Parenting Mistakes Aren’t Always Mistakes

By Erin Finn, Family Life Educator

A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter and I sat side-by-side at a family birthday dinner.  As I chatted with a relative, my daughter began to pull on my sleeve, trying to interrupt and get my attention.   I pretended not to notice, not wanting to give her my attention for impolite behavior, and carried on the conversation, but she was not to be ignored. She continued to tug on my clothing and say, “Mommy . . . MOMMY . . . MOMMY!!!!”  Finally, I snapped; I turned to her sharply and said in a loud, angry voice, “WOULD YOU BE QUIET AND EAT YOUR CAKE!!!”  My daughter’s face crumpled as she replied, “Mommy, I just wanted to tell you that you have chocolate on your face.” My relative chuckled and said, “Nice job, parenting teacher!”  I laughed also and replied, “We make mistakes too; we just feel twice as guilty afterward!”  I hugged my daughter and allowed her to wipe the chocolate from my face.  Then I apologized for being rude and explained why I had become angry.

I reflected on the incident for several days afterward.  As a part of my work at The Parenting Center, I read a great number of books about families and parenting.  Why is it, then, that I still make mistakes?  The answer is, of course: I’m human!  I get tired, hungry, or angry just like any other person.  I plot revenge for minor incidents.  (I considered throwing away my daughter’s princess coloring set when her stubborn search for a lost marker made me embarrassingly late for an important event.)  I act selfishly sometimes.  (I gobbled down the last of my little girl’s candy bar while she was sleeping and pretended I had no idea what happened when she looked for it the next day.)  And I did scold her in a restaurant when she was simply trying to keep me from looking foolish.

I feel guilty about these things.  I want my daughter to have a mother who is loving and fair, not crazed and frequently coated in a layer of stolen chocolate.  But one important thing I’ve learned from my parenting books, the thing that I remind myself of in these moments is: it’s not about whether we make mistakes or not.  Because we will make mistakes; it’s inevitable.  It’s what we do next that counts.  Do we hug our children and apologize?  Do we talk with them and explain?  Do we do better the next time?  The thing that matters in parenting is what we do with those mistakes.  When we learn from them, we become better for our children and we show them how to handle life with wisdom and humor.  We teach them how to bounce back from missteps and to expect the best from themselves but not perfection. And if allowing my daughter to learn these lessons requires me to have a taste of “humble pie” along with my cake at family get-togethers, then I say, “Let’s eat!”

9 thoughts on “Parenting Mistakes Aren’t Always Mistakes

  1. Loved this article and I have been there myself with my three year old. It makes me feel better that experts have bad moments as well.

  2. Thanks for putting things into perspective and reassuring me that it IS okay to make mistakes! I am an attorney working primarily in the CPS world and so often I spend my time counseling my clients on ways to make better choices and decisions. So many times I cannot fathom how it got to a point in their lives that the state felt obligated to remove their children from their care. When I represent the kiddos, my heart breaks to see all that the have endured at the hands of those they trust and love the most. Then I go home to my own precious kiddos with so many mixed emotions as a result of my experiences throughout the day. While I am grateful and proud to be their mother, many of the emotions you discuss above kick in and I worry whether I have the right to give parental advice when I too find myself losing my temper and snapping at my girls. Fortunately it sounds like I am doing the right thing as I make it a habit to sit down with my daughters (one is 5 1/2 and the other is 1 1/2) and discuss what happened and why I snapped, apologizing for my reacions, and what both her and I could do differently in the future, etc. Thanks for the positive enforcement!

  3. Thank you for sharing that. I feel twice as guilty when I do the opposite of what I teach my clients who are parents. I now feel better to recognize that yes I am human and what we do with those mistakes is key.

    Thanks so much

  4. This was such a good read! I do not have children yet, however I find myself using this experience to evaluate how I handle my relationships. This serves as a good example of how one can always improve in their lives. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Erin, this is a great article. I can identify with this so much! My kids are 9 and 7, and they know mom sometimes has to apologize for being too harsh or not listening to them before delivering a consequence. It really is humbling for me and helps me grow. Knowing you have to face your flaws makes you careful to not act inappropriately in the future. 🙂

    It’s nice to see a parenting expert be so transparent. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Great reminder that we’re all human. I could apply many of your thoughts to my years as a teacher, too. Thanks for the blog!

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