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.
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.