When Parents Feel Like Failures

by Mark Gregston

March 9th, 2020

Show me someone who is perfect, and I’ll show you someone who is putting up a really good front. On every person’s résumé of life there are always a few disappointments. Things we should have done, but didn’t. Things we shouldn’t have done, but did anyway. Missed opportunities. Squandered talents. Some bad decisions. A few regrets. Each of us has a list of failures all our own. We may be able to shake our heads at the blunders that have hurt us. But when we think about how our failures have hurt our teens, our mistakes are magnified and we start to feel like failures ourselves. Mom and Dad; we don’t need any outside help when it comes to pointing out our flaws. We do a pretty good job of that on our own, especially when we look at how our teen is struggling and the questions start to pile up. “What did I do wrong? Is this my fault? Was I a bad parent?

Have you had those conversations with yourself?

Let me offer encouragement to moms and dads who are feeling like failures and wondering if their teens would be better off without them.

DON’T FOCUS ON APPEARANCE

I get it. When teens make mistakes, moms and dads often take it personally. A kid’s bad behavior makes us ask, “Did I teach them well enough? Was I too strict with her? Was I too lenient with him?

There is a time and place for self-reflection about your parenting style. But when you begin to feel like a complete failure because of the actions of your children, what you really need is a shift in perspective. Sometimes we become consumed with what we’re teaching our teens, instead of what our teens are learning. If our daughter comes home pregnant, we question our instructions on maintaining sexual purity. When our son continues to fail his classes, we wonder, “Did I spend enough time highlighting the importance of education?” We start to believe that because our teens are making bad decisions, the years spent teaching them was a waste. But that’s not the case. In fact, it’s in those mistakes that teens may be learning the most. Just because a teen got the answer wrong, doesn’t mean that you didn’t show them how to arrive at the right answer. Adolescence is the time when kids are flexing their decision-making muscles, developing their independence, and putting what you’ve taught them into practice. Those bad decisions aren’t necessarily evidence that you didn’t teach your kids well enough. Rather, your teens are learning the value of what you’ve taught them.

Kid’s failures are not a reflection on you, mom and dad. In many ways we are responsible for our teens, but in many ways we are not. As our kids get older, they are growing in their responsibility to make choices for themselves. Talk to me in person, and I will give you many examples of great parents who had teens that struggled. In the same way, I know there are some truly bad parents who’ve had upstanding kids. Your child is not a personal mirror. Your teen is a developing adult who needs to learn and grow through the experience of making mistakes. Don’t judge your parenting successes or failures on the short-term behavior of your child. That’s like using a funhouse mirror to try on clothes. It won’t give you an accurate account of reality.

DON’T SUCCUMB TO THE FEELINGS

Feelings are impossible to control. That’s why I never tell parents, “Well, stop FEELING like a failure!” There are moments where our own parental disappointments will hit us full force. We might feel guilty, or discouraged, or depressed. But here’s the key; don’t allow those feelings to control you. You might feel like a failure, but you don’t have to respond to those feelings. Guilt, shame and depression shouldn’t be the driving force behind our parenting. But they will be if we give in to those feelings of failure.

So don’t give up! I know you feel like quitting. I know that you may feel inadequate or underprepared to raise a teenager. Keep going. The fact you are reading this article proves you care about your child and want the best for them. And that means you’re a good parent! You are not a failure; so don’t act like one. This period of teenage transition is hard, no doubt about it. But your teen needs you. You are an important presence in your child’s life. Mom and Dad; don’t quit!

DON’T THINK CHANGING MEANS FAILING

I have sixty kids at a time staying at the Heartlight residential campus, and each parent who sent their teen for help struggled with the decision. They felt that admitting they needed help was an admission of failure. Each parent said they felt like they were giving up.

But the kids aren’t at Heartlight because of parenting failures. They are the success stories! It takes courage and strength to make a big change in your family. It takes determination and vision to go look for help. If you give up what you’ve been doing to help a teen that’s struggling, that’s not failure. That’s an investment in the future of your family.

I had a dad sit down and talk with me recently about his 18-year-old son at Heartlight. He had done all he could to help his son learn responsibility, maturity, confidence and leadership. He coached his son’s sports teams. He spent time in conversations. He modeled being a husband and father. But no matter what the dad tried, his son sunk deeper and deeper into his problems. So he made the decision to send his son to Heartlight and get the counseling and help he needed. “Mark,” he said, “I didn’t want to send him away. But my son is just too valuable to me to simply do nothing.

Change is not failure, Mom and Dad. Change may be just what your teen needs. Maybe it’s a shift in parental focus. It could mean a different approach to discipline and consequences. Perhaps it means getting a counselor involved, or looking into Heartlight yourself. Those steps towards change are marks of parental success.

Perfect parents are as mythical as unicorns and leprechauns. They simply don’t exist. We all make mistakes in our parenting. But that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.

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