Parenting is one of the most joyful things we will ever experience. It’s also one of the most difficult. It takes an open mind, constant learning, the willingness to change and grow, and a lot of patience.
It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as the perfect parent. And we should never demand perfection of ourselves or others. But there are certain mistakes we’d be wise to avoid and other habits that could benefit both us and our children. Let’s take a look at 7 big parenting mistakes just about everyone makes.
1. Not Listening or Empathizing
This is an important one, and something most of us are guilty of at one time or another with just about everyone in our lives. With the busyness of life it’s easy to not really listen to those we love, to just nod and pretend to be present even though our minds are somewhere else. We also often find it difficult to listen because we are more worried about our perspective and about getting our point of view across than we are about really understanding what our child is trying to tell us.
Our children need lasting solutions. But they first need to be heard and understood. They need our open mind, our empathy and our genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. While there are significant differences between youth and adulthood, childhood isn’t easy. It’s often full of confusion, pain, loss, dramatic changes, emotional upheaval, even trauma. Our child deserves our most present and sincere self. They need our love and our strength to feel welcomed, valued, and honored. This begins with listening well and consistently seeking connection and understanding before we do anything else.
2. Not Establishing Rules and Boundaries
In our pursuit of trying to give our children a healthy, happy life and a supportive environment, we sometimes go too far and forget that a big part of that healthy environment is creating the right boundaries for our kids.
Without clear rules for conduct, personal responsibility, habits, and social activities, we leave our child vulnerable to a host of problems. Someone who grows up without the right boundaries develops dangerous habits and false ideas about life. They may display defiant behavior toward you and other authority figures and disruptive behavior at school. Without a strong foundation of choices that lead to character, they often struggle with schoolwork and learning, and in performance activities. They may fail to form lasting friendships, fall into habitual or. self-medicating traps with electronic devices, social media, even substance abuse, and struggle to find their path without getting into trouble.
As adults, they often struggle with not finding purpose, sometimes moving from job to job and find it difficult to stick with things. Their relationships tend to be less established and more volatile, and raising kids becomes more difficult in the absence of the foundation we neglected to give them.
For some parents, setting up firm rules and boundaries feels too difficult. We want to be “buddies” with our kid. But one of the most important jobs we have is setting them up well for the rest of life. And creating an affirming, personally responsible life of self-discipline, compassion, purpose and integrity, is the place to start.
3. Having Unrealistic Expectations
Unfortunately, this is an easy one to do. Much of society seems geared toward a constant performance mentality. We do a lot of rating and comparison when it comes to ourselves and our children. And of course, we want our kids to succeed, to have a good life and find fulfillment. But when we expect too much of them and show disappointment when they don’t reach these unrealistic expectations, it can devastate them emotionally and psychologically. They may grow to fear failure too much and spend too much energy worrying about it.
It can also drive them to over-perform and burn themselves out. They can take on too much and neglect their health and well-being. These consequences can have lasting effects on our kids. It’s good to encourage a healthy work ethic, self-discipline, and a desire to grow and succeed. It’s bad when performance becomes something we value above connection and meaning. Pushing ourselves and our kids too hard sets them up to be constantly disappointed because none of us can live up to those standards. This constant disappointment is a breeding ground for anxiety and depression.
Think about what matters most. Approach your kids with their health and wholeness in mind first. Get to know them, what makes them tick, how they think, and what they dream about. Not every child is the same either. Some naturally want to push a little harder, while others are more laid back. Relax, enjoy your time with them, and work with them to create plans that are realistic and life-affirming.
4. Not Practicing What You Preach
The old adage “Do as I say not as I do,” might be all too commonplace, but it’s a terrible way to live. As much as we might think people are listening to what we say, people, and especially our children, pay more attention to what we do.
If we’re expecting certain behaviors and standards of conduct but consistently compromise or refuse to keep these standards for ourselves, our children not only lose respect for us, they learn to see commitments as meaningless. If we keep our word and maintain our integrity with our kids, they will grow to understand the importance of this in every part of life.
This not only makes childhood better and parenting easier, but helps them create good habits for adulthood as well. Being known as someone who says what they mean and does what they say, someone who keeps their word and practices what they claim to value, is someone everyone wants to be around. They will have better relationships, a stronger marriage, more success in the workplace, and be trusted with larger opportunities and greater responsibility.
5. Fighting With Your Child
Conflict is inevitable in life, especially in families. Arguments are not only common but sometimes necessary for working through this conflict toward a solution. Something we should avoid, though, is giving into our child’s desire to have a full-on verbal fight. Shouting, pointing, blaming, name-calling, and disrespect will never solve anything or bring the two of you any closer.
If they are ramped up and trying to goad you into meeting them on that level, step back for a few moments, breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, and return to the situation with a clear head and open mind. It’s okay if they are angry or frustrated and more worked up than usual. This is normal sometimes. But it’s not okay for them or you to try to manipulate or gain control over the other by shouting them into submission.
If it’s too intense, suggest that the two of you return to the conversation in a while when you’re both more settled and have had time to process. Don’t use this tactic though, as a way to get out of talking or a way to simply shut them up. Do it only out of respect and set a firm time for meeting back up so they know you care about working things out.
6. Not Letting Your Child Explore
I know that earlier we discussed the dangers of not establishing rules and boundaries, but on the flip-side, the opposite can be just as harmful. Children need exploration and a certain level of risk and independence to grow, develop, and understand themselves better. Of course we want our kids to be safe. But a dedication to safety can go overboard. They need some adventure to learn more about life, uncover their natural gifts and communication style, and develop a greater understanding of the world.
It’s wise to not over-schedule their time. Make sure they have free time every day to pursue their own interests and to just have fun. Allow them increased freedom as they grow older. Allow them opportunities to play outside alone, to spend time with friends, ride their bike or take walks nearby, attend summer camps or daytime retreats, and get a bit dirty by playing outside and learning about the natural world.
Engaging in mildly risky play helps children develop risk-management and problem-solving skills, along with resilience, self-confidence and other attributes.
Encourage them to pursue their gifts and passions, whether it be playing a musical instrument, learning dance, taking part in sports, engaging in outdoor activities, creating artwork or whatever they’re interested in.
7. Missing Too Many Important Events
There’s no way any of us can make it to every event in our child’s schedule, especially if they’re involved in multiple activities. But it should be our goal to make it to as many as we can without burning ourselves out. This is especially true when they are younger, as little ones receive a great deal of self-confidence, joy, and affirmation from the presence of their parents, more so than from anyone else.
Showing up consistently lets them know they are dearly loved, that they are a priority, and that you value their choices, their endeavors and their life. Plus, there’s simply nothing like having your Father, Mother or primary caregiver see you score that goal, dance your heart out, get the answer right, or overcome previous limitations in whatever you’re pursuing. It inspires our kids to do more, take good risks, value hard work and practice, and develop a healthy sense of pride in their accomplishments.
As parents, we are always learning, always in need of refining our approach and creating the right boundaries. It’s important that we continue to pursue a greater understanding of our child and a more connected relationship with them. Equally, knowing when and where to ease down on rules, allow more freedom, and encourage exploration is just as important for their development.
Don’t try to be the perfect parent. There is no such thing, and you’ll just wear yourself and your family out in the process. Pursue a style of parenting that focuses on meaningful connection, adventure, classic values like the development of character and personal integrity, healthy communication, mutual respect, and creativity.
Torrone Law can help you find a sense of wholeness again. We guide individuals, couples, and families through difficult seasons of life with experienced legal counsel and caring support. Reach out to us today for a free consultation or to learn more about partnering with us.
For more information about parenting, see our frequently asked questions and answers below.
Is there a perfect approach to parenting?
Definitely not. Every parent is different, and every child has unique needs. Yes, there are several good habits and better decisions every parent should look toward, but there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to parenting, or in anything for that matter. Attempting to find the perfect parenting style is exhausting and you end up missing out on some of the best moments with your child.
Is it better to be a bit too rigid or a bit too easy-going?
Ultimately, either extreme can lead to trouble. Too many rules and boundaries stifle our child’s growth and sense of adventure and discovery. We want them to value exploration and healthy risk. The right kind of freedom inspires intellectual and emotional growth, and helps kids refine their relational skills and decision making.
Being too loose can also leave our kids vulnerable.. They may not develop a good sense of personal responsibility and find they feel directionless. Healthy boundaries help establish certain realities for them and create a greater sense of focus in future endeavors.
It’s best to strike a healthy balance between the two, with more boundaries when they are very young and progressively less over time as they prove themselves to be responsible and mature.
Where can I go to find good parenting advice?
Great question! There are countless books on the subject, excellent blogs and online forums, parenting support groups, as well as church and non-profit organizations. Additionally, it’s a wonderful idea to seek professional guidance from an experienced child and family therapist along with caring mentors who spent years raising children who have become healthy, responsible, engaged adults..