Teenage daughter hugging mother's leg on the beach.

I Failed as a Parent: Now What?

Parenting is hard. You could do everything right and still feel like you failed as a parent. Why? Because we judge our success as a parent based on the success of our children.

We tell ourselves, “If your children didn’t turn out right, then you must not have done it right.” And now you can’t seem to shake the guilt and shame.

An interesting passage in the Old Testament shows God’s perspective about guilt and blame between parents and children.

“Suppose a certain man is righteous and does what is just and right…But suppose that man has a son who grows up…and refuses to do what is right…Should [that son] live? No! He must die and must take full blame…But suppose that sinful son, in turn, has a son who sees his father’s wickedness and decides against that kind of life…[that son] will not die because of his father’s sins; he will surely live…The soul that sins is the soul that dies. The child does not share the guilt of the parent, nor the parent the guilt of the child. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezekiel 18:5-20, NLT/MSG)

If you struggle with feelings of failure as a parent, here are three things you need to know and do.

1) There are no perfect parents.

Perfection is unattainable. Nobody is perfect. Every child is raised by sinful, fallen, scarred, and skewed adults. There are no exceptions.

“Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” (James 3:2a, NLT)

2) There are no perfect kids.

Bad children can come from good parents and good children can come from bad parents.

“There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, GNB)

3) There is no perfect outcome.

If life has taught us anything, it has taught us that there’s no such thing as guaranteed outcomes.

“Never boast about tomorrow. You don’t know what will happen between now and then.” (Proverbs 27:1, GNB)

Only God can guarantee an outcome. Even then, God has chosen to allow human beings free will.

My wife and I went through a season of parenting; that can only be described as a nightmare. Struggling with feelings of guilt and shame, we felt like total failures as parents. And I felt like a complete failure as a pastor and a Christian.

How could I lead anyone in the Christian journey when I was such a failure as a father?

I seriously considered resigning from ministry altogether. I even wrote my letter of resignation. I was crying out to God for answers.

During this season we went to Lancaster, PA, for a show at Sight & Sound Theaters. I was not in the mood. Our teenage kids were escalating out of control, but we went anyway.

The show was called “In the Beginning.” It was a theatrical performance of the creation story and the early chapters of Genesis. As the story unfolded, Adam and Eve rebelled against their heavenly father, and they showed the pain God went through as his children disobeyed and suffered the consequences.

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart in a profoundly deep way – “You see. Even God’s kids, who had the perfect parent in the ideal home, rebelled against everything they were taught.”

So, was God a failure as a parent?


Siting in that theater God taught me that I am responsible for my parenting, not for the product. I am responsible TO my kids, but not FOR my kids. Great parenting means you did the best you could with what you knew, motivated by love.

And yet, no matter how many times I’m reminded of those principles, I still find myself periodically struggling with feelings of failure.

6 Things You Should Do When you Feel like you Failed.

Mother and daughter teenager embrace on the seashore, ocean.

1) Recognize that your replays are not reality

We tend to think we were worse than we probably were, and we tend to critique what we did back then by what we know now.

“Do not be a false witness…or exaggerate with your lips.” (Proverbs 24:43, LES)

We are all “better parents” when we are not on the battlefield. That’s why so often young couples have lots of theories about how they will parent BEFORE they become one.

2) Realize Your Mistakes

Yes, you made some mistakes. There are things you wish you could do-over. You have regrets. We all do. But mistakes are meant to mentor you if you face them. You can’t fix what you won’t face.

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful.” (Proverbs 28:13a, The Living Bible)

Honestly assess and confess what you wish you had or had not done and then…

3) Release Your Guilt and Shame

Guilt is when we feel bad for something we did. 

Shame is when we feel bad for who we are.

The truth is – God doesn’t want you carrying either one. Take your guilt and shame to God and dump it there. He will remove it far from us.

“As far as east is from west, so he has removed far from us the guilt of our transgressions.” (Psalm 103:12, LEB)

4) Receive God’s Grace

The only way to truly be a failure is to fail to receive God’s grace.

“Be careful that no one fails to receive God’s grace…” (Hebrews 12:15, NCV)

Once you receive God’s marvelous grace and forgiveness, you will feel PEACE…well, at least until you hear someone talking about their “incredible and perfect children.”

Then we need to…

5) Resist Comparison

When we compare ourselves to others, we waste time focusing on other peoples’ lives rather than our own. Which often results in resentment. Resentment towards others and ourselves. Comparison is the death of joy.

There will always be someone ready to share how their son was Magnum Cum Laude at Harvard and is now the head of a prestigious law firm. Or their “perfect” child is a missionary living in a third world county rescuing orphans by day and prostitutes at night.

Paul said, “We don’t dare compare ourselves with those who think so much of themsleves.” (2 Corinthians 10:12a, CEV)

The problem is we often compare our behind the scenes bloopers with other people’s highlight reels.

No one has walked in your shoes, lived your journey, faced your challenges, or shouldered your pain. There is no comparison.

6) Repurpose your Pain

You are not a failed parent. You are a veteran with wartime experience!

May I suggest using your experience for God’s glory and others’ good by serving in a ministry for children/teens.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, NLT)

If you are feeling like a failure as a parent

  • Realize the truth.
  • Receive God’s grace.
  • Recycle your pain.
  • Matseliso Naphtaly
    Posted at 01:49h, 28 January Reply

    We have a rebellious child tried everything we could even taking him to multiple rehabs but he doesnt change.He is one thing adding to me for wanting to relocate
    I sometimes run out of words to talk to God about him.But now you inspired me I no longer feel like I failed as aparent.Thank you.

    • Brian
      Posted at 12:42h, 28 January Reply

      I’m so glad this blog was a help to you. Praying for you and your son.

  • Christina cancel
    Posted at 19:49h, 04 November Reply

    Thank you for this, I’m drowning….

    • Brian
      Posted at 12:32h, 06 November Reply

      I’m so sorry Christina. I’m lifting you up in prayer this morning.

  • Michael Young
    Posted at 22:22h, 07 February Reply

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share these thoughts and provide perspective.

    Truly appreciative,

  • Priscilla
    Posted at 05:29h, 22 February Reply

    If someone can pray for my teenage son and husband who can’t seem to get along, communicate, or understand each other. It is tearing our family apart, I’m even considering divorce. I really do not know what to do. I knew we weren’t perfect, but I just feel like I need a way out:

    • Brian
      Posted at 16:24h, 22 February Reply

      Priscilla, I am so sorry you are going through this difficult time. I would say that divorce doesn’t solve the problem, it only adds more pain. I highly recommend you seek out pastoral or professional counseling. Please know that I will be praying for you and your family.

  • Joy brier
    Posted at 16:51h, 24 April Reply

    This helped me some but I’m hurtin so much. My now adult son won’t forgive me for the mistakes I made and I’m crushed without him.

    • Brian
      Posted at 20:58h, 24 April Reply

      So sorry Joy. Praying for you!

  • Marlyn
    Posted at 03:59h, 30 April Reply

    Thank you very much. Your words and Scriptures really helped me to process my failure as a parent to my adult children.

  • kk
    Posted at 01:05h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you for your words of encouragement today. This week was a rock bottom week for me with my teenage daughter. My husband and I raised her the best we knew how and could. Yet, today I felt extremely bitter and sad about my daughter’s choices that have led to her failing classes, skipping school, and barely being able to graduate. Although I worked so hard to nurture her, provide for her, and even support her- the lack of progress and fear she won’t reach this milestone in her life is hurtful. It is hard not to look at her friends and wonder what did I do so wrong. How did I get here? I totally feel like a failure as a parent. I am going to take your words and scriptures and continue to meditate on them until I get them in my spirit. Right now- I hurt deeply. Maybe soon, I can forgive myself, walk in god’s grace, and continue to love and support my daughter without feeling bitter about what could have been if my daughter made better choices. I know her life isn’t over. I just have to deal with the now consequences of her decisions and move past hurt and disappointment. Again, thank you for your blog.

    • Brian
      Posted at 11:08h, 14 May Reply

      I’m so glad this short blog was helpful to you. I’ve been where you are and it’s tough. Praying for you!

  • Jacqueline Waters
    Posted at 18:27h, 22 May Reply

    Thank you, Pastor Brian. I have an almost 33 year old that is constantly starting over. Only some of what he’s tried has worked out for him. He doesn’t understand that each time he starts over, we as a family are affected by his stages. His brother has to take him to work, and is housing him for a while. I’m anxious about his life and him not being settled.

  • Nikki connery
    Posted at 03:50h, 23 February Reply

    I have a son who is 42. So much to explain and understand. He has cerebral palsy, walks with a cane and struggles physically with many tasks but is very very bright. He did finish college and got his paralegal certificate . He had a really great job for 7 years in Boston. That job ended and he’s had 5 temp jobs. In between we have had to support him paying his bills. He can’t do ant job that requires him to stand and walk around.. big problem of which I have been very upset about is that his weight reached 400 pounds. God answered my prayers somewhat . I have been taking him to the ymca to swim every day and he’s lost 50 pounds. He can’t drive. I k ow I have done many things for him and he is a good man by I feel like a failure. He is staying with us until he gets another job and then will go back and live at his condo in Boston. He’s had 500 plus interviews over the years. It’s draining and sad and disappointing. All of the struggles and he lives with us for no.w . We have to pay his condo fees for months now. And of course everything else. Food etc. I just get depressed. I’m glad you mentioned how we just can’t “compare”. That is my downfall. He’s not married, I have no grandchildren . He is not living independently. It makes me feel bad sometimes when I’m with my friends who have able bodied children. Our situation is tough. Nick doesn’t spend any time with any friends. Doesn’t have a lot in common with people his own age. Too many things to contend with and I feel like I’ve failed as a person I. So many ways because I haven’t been able to fix all these things. Please pray for me.

    • Brian
      Posted at 23:36h, 23 February Reply

      Dear Nikki. Thank you for writing. My heart breaks for you. You are clearly NOT a failure. You are a hero. Your heart for your son matches God’s heart for His kids. Clearly, you’ve been dealt a difficult hand that entails far greater strength than most parents have had to draw upon. Please know that I will be lifting you and your son up in prayer.

  • Karen
    Posted at 04:14h, 24 February Reply

    I can’t begin to tell you what your column meant to me today. My husband died when my children were very young, and so I was a single parent. My 35-year-old daughter, who was six when her father died, told me yesterday that I was a failure as a parent in every respect. It came out of the blue and hit me like a mack truck. I am a devoted Christian who tried very hard, but everything she told me–in great detail–seemed true. I had been selfish, self-righteous, self-absorbed, judgmental, and undisciplined, although I didn’t see it at the time. I feel I have since made great strides through repentance and the gift of the atonement of Christ, but yesterday, it seemed like it was all too little, too late. I have been praying and crying for over 24 hours and couldn’t rise out of my grief. But your clear, succinct, inspired words, along with key scriptural passages that I had never before internalized, brought me to tears–good ones this time. I will go forward, and no longer wallow in my mistakes. And God will continue to help both my children and me. Thank you.

    • Brian
      Posted at 22:38h, 24 February Reply

      Karen, I’m so glad the article gave you some comfort. Praying God continues to give you comfort to know how much you are loved.

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