impact.
Whenever involved in the development of another person, it is natural to experience doubt, uncertainty, and point-blank mistakes. This is how we learn. This is how we grow.
Because a Moment is Just a Snapshot
It can be very tempting to slide down the shame spiral of one moment and forget all the other lovely things you’re doing right. It is likely your mistakes are really far and few between compared to the positive memories you are making. It is just that successful moments can be harder to recall while in the throes of a mistake. But when considering the quality of any interpersonal relationship, one could not base this on a singular moment. Instead, we learn to develop a trust in the other person as a whole and have respect for their values as they are demonstrated over many different interactions in many different contexts. I can believe and remind myself that my children will experience the good and the bad of my motherhood, with hopefully more success than mistakes.
Because You Are the Practice Ground
Parenthood could be considered a little like a training ground for every other relationship your children will have in their lives. People make mistakes. People have big emotions. People have to learn how to apologize, move forward, develop self-control, forgive, give second chances, establish firm boundaries, reinforce expectations, and develop discernment for relationships that are healthy and ones that are not. Every interaction within the child’s primary relationships is a model for the development of these types of interpersonal skills. In this way, failure from time to time is necessary for the scaffolding of this relational foundation to be built.
Because You Can Still Respond
So, you made a mistake. Handled a situation with too strong a tone or too strict a consequence, or you didn’t follow through on the first expectation and now you’ve got to go back and reinforce the rules, even though you were the one that opened the door to bending them. It is still a great lesson for you to look at your child and say, “You know what? I made a mistake. I should have handled this differently. Can we try that again?”
Many parents pressure themselves to be “perfect.” Not only is that elusive title nonexistent, even if we could acquire such a status, it would only set our children up for failure of their own. Because if they never see us struggle or make mistakes then they never learn how to cope with their own weaknesses. They never learn how to manage failure. Trying our best and acknowledging when we could have done better is the best lesson we can give our children. In this way, we liberate them on a path to their own emotional growth.
Brené Brown has written an inspiring Whole-Hearted Parenting Manifesto that I return to often when I need parental encouragement. The document in its entirety can be found on her website. Here is an excerpt that I think sums up the sentiment well:
“I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you, truly, deeply seeing you.”
McClure, B. (2020). Dealing with Feelings of Failure as a Parent. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/dealing-with-feelings-of-failure-as-a-parent/