We recently updated some of the outlets in our house. Several of them now have a re-set button. If we try to plug something in wrong or something plugged in touches water, the outlet throws the connection to the circuit breaker. When everything is corrected, we merely push the re-set button on the outlet and we can start over again.
Sometimes I wish parenting had a re-set button. You think what you are doing raising your child is working when suddenly you recognize a behavior pattern that makes you realize you made a mistake. Sometimes it is minor, like accidentally correcting an innocent child. Other times it can be a life changing mistake, like not holding your child accountable for his behavior.
Sometimes we discover our parenting mistakes when our child is older and begins to break away from the family and create her own life. These years in childhood and especially the teen years can bring to light a lot of behaviors you may have unintentionally encouraged. Behaviors that may negatively affect your child’s future. Or perhaps you have just recently given your life to God and now want to introduce God to your teenager, who shows little interest.
We took a great parenting class before our daughter was even born. One of the most encouraging things they had to say was that it is never too late. I loved their model for setting the re-start button with your child. They advised finding a quiet, non-threatening place to talk with your child. Apologize for the mistake or mistakes you feel you have made. I would even suggest that you are very specific about what these mistakes are.
Then comes the hard part of the discussion. Inform your child you will try to correct your mistakes in the future. This means your child’s life may change drastically. You are now lovingly, but firmly going to hold her accountable for behaviors you have let slide by in the past. There will be consequences if she continues to act in a certain way as it will now be considered rebellion against your rules. I would even explain to her why you feel this change in her behavior is essential for her to accomplish.
Thankfully, we have only had to do this a few times with relatively minor behaviors. The parenting class said that if you could be very consistent in your expectations and corrections for about two to four weeks, you would notice a marked improvement. We have found that to be true. I admit, I have never seen this attempted with a completely unruly teenager whom you are now trying to discipline for the first time. My guess is that it would take more time and perhaps building a good relationship with your child before beginning.
If your mistakes in parenting involve not showing enough affection or real attention to your child, those are a lot more fun to correct. Be aware though that your child may have a lot of unresolved anger for your previous behaviors towards him. It may take some time for him to realize you really do love him and are going to change. If the relationship is too broken, you may need a neutral third party to help. In most instances though, if you are honest with your child and consistent in your changed behavior, it is really never too late to establish that loving relationship you both want.
I think the important thing is that we try. God understands that like Peter, sometimes we are just doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. Sometimes we are unknowingly repeating the mistakes our own parents made with us. Whatever the reason, we can have a great heart and make just as many big mistakes as Peter did. But, look what happened to Peter in Acts. He became a leader in the early church. Maybe just a little of that was because he was willing to face his mistakes and try to correct them.
So go ahead and admit your mistakes. Take advantage of that parental re-set button and help your child be the emotionally and spiritually healthy person that God wants her to be. It may be hard work, but it can make an eternal difference in the life of your child.