Feb 212014 11 Responses

What a Child’s Mistake Reveals About a Parent

It feels like a punch in the gut:

  • lying to a teacher
  • cheating on a test
  • a positive drug test
  • an arrest
  • expulsion from school

When a child makes a significant mistake, it can crush a parent. We feel like failures. We write the story that good parents don’t have children that make bad decisions. We know better, but we don’t feel better. (See: How to Parent an Adult Child Who Is Making Bad Choices)

I’ve sat with hundreds of parents over the years and listened as they told the painful stories of their children’s mistakes. The parents hurt, not just for the child, but also for themselves. They ask:

  • Is this my fault?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • How could I have allowed this to happen?

Sometimes the child’s rebellion is related to the parent. While every parent makes mistakes, some parents dramatically fail to play their role which enables their child to make foolish decisions. Yet a majority of the time, it’s not the parent’s fault. While no parent is perfect, many parents do a great job and their children still make bad choices. (See: 3 Things to Do When Parenting Goes Wrong)

A child’s mistakes doesn’t always reveal bad parenting. As a matter of fact, it rarely does so with the people I talk to—those who are trying to be good parents, who are highly involved, seeking outside counsel, and attempting to learn. (See Becca Whitson’s post “How My Failures As a Mom Benefit My Kids”)

Yet the mistakes do reveal something about the parents.

It reveals the presence of parental pride.

The crushing nature of a child’s mistake to our parental ego reveals that we are taking great pride when our children are successful. When we blame ourselves for their failures, it reveals that we often are taking credit for their successes.

While it’s natural and needed for us to take pride in our children, parents must be careful not to take pride from our children. Their success does not reflect our character. We should root for them, cheer for them, and take great joy when they succeed. We should be happy for them. But we should not feel better about ourselves or morally superior to others when our kids experience success. Their success belongs to them, not us. Often it happens in spite of us, not because of us.

When you put the honor roll bumper sticker on your car, is that for them or for you?

Did your son sign up for the team for himself or for you?

Does the report card show her progress or your identity?

Does his playing time reveal his ability or your dreams?

Are you proud of your child’s success or are you proud you have a successful child?

It’s a fine line for parents and one which every parent crosses at some point. We must continually examine our hearts and our motives to determine if we are being a good parent or a prideful person. (See: Too Involved, Not Involved Enough)

Every child will make a mistake. Every child will probably make a major mistake. When they do, it is good for us to reflect on who we are and how we parent. We should not, however, assume their failure is because of our failure.

As heartbreaking as it is, when our children suffer, their mistakes can reveal to us our hidden pride. Far more often, I need to repent of my pride than repent of my bad parenting.

11 Responses to What a Child’s Mistake Reveals About a Parent
  1. Ashli Reply

    This is something I think about a lot coming from divorced parents who have 2 completely different parenting styles/households. One of the things I can’t help but notice is when multiple (or every) child from a family grows up making harmful decisions or struggling with emotional/psychological issues. It’s hard to not correlate that situation with bad parenting.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Very true Ashli. I should probably qualify this post to only certain situations.

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  6. Louise W. Reply

    We have three adult children – all are divorced. We stood by and watched as they each made bad choices, knowing in our hearts what was surely ahead. But we said nothing, felt happy for them and were supportive. One by one, each marriage crumbled. Now we ask ourselves – were we bad parents? We just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and felt guilty. Only one of them expressed joy for our accomplishment. Our marriage wasn’t perfect but we tried to lead by example. It didn’t work. They continue to make bad choices and we continue to stay neutral. I don’t get it. We have virtually no friends whose children are all divorced. What did we do wrong?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Louise, I’m sorry for your sorrow. Watching adult kids make choices that don’t turn out the way we hope is one of the toughest aspects of parenting. Ultimately each child is responsible for their own lives and their decisions do not define your parenting.

  7. Donna Reply

    I have two adult daughters who were raised in a Christian home under very ideal circumstances our daughters were very involved in church and did very well in school. However as they became young adults both became sexually active and began dating non Christians. One became pregnant and a single mom. My husband and I are so heartbroken and feel indeed like we have failed. We are constantly reflecting on their childhood and thinking what we could have done differently. We both agree that our children had more spiritual guidance than either of did growing up, yet none of it seemed to make a difference.

  8. Rather not say Reply

    Thank you so much for putting these words to paper! My own words cannot express how validating this was to read; & how powerful it is sometimes just to have LANGUAGE for a perspective that is already in my mind but for some reason I am unable to verbally express it. You have a GIFT!!!!

    My immediate thought after reading this was that not everyone would find this message as equally meaningful. I thought, “Some people might think its not that significant for a parent to adnowledge a child’s sense of self/identity.” Conceptually, it might sound like a fancy idea…like its not all that important. But if you were someone unlucky enough to have your sense of “self” stolen from you or repeatedly dismissed as a child, its something you fight to get back nearly every day as an adult. Thanks Kevin for the reminder to those that are fighting the good fight…

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