Ashley Hudson LMFT
How To Overcome Feeling Like You Are Failing As A Parent
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
Let’s be real. Do you ever feel like you are failing as a parent? Are there days you just want to log off from being a parent? Parenting is hard. Most parents feel like they are failing at some point in their journey of parenthood. In this article, I bring to light an accurate perception of what parental failure is and how to overcome the feeling you have failed as a parent. In addition, I review helpful truths to remember when you feel stuck in the feeling of parenting failure.
What is parental failure?
I think several parents who say or feel like they are failing as a parent might not be actually experiencing parental failure. Parental failure is when a parent causes significant trauma and/or physical or emotional damage to their child through their parenting style. This could be in the form of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and/or when parents are involved in substances or violence that is affecting their parenting. Typically, when parents are feeling like they are failing it is usually because they have had some rough parenting days. The difference is parenting rough patches are for a short amount of time that is in response to a stressful event or season of life, whereas real parental failure makes a significant amount of negative impact on a child for a long period of time.
Is it normal to struggle as a parent?
It is 100% normal to struggle as a parent. I would be worried if you did not struggle as a parent. Being a parent, you have added responsibilities and duties of protecting and looking after your child(ren). It is incredibly stressful and frustrating to try and manage all of life’s responsibilities; work, household tasks, connecting in your marriage, and taking care of children. Most parents feel they have trouble maintaining patience when it comes to staying calm while disciplining. Some parents feel hopeless after exhausting all their options saying, “I’ve tried everything.” The feeling of failing as a parent is extremely common in new parents who are often misguided or not equipped in knowing what to do as a first-time parent. Another example is feeling like you have little control over meltdowns, tantrums, defiance, or rebellion. All these struggles as a parent are completely normal. Every parent has had “I should have” done that or this better. It is common to struggle as a parent and most parents can feel a sense of failure during those challenging times.
How do you know if you failed as a parent?
Most parents that are questioning if they have failed as a parent come from a place of fear and shame. Fear in becoming the parent you told yourself you would never be. “I will never be like my mother” or “I will never do that like my father.” Parents get so wrapped up into the fear of what they don’t want to become that essentially the self-fulfilling prophecy develops. Instead of accepting and managing the tendencies that you have adopted from your childhood, parents cover up their vulnerability. The feeling of failing as a parent is about shame and not wanting others to see how “bad” you are as a parent. In addition, it is important to assess your parenting and take note of where you might need some improvements. However, some parents have incredibly high expectations and fear of disappointing others and themselves. So, when life hits and there are uncontrollables that change the routine, parents with high expectations feel disappointed and that feeling of failure creeps in. Lastly, self-criticism can be a culprit for a parent who is questioning if they have failed as a parent. If you don’t have respect and empathy towards yourself as a parent, it is difficult to have compassion towards others especially your children. It is easy to be negative and highly critical with your child particularly when they have challenging behaviors.
Instead of wondering if you have failed as a parent, ask yourself “what is holding me back from being the parent I want to be?”
What to do when you feel like you are failing as a parent:
Recognize and reframe
The first step is to recognize there needs to be a change with your parenting style. Acknowledge it’s about the love and care of your children, not from a place of disappointment or negative self-talk. Instead of thinking “I’m failing,” reframe your thoughts to “I’m struggling.” If you are feeling like you are struggling then, you are wanting to improve. Be aware of what you would like to work on; actions, responses, frustration tolerance, patience, managing stress level, and/or showing more affection.
Make a list of the actions and things you would like to work on. Journaling can be beneficial in exploring your feelings, thoughts, and parenting goals. It’s important to name it by writing it down and saying it out loud. Identifying what you would like to improve on makes it real and holds you accountable.
Now that you have thought of the behaviors, reactions, and responses you would like to do differently, it’s helpful to prepare yourself by having a game plan on what you are going to do to solve the parenting struggles you are dealing with. For example, think of specific ways you would like to verbalize limits and consequences more effectively. When you are prepared with what you are going to say or do, you are more likely to do it the way you want in the midst of stress, anxiety, and conflict with your child.
Work on it
Next, it would be constructive to dedicate time to work on the strategies you would like to do differently. Some parents get stuck in beating themselves up and they are not motivated to take purposeful action. The commitment is putting the game plan into action. Make it a priority to work on specific parenting skills you would like to change and see better. If that means, scheduling time in your week to add self-care strategies that will help manage stress and improve mood then go for it.
Say, “I’m sorry”
One of the most fundamental ways to teach your children empathy and taking responsibility for their actions is apologizing for your mistakes. There seems to be stigma around parents apologizing for their actions. You might have this belief that parents apologizing to their child is seen as less authoritative, less in control, or even weak. Well, that is not the case, parents will get more acknowledgement from their children when they apologize for their mishaps. You are teaching your children how to forgive, repair conflict, and make amends. Those are some of the most valuable life skills.
Be aware and understand your projections
Often when parents are displaying meanness towards their children it’s because they are mirroring their own feelings of themselves. Projection is taking the unwanted emotions and traits of yourself and applying it to your child. As a family therapist in Orange County, I work with parents who are motivated to process and unpack their childhood trauma and how it’s affecting their parenting. Parents who seek help such as going to therapy can gain confidence and self-worth. Being mindful and understanding of your projections will help with recognizing those feelings of failure and stop projecting them onto your child.
Setting boundaries for yourself
When you notice yourself feeling like a failure as a parent and incredibly stressed, it's typically a sign you need to care for yourself better. Parenting is sacrificial. It is in parents’ nature to put their children’s needs first and make sure they are taken care of. Parents forget that they also need to be taken care of. Self-care and doing things you love to boost your mood becomes last priority (or sometimes not a priority at all). Set boundaries and make your mental health a priority. By doing that, you are scheduling time daily for activities that are going to make you feel balanced and grateful. When you are modeling healthy boundaries and making your mental health a priority, your children will see that and make it a priority for themselves as well. Once you can manage your stress a little bit better, those feelings of failure will occur less often.
Truths you need to hear when you feel like you failed as a parent
1. Our failures don’t define who we are.
You are an amazing parent who has had some rough patches. Sometimes it’s just hard. Tomorrow is a new day to start fresh.
2. It’s easier to believe lies like “I have failed as a parent” when we are stressed and exhausted.
When we are sleep deprived or stressed to the max, it is easier to believe the lies that are ruminating in our minds. See the lies as an indicator you need to set some time to relax and unwind. Ask for help and make some “you time” happen.
3. It’s the sum of days that will shape your children not the specific rough day.
Don’t get so stuck on one tough day of parenting. It is how you handle your mistakes and repair your relationship with your child that will shape them.
4. The fact that you care about how you are doing as a parent means you are motivated to change.
Remind yourself when you have those feelings of parental struggle it’s because you want the best for your child and your frustrated with how to accomplish that. Focus on the love and care you have for them and display that to your children.
5. You are not alone in this.
You might see on social media that everyone appears to be happier and doing better than you are. That is not the case. Not everyone has it all together, most parents are struggling daily in meeting their expectations as a parent. There are so many parents that are in the same boat as you, so know that you are not alone.
The one thing I hear repeatedly from parents is, “I feel like I am failing as a parent.” Speculating if you have failed as a parent is coming from a place of fear and shame. Getting an accurate perception of what actual parental failure is can help with making realistic goals and expectations of improvement. If you are worried about how you are doing as parent, it means you care and you want to change which is a good starting place. It's normal to struggle especially if you are in a particularly hard season of parenthood. Saying “I’m sorry” and working on yourself as a parent through therapy or setting boundaries for self-care are big pillars in protecting yourself against the inaccurate feelings of parental failure. Lastly, reminding yourself that your rough parenting days don’t define you and you are not alone on this journey of parenthood. Hardships and struggles are an opportunity to heal and grow alongside your children. The caring and motivation to be better will make the biggest impact and shape your child into someone who knows how to care for themselves and repair relationships in the future.
Looking for more parental support:
At Ashley Hudson Therapy, I help parents rebuild confidence in their parenting again so they feel effective and they are able to demonstrate the love they have for their teenagers. If you are in California, I provide therapeutic services for teenagers and parents of teens. Schedule a complimentary consultation with me today.
Are you a motivated and determined parent that is ready to get more in depth and build a lifelong relationship with your teenager? Enroll in my self paced online parenting course: How to Connect With Your Teenager.