Turning “parenting fails” into growth opportunities: A guide

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Raising children can be as overwhelming, exhausting, beautiful and fulfilling. In this mix of emotion, mistakes can be made. “Parenting fails” aren’t generally irreversible, and they don’t mean you’re a "bad” mom, dad, or parent. Instead, a parenting failure can point to areas of improvement and growth for the future, acting as a compass to your next “right” step. 

Read on to learn about common parenting mistakes, and how to use them for growth.

What is a “parenting fail”?

When you think of the most epic fails in parenting you might be thinking of a bad spray tan, or those awkward pajama day family pictures that get spread on the internet. However, in parenting, epic fails have nothing to do with a bad picture day or a poorly thought-out bathing suit tan, a parenting fail is generally known by many as one way to describe an incident where you make a mistake in your role as a parent. For most parents, their mistakes aren't made public or things that result in hate mail. Rather, they are small moments that become learning opportunities that help grow a loving, experienced family.
Even good parents make mistakes while raising a family and it is not bad parenting to have fails on occasion. Growth can be the result of adversity, and when you learn from your missteps, you might become a better parent and model healthy behavior for your child. 

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.” — Sue Atkins

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Do you worry you’re making too many mistakes?

Examples of parenting fails

The following types of issues may be considered bad parenting by many parenting experts. That said, do not beat yourself if you've made these mistakes, whether they were years ago or yesterday. Other parents make mistakes as well. The best course of action is to learn from mistakes and make changes moving forward.

Not addressing behavioral concerns 

Accepting problematic behavior in kids is as inevitable rather than investing the time and effort to find solutions to resolve frustration can lead to undesirable behaviors in some. For example, some parents are resigned to bedtime battles or temper tantrums at the store when clear rules, a reliable routine, and consistent consequences could correct the behaviors

Some research suggests that a child's birth order may impact how much attention parents give the child, including addressing behavioral concerns. For example, the first child might receive more discipline. By the third kid, parents might have less time and energy available to address behavioral concerns.

Allowing children to dwell in self-centered behavior

There’s a difference between wanting your little boy, daughter, or child to feel loved and accepted and teaching them that their desires always come first. Sometimes, parents can quickly recognize self-centeredness in other children, but not in their own children. If everything you do is focused on your children, it can be hard to maintain healthy relationships in other aspects of your life. Encouraging children to look beyond themselves to the needs of others can support them in their overall journey of development. 

Not following through  

If your child’s behavior is bad enough to warrant the threat of a consequence, it can be important to follow through. If you fail to do so, it may teach your child that they can act however they want, and future references to consequences may not be as effective. As you remain consistent, consider rewarding yourself with self-care.

Not offering age-appropriate responsibilities 

You may consider giving your children age-appropriate responsibilities, such as chores like folding clothes, sweeping floors, or mowing the lawn, so they can manage their time and learn to follow through when they commit to something. In addition, offering responsibilities that are too difficult for a toddler, baby, or kid, may lead to frustration. The key is to find a balance.

Allowing excessive screen time

There’s nothing wrong with television, movies or video games—in moderation. While electronic entertainment can keep your children occupied, it might not teach them important life lessons. It may also potentially expose them to inappropriate content. Recent studies show that screen time can impact the quality of the home environment, either positively or negatively. It is up to the parents to find a personalized balance that suits the needs of their specific situation.  

Not modeling appropriate behavior

Parenting can be stressful. Finding healthy, positive coping skills to manage stress can be critical to your success as a parent. Doing so can help your children to see proper ways of handling emotions, particularly the difficult ones. 

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Neglecting to provide practical information about topics like sex, violence, or racism

Children grow up—and as they do, they might ask some uncomfortable questions. It can be critical to give them honest, age-appropriate answers to questions around sex, dating, violence or racism. By offering the truth in context and being honest with them, your child can be better prepared to form informed opinions about the world around them. This can help them to form a realistic plan for how they want to handle tougher or more “adult” situations. 

Failing to provide appropriate limits and expectations

You may find that you prioritize being your child’s friend over being their parent. While this can be common, it may not provide proper boundaries and expectations for them to thrive with. This style of child-rearing is called permissive parenting, and it can lead to some emotional or behavioral difficulties later in your child’s life. To avoid or address this possible area of concern, parents can begin clearly communicating expectations with their child—starting today. Consistency can be a helpful tool to encourage true behavioral change. 

Not listening to your child

Children are small and generally inexperienced people, but they are still individuals with their own thoughts, feelings and ideas. Rejecting your child when they approach you with a question or to talk about their day might inhibit them from trying to connect in the future. To avoid this, you may consider making an effort to listen to your child without judgment. Sometimes listening to your child can be as small as letting a toddler dress herself and not criticizing what she's wearing, even if it's unusual.

Expecting perfection or being “too strict”

Authoritarian parents may take a more emotionally taxing role in their children’s lives, potentially not giving them a chance to make decisions or room to fail in doing so. This tough parenting style may lead to future issues for your child, such as aggression, indecisiveness or low self-esteem. Parents may choose to conduct ongoing self-evaluations to ensure that their standards are not impossible for their child to reach at their current stage of development. 

Neglecting yourself

Many agree that taking care of yourself is crucial as a parent. If you aren’t healthy and emotionally stable, you may not be presenting the best version of yourself to your children. Self-care can be important, even if it's as small as scheduling a nice dinner without kids or allowing yourself to spend money on a new lamp instead of more toys.

If you struggle with self-care because you believe your needs aren’t as important, you feel like you don’t deserve it, or because of underlying mental health conditions, you may consider connecting with a licensed therapist. They can offer scientifically supported strategies that may help you to attain a higher quality of life.

Undermining your partner (or allowing them to undermine you)

Part of being a good husband, wife, or partner is to support your counterpart. When one parent makes a decision, it’s generally important for the other parent to support it. Making an effort to do this can help couples to present a unified front to their children, reinforcing the idea of authority and proper boundaries in their daily lives.

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Do you worry you’re making too many mistakes?

Parenting failure offers a chance to grow—for parents and children 

Mistakes happen. How parents respond to mistakes can offer a chance for transformational growth in both parent and child. Children generally observe your behavior throughout their lives and may use it to model how they will act in the future. Working actively to address and change previous “parenting failures” can show them the importance of resiliency, self-acceptance and emotional aptitude when it is their turn to be a parent, if they choose that path. 

Here are a few things that you can do to address instances of failure, potentially turning them into new opportunities for growth. 

Admit your mistake and apologize

Generally, parents play a pivotal role in children learning what merits an apology, how to take responsibility for their actions and how to apologize. In the event of a parenting mistake, it can be helpful to admit that you aren’t perfect and apologize. This can promote an environment of resiliency, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness for your child to learn and thrive in. 

Take responsibility and try to make it right

If you’ve made a mistake, you might consider taking responsibility for your actions and doing what you can to make it right. Your child can see the effort you make after a mistake and may model their future behavior after your reactions. 

Learn from it and do better next time

The ultimate goal of parenting for many is maintaining a healthy relationship with your child while raising an emotionally mature, responsible adult that’s capable of functioning as a productive individual in society. Mistakes can happen, but you are generally able to limit their reach and provide a learning experience as a result—for both of you. If you’ve made a mistake, you might consider forgiving yourself and moving on. 

How online therapy can help parents in need

Many parents can benefit from the extra support and guidance that may come from working with a licensed therapist. Developing healthy coping strategies to manage stress and building practical parenting skills to help overcome past mistakes can support parents moving forward in a healthy relationship with their children. Virtual therapy through online providers like BetterHelp can make it possible to fit treatment conveniently into your busy day, via flexible options like phone, video call or online chat appointments. 

How therapy can help build parenting skills

Recent research indicates that online parenting interventions such as therapy can be a comparably effective, faster alternative to costly appointments in the traditional clinical setting. For many, this form of delivery may frequently be associated with reduced costs. 


Making mistakes can be a normal part of raising children and the parenting experience. What you do afterward can affect how children navigate the world around them. The information in this article may help illustrate that while parenting fails may happen, you can use them as opportunities to learn and grow, so you become a better parent. If you’re considering online therapy for your support and needs, consider reaching out to BetterHelp’s online therapy service. 

BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.

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