I know because if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be hanging around parenting blogs like this one.
You’re probably not abusive, neglectful, or in the habit of making parenting choices that could get you on the evening news.
You’re not a bad parent by any stretch of the imagination.
And yet you could always be a better one, right? We all have room for improvement.
Here are 12 big mistakes even good parents make—most of which are made either A) completely unintentionally, or B) purposefully but with nothing but good intentions.
Are you guilty of any of them?
12 Big Parenting Mistakes Even Good Parents Make
1. Dismissing our children’s emotions.
As bona fide grown ups, we know there’s no valid reason to be scared of the big sliding board and that, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter that they’re out of the pink donuts with purple sprinkles.
So when our children express strong reactions of fear, disappointment, or frustration to such menial or illogical situations, we tend to brush them off.
But while we have the perspective of what’s legitimately scary and what isn’t—and what’s a big deal and what isn’t—our kids don’t. What they’re feeling in that moment is very real and big to them.
While it’s important that we teach them perspective, it’s also essential that we acknowledge and validate their very real emotions.
2. Never letting them see you fail.
I’ve chatted with other adults who distinctly remember the moment they first realized their dad wasn’t Superman or their mom wasn’t perfect—and that it shook them to their core.
Should such realizations really come as such a shock to kids?
I think the more powerful life lesson is when children see their parents mess up—and then handle that mess up with dignity and integrity. That could mean confessing to a wrongdoing, apologizing for hurting someone, working to remedy a situation, and/or finding ways to grow stronger from it.
And yes, sometimes this means apologizing to our own kids when deep down we know we’ve failed them in some way.
3. Being more of a friend than a parent.
Most of us want our kids to like us, sure. But in the end, our title is parent, not best buddy.
When our focus is more on wanting our children to like us than it is on wanting our children to become respectful and responsible adults, that’s about us, not them. That’s about our need for validation. And it isn’t doing our children any favors in the long run.
4. Refusing to seek outside help when it’s warranted.
Many of us parents want to be the end-all-be-all for our kids. We think we should be the ones to fulfill their every need because, come on, we’re their moms or dads!
But that perspective can lead us away from seeking outside professional help, even when such help is desperately needed—be it for the toddler who should see a speech therapist for her developmental delays or the sixteen-year-old who needs to talk to a counselor about his worsening depression.
The job of a parent is less about fulfilling our child’s every need ourselves and more about having the wisdom to know when others can fulfill it better than we can.
5. Not trusting our parenting instincts.
In the age of Google, it is so easy to turn to books, websites, blogs (eek!), and Facebook friends for parenting advice.
Whatever question you have, there’s an answer for it on the Internet. Or, more accurately, a million answers.
That’s all well and good, to a certain extent. I’ve certainly benefited from the wisdom and experience of moms I’ve connected with virtually, and I love sharing my experience with others, too.
But all that external info shouldn’t come at the expense of our parenting intuition. We know our children best, right? Maternal and paternal instincts are strong, and generally they top whatever Mr. Google has to say.
6. Failing to prioritize family dinners.
The research-backed benefits of sitting down to dinner together—ranging from physical to social and emotional—are nothing short of astounding.
According to the Family Dinner Project, which operates out of Harvard University:
Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.
Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.
The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.
Many researchers and parenting experts say that if you are going to make just one change in your family on behalf of your children, it should be this.
7. Always (or never) fighting with our spouse in front of them.
Let’s be real: Marriage and long-term partnerships are tough. A bit of discord is inevitable.
But constantly arguing in front of our children isn’t.
It does the family no good to have one spouse or partner demeaning the other in the presence of little eyes and ears. Why? Because it undermines the authority of the person being shamed, and because it teaches children that it’s OK to disrespect or devalue the people we love.
At the same time, it can be equally problematic to conceal any form of marital strife from children. Only dealing with disagreements behind closed doors robs your children of the chance to see you model how a strong couple appropriately and respectfully handles conflict.
So go ahead and disagree in front of your children sometimes—but in a way that still shows love and respect for your partner.
8. Remaining hush hush on the subject of money.
Ask most children where money comes from, and they probably won’t say trees…they’ll say the ATM!
Because money is right up there on the list of controversial topics many adults prefer not to discuss—behind only religion and politics—kids often miss out on any kind of education on personal finance and responsible spending.
The next thing you know, they’re teenagers being courted by credit card companies and beginning a lifelong process of wracking up unnecessary debt!
Regardless of our financial situations, it’s essential that we be more open with our children on this topic, in addition to providing them with opportunities to learn about things like budgeting, saving, and giving generously.
9. Doing it for them.
Like many toddlers, my son loves to help Mommy and Daddy around the house. Of course, his definition of “help” is usually my definition of “make more work for me.”
There’s a constant temptation to take over because, come on, if I really let him help with the laundry (also known as The Bane of Parents’ Existence) it will take twice as long and I’ll have to redo it anyway!
But taking over our children’s tasks for the sake of time or ease or “doing it right” is doing a great disservice to their burgeoning sense of independence. We need to let them try and mess up and try again.
That’s why I love Dr. G’s tip from her book Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You Hate about splitting tasks or activities between parent and child. She suggests giving the child a specific and developmentally appropriate job that mom or dad won’t have to redo. “I’ll fold the shirts while you can match the socks!”
10. Disciplining via threats instead of logical and natural consequences.
In a recent Parents magazine article, parenting expert Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., explains that when we give our children consequences that aren’t in any way related to the offense—say, no dessert for whining too much or no television for fighting with a sibling—it comes off as less of a consequence and more of a threat.
And an ineffective one at that.
“Kids don’t learn when they’re feeling threatened,” Nelsen explains in the article. If they obey, it’s mostly out of fear, not an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.
Focusing on natural or logical consequences, then, puts the emphasis on why what they did was a problem in the first place.
So if your son makes a mess at the dinner table because he was being careless, he’s the one who has to clean it up. If your daughter was running with scissors after you told her to stop, she’s no longer allowed to use them for that project.
11. Making them separate dinners.
A 2013 study found that children who eat the same food as their parents, rather than their own “special” meals, are significantly more likely to have healthy diets.
File that one under obvious!
Why? Because when we give in to our children’s demands about what they want for dinner, they’re way more likely to live on a diet of chicken nuggets, french fries, and pizza.
If you’re worried about your child going to bed hungry because he won’t touch his salmon and green beans, try this strategy: At every meal, offer the same foods you’re having and at least one item you know your child likes, be it applesauce or dinner rolls. That way there’s always at least something they’ll eat.
12. Not taking care of ourselves.
For far too long the image of the sacrificial mom—you know, the one who gives up all her time, energy, and dreams for the sake of her children—was held up as the ideal.
These days we know better.
Indeed, in a study published this year in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers found that when parents (especially moms) are stressed, sleep-deprived, and anxious, it actually harms the children. Spending time away from them in order to take care of ourselves, on the other hand, does no such harm.
So go ahead and schedule that pedicure/coffee date/weekend getaway. You’ll actually be a better parent for it.
Have you made any of these parenting mistakes? Do you agree or disagree with any of them?
image via PeopleImages for istockphoto