You hold a swaddled new life in your arms—so tiny, so delicate, so beautiful—and more than anything, you want to parent well. But all too quickly, you run into one of life’s greatest challenges: learning to parent through your failures and theirs.
It wasn’t always this way. In a garden long ago, humanity had a chance at perfect parents and perfect kids. We blew that almost immediately. So today, somewhere far past Eden, we inhabit this imperfect world where imperfect parents do their best to raise the imperfect children they love.
No matter how deep the longing for perfection might live in our hearts, we must all come to terms with the inevitability of failure in this life. We will make mistakes. Our kids will make mistakes. The only real solution is learning to cope with failure through the grace of God and a teachable spirit. He alone can make all things new (Rev. 21:5) and bring everlasting beauty from ashes (Isa. 61:3).
So, how does knowing that we all fail change the way we think about failure? And how should it affect our approach to parenting?
1. Adjust your failure filter.
To begin coping with failure effectively, we must first examine our ideas about failure. For some folks, failure is an intolerable outcome and crippling fear. It can provoke decision paralysis, unhealthy secrecy and persistent shame. This is where our unique filters for seeing the world might need some adjustment. When your thoughts about who you are get cloudy, look to Scripture. He who made us is the authority on defining us. As we are receptive to His Word, He adjusts our filters and helps us to see ourselves and our environment in sharper focus.
The Bible makes it clear that everyone—moms, dads, kids and all of humankind—fails (Rom. 3:23, Ps. 14:3, Isa. 64:6). As James writes, “We all stumble in many ways” (3:2). But the Bible is equally clear about the love of God: “[He] proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom. 5:8)
Will we fail? Oh yes, definitely. Are we still valuable? Without a doubt. In fact, despite our severe imperfection issues, God calls us “more than victorious through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Experiencing failure does not equate to being a failure. Yet, somehow, this is easy to forget.
So we have to adjust our failure filters so they align with God’s truth. Because as we do, we become better equipped to model graceful failure to our children and to show them compassion when they fail.
2. Offer compassion.
Failure is tough whether you’re 5 or 50. It’s especially painful, however, for those enduring the gauntlet of adolescence where everything is felt deeply and the search for identity is paramount.
Therefore, when our children misstep, we have an influential opportunity to demonstrate grace. Compassion from parents will help kids sample the nature of God’s love.
He or she will learn to see God as the psalmist did: “The Lord helps all who fall” (Ps. 145:14a).
He or she will learn to say with Jeremiah: “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end” (Lam. 3:22).
And like the prodigal son, he or she will learn to approach their Heavenly Father saying: “I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:18).
When we extend grace to our children, we encourage a safe environment where mistakes aren’t something to hide, but something to confess. This allows for learning. Parenting from a place of compassion helps us to correct and guide without resentment or frustration. Our objective is not shaming, but effective training. Our job is to ask: What does my child need to learn right now? What is the best way to teach it? And then, with a cool mind and loving heart, we do our job. We coach our children to success through (and despite) failure.
3. Focus on character growth.
Just like when we fail as adults, our children's failures will often be accompanied by consequences. These are stepping stones to growth and an education in personal responsibility.
One of the greatest skills we can teach our children is to get up after falling. Solomon taught, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up, but the wicked will stumble into ruin” (Prov. 24:16).
It can be excruciating to watch our children fall. We winced through their first steps. We worried as they wobbled on their bikes. We long to see them succeed—in school, sports, social circles and everything they attempt. But setbacks are both normal and healthy. They’re like rungs in a ladder, each one carrying our precious kids to new heights of maturity.
Rather than shielding our children from setbacks, we must allow setbacks to serve as exercises that prepare their hearts with the emotional resources needed to build resilience. Because when they endure the hardship of setbacks, character is built. And character has the power to transform our children into resourceful, competent and confident adults who can stand firm and hopeful in the face of challenges:
“Endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope” (Rom. 5:4).
4. Shake the dust from your feet.
After the mistake has been made, the lesson learned and the character built—it is time to shake the dust off your feet. In other words, it is time to move on.
Lingering amid our failures is self-destructive and counterproductive to our growth. Like Paul, we must forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead (Phil. 3:13).
The term “shake the dust off your feet” is a word picture found in the Gospel of Matthew. As Jesus and His disciples traveled the countryside sharing the gospel, they weren’t always 100 percent successful at converting all audiences. In the face of these rejections, Jesus instructed His disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matt. 10:14).
Jesus didn’t assure them a perfect ministry track record. He taught them how to deal with defeat and detractors. He encouraged them to keep moving forward and to look past failed efforts.
We can help our children move forward by validating their strengths, underscoring grace and teaching them to look ahead. Once his or her mistakes are over, it’s time to bounce back. The goal is to learn something good from negative choices and come out stronger.
Incidentally, same to you, Mom or Dad. If you make a mistake while trying to be the best parent you can, be compassionate with yourself and remember to rise higher—and stronger—every time you fall.
Article courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.