One of my favorite questions from young parents is whether or not my husband and I did all of the things I advocate with our own child. While we did much of what I suggest, some of the ideas I share with you were ones I thought of after our daughter was an adult. There are things in retrospect I wish we had done even more of and things I think we could have skipped without harming our child. And there are some mistakes we made along the way. Thankfully, our daughter is far enough into adulthood that I think we are safe now in saying they weren’t fatal mistakes, but they were still not our best parenting moments.
In fact, I have yet to meet a parent who claims to have parented mistake free. That’s especially true for Christian parents who have so many additional things to teach their kids. What makes a truly effective Christian parent different from others is an unwillingness to just shrug off mistakes as if they don’t matter. The truth is that your kids either immediately know when you’ve made a parenting mistake or they will figure it out at some point. What breaks down the parent child relationship and compounds the errors are not so much the errors themselves, as the lack of addressing them.
So what should you do when you realize you have made a mistake in parenting?
- Admit the mistake to your child. This frightens many parents, but it’s the right thing to do. Not only does it set a good example for telling the truth and accepting responsibility for one’s actions, it also shows your kids how to repent. If your children are younger, be very specific and concrete in what you say and use words they can understand.
- Acknowledge the negative consequences your child has or will experience because of your mistake. In some cases, this is fairly obvious – for example, you said something you shouldn’t have and it hurt your child’s feelings. Other times, it’s a little more abstract – perhaps you have neglected to correct a character flaw in them consistently and you know if not corrected that flaw will create problems for your child in the future. Once again, try to explain it in age appropriate ways to your child.
- Apologize. Sometimes the most powerful words in healing an issue in a parent child relationship are, ”I’m sorry.”
- State what you will do in the future to avoid repeating the mistake. At times, this will also mean your child will need to make changes as well – especially if you will begin correcting a behavior you have been ignoring or will be giving your child new responsibilities.
- Acknowledge any potential difficulties your child may experience because of the changes and apologize again for the mistake you are now having to correct. If your child had the new expectation from day one, it probably wouldn’t seem as drastic as having been allowed to behave in a certain way for a long period of time and then suddenly being expected to change. Remember, you are not apologizing for the change itself, because that is ultimately in your child’s best interest. What you are acknowledging is that the change may be difficult to make for both you and your child.
- Make atonement when possible for your mistake. Generally, this means reducing a consequence that was too harsh. It could also be giving a grace period to become accustomed to a new rule or responsibility in which reminders will be given perhaps a little more gently than normal.
It’s important to note, that you can go through these steps even if you don’t realize the mistake you made until your child is an adult. Obviously, at that point you may not be able to change anything. You can, however, explain clearly how you believe your child’s life would be improved even now if a change of some sort is made. If the mistake is pointed out to you by an adult child, it is perhaps even more important that you acknowledge the mistake if it was indeed one. Reconciliation is great, but don’t allow your child to develop a victim mentality and refuse to move forward from whatever mistake you made. A child who can’t forgive your parenting mistakes, will stay stuck in the past and never really reach his or her godly potential.
Don’t be afraid to admit your parenting mistakes or attempt to minimize them. Take responsibility for them and correct them. It may be one of the most important things you will ever do in parenting your child.