Being a parent can break your heart, especially when it feels like you are failing at parenting. But sometimes everything just seems so hopeless.
If you often feel like a failure as a parent, you are not alone. Many parents have been there: feeling hopeless, not knowing what else to do, questioning all their decisions, wondering if it’s their fault…just knowing it’s their fault even when it isn’t.
I too have been down this road. As my son grows older, I have many more doubts about my parenting decisions. There are times I want to push him more, times I know I should loosen up, and finding the right balance is not always easy.
Having a Ph.D in education makes me feel even worse – I tell myself that I should know exactly what to do but I don’t. Not always. The truth is parenting is hard for everyone.
The hardest thing about parenting is not that no one tells you that it isn’t easy – it’s that no one says how damn hard it can get. And perhaps the worst part is that it always feels like it’s your fault – like you should have done things differently, like you should have known exactly what to do, or that you must have done something wrong.
Almost every mom has felt like she was failing as a parent. Moms tend to have these feelings more than dads, that’s just the way it is. And there are so many things that can make you feel like you are failing as a parent. If you’ve been down this road, you know what I’m talking about. You feel like:
- you are not doing enough
- you are doing too much
- you simply do not know what to do
- you don’t want to be around your child anymore, and that makes you feel like a failed parent
- you should have made better decisions
- you’ve gotten into a negative cycle that you can’t seem to break
- whatever you do is never enough
- everything is going wrong and things can only get worse
- you’re not a “good enough” parent
- other parents are better at parenting and would know exactly what to do in your situation
Common reasons that can make you feel like a failure as a parent
When Anna’s daughter completely ignores her and is disrespectful, she is left feeling hopeless and helpless. She has to yell and threaten to get even the smallest thing done, and even yelling seems to have only a minor effect. She feels like she is starting to hate her daughter, which makes her feel like a terrible parent.
When Jen’s son doesn’t get what he wants, he throws a huge tantrum that always leaves her feeling helpless. She just knows that other parents would know how to deal with their kids’ behavior better and feels like a failure as a mother.
It was apparent to Clare that she had failed as a parent when her son dropped out of school. She said to herself that she should have pushed harder, found him the help he needed and been more present in his life.
Any of these scenarios would make any parent feel like a parenting failure.
There are rather common reasons behind feelings of failing at parenting. Here are just a few of them
1) Feeling unheard
Tracy’s son appears to have a knack for making her feel invisible. Whenever she tells him things that he doesn’t want to hear or do, he either totally ignores her or replies with a negative or snarky comment.
Even yelling and threats don’t seem to work, and they only make her feel worse. She feels like she is unable to get through to him no matter what she does, and this makes her feel helpless.
2) Feeling disrespected
Victoria feels like such a parenting failure because she does not get the respect that she deserves from her daughter. All she gets is attitude and snotty shrugs.
She thought that the back talk was the worst of it, but her 9 year old daughter recently became physically aggressive when she didn’t get her away. She knows she shouldn’t let her daughter get away with such behavior but she just doesn’t know what to do anymore.
3) Feeling unloved
In her heart of hearts, Olivia knows that her kids don’t love her, and she feels like it’s her fault but doesn’t quite know why – did she push too much? Expect too much? Ask for more than they could give? She doesn’t know. All she knows is that she has failed as a mother.
4) Feeling incompetent
Every time Grace’s son does not get what he wants, he throws a tantrum. The tantrums have gotten so frequent and crazy and the only way Grace and her husband seem to help calm him is by giving in to his demands. They both feel like they are failing as parents and they are just so exhausted with his behavior.
5) Feeling like your child compares unfavorably with other kids
Every time other parents are talking about their kids’ achievements or behavior, Sophia feels like such a failure. She blames herself for their attitude, for their behavior, and even for the fact that her last born has not met her development milestones. She just knows that’s it’s her fault and that she should be doing more. Sometimes, she feels like others judge her parenting skills and find her wanting.
6) Feeling like you are not sufficiently present
Ava feels like balancing her career and her family life is a next to impossible task. She feels terribly guilty for not spending enough time with her kids. And even when she’s home, everything seems to be so rushed and there are hardly any calm moments to hang out as a family.
Feeling like there is no hope for your child or family – and that’s it your fault – is one of the worst things a parent can feel. Unfortunately, it is a common feeling among parents, especially moms.
Feeling like a failure as a mom and wife
There are times when parenting feels like the last thing we were ever meant to do, and mothers struggle with this more than dads.
One of the reasons that explains why mothers struggle so much and feel like such parenting failures is because they have what researchers refer to as a need for “intensive motherhood”.
In other words, mothers put tremendous pressure on themselves because of feelings of guilt about not being able to “do it all”.
Research suggests that women’s belief that they have to be “better housekeepers” and “better parents” means that they are constantly worrying about not reaching the elusive and impossible perfection.
The good news is that changing your perception of parenting and of your child’s behavior can completely transform your vision of yourself as a parent.
Here are a few tips that can help when you feel like you’re failing as a parent.
I feel like a failure as a parent: 6 tips to get you through the difficult days
1 | Celebrate your successes
When it comes to productivity, it is human nature to think more about “what needs to be done” rather than about “what’s already been done”. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect, and it refers to the tendency to fixate on uncompleted tasks rather than on completed ones.
The same thing can be said about parenting failure. If you feel like you are failing as a parent, you are more likely to focus on all the negative things in your life – the lack of time to spend with your family, kids who don’t always listen, your kids’ peers who always seem to be doing “so much better”, and so on.
But here’s the thing, you too have your achievements and although they may seem small compared to other parents, they are still achievements.
The “got-done list” has been increasingly used as a tool to increase productivity in the workplace, but it is also a great idea to reduce parental stress and to help you see how much you actually do and achieve.
When you feel like you’re not doing too great as a parent, take just five minutes and list everything you’ve done.
Write down your accomplishments. Think about the things that you do better now and how terrible you were at first. Think of the times that you were able to console your child. Think of the time you came up with just the right words to make things right.
Failing once – or from time to time – does not make you a parenting failure. Also, remember that just because the grass looks greener on the other side doesn’t mean that it always is.
2 | Don’t try to be the perfect parent
It is normal to feel concerned about your kids’ wellbeing, but do not forget that your emotional state affects you too.
Despite your best intentions, fatigue, anxiety and stress will affect how you parent. You’ll probably yell more or view your kids’ actions more negatively when you’re worked up. But who wouldn’t lose it having to repeat the same thing over and over again while running late or trying to balance everything that needs to be done? The bottom line is that we’re all human.
Your child does not need a perfect parent. They need a parent who is aware of their strengths but also their weaknesses. They need a parent who makes a conscious attempt to dial down the yelling. They need a parent who knows when to apologize and what to apologize for.
Understanding that we are all human also means understanding that kids are human too, and that they will do things that kids are supposed to do.
3 | “Drop the ball”
In her book, “Drop the ball”, Tiffany Dufu speaks of how being raised to see an immaculate home as a sign of her worth led her to feel like she was failing as a parent.
For years, she struggled with feelings of overwhelm and guilt. In her words, she suffered from an extreme case of “Home Control Disease”, which led her to micromanage her home and obsess about having the “best home”.
If you suffer from the same disease, you believe that:
- you can do everything better and faster than anyone else in your household
- the state of your home is a sign of your worth
- you have to micromanage everything
- you alone know how to care for your child
- household tasks must be handled in one specific manner and not another
- your house should be neat and spotless at any given time
Tiffany admits that she was “juggling so many balls because she didn’t trust her husband to hold them”. The moment she decided to “drop the ball” was the moment she regained her balance.
Here are a few tips to help you drop your ball:
a) Delegate. You do not have to do everything, all the time. Let your partner and your children participate in household chores – it’s good for them, it’s good for you, and it’s good for your entire family.
b) Imaginary delegation doesn’t work. Sometimes I think to myself that if I only wish hard enough, my husband will clean the bathtub. Or I wish that my kids would clear the dinner table without me having to ask. Rarely have those wishes come true.
If you want your partner or children to do something, ask them, or at least talk about it. Don’t just imagine that they’ll know what you’re expecting, then get mad at them for not being able to read your mind.
c) Lower your expectations. “Spotless” means different things to different people. “Housework” means different things to different people. Mirrors do not have to be polished every other day, nor do windowsills have to be dusted every Tuesday and Friday.
d) You are not alone. Others are under no obligation to meet your standards of “domestic perfection”. Redoing everything that has already been done just because it does not meet your standards will only lead to stress, overwhelm and resentment. Be willing to accept that not everyone shares your vision of “how things should be done”, and that’s okay.
4 | Stop doing the same thing over and over again
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If your reactions or your discipline approach is not getting you the results you seek, it may be a sign that it is time to try something different.
This could look like:
- Avoiding getting into drawn into power struggles by walking away from arguments with your child
- Making a conscious effort to yell less by taking the necessary steps to improve how you communicate with your child.
- Identifying your priorities and non-negotiables and accepting to be more flexible where your negotiables are concerned
Becoming more intentional in your parenting does not mean identifying the “right parenting approach”. It means identifying an approach that feels right for you, your child and your family, even if that approach is frowned upon by your family or friends.
Remember that there is no such thing as a foolproof discipline method. While adopting a positive discipline approach will improve your relationship with your kid, nothing guarantees that this approach will work all of the time and for every discipline issue.
Don’t do the same thing over and over if you’re not getting the results you want.
If nothing seems to be working, change strategies. Choose what you think suits your personality and your child’s personality. Trying to fit into a “discipline philosophy” could be a recipe for disaster.
In other words, it is important to choose an approach that is guided by your own values and your own specific context. Such an approach will always get you better results. If you are unsure about the different discipline strategies that you can try out, The Discipline Bundle has practical tips that you can put in place from today.
5 | Throw off the shackles tying you down
Guilt is a terrible thing, because it lingers around and makes you doubt every move you make. But here’s the thing: many of the decisions you make are tied to your family cultural norms and beliefs, or to your perceived social norms.
Even when those beliefs are silent and unconscious, they are still there, and they find a way to affect your behavior.
In other words, you are likely to feel guilty and “like a parenting failure” if you do not live up to standards that you may not even be consciously aware of.
If you want to feel less like a failure, clearly define what really matters to you. What will make you feel better about yourself? Receiving more respect from your kids? Being able to spend more time as a family? Having your kids listen without you having to yell?
Once you are clear about your values, it will be easier to identify the things you expect because they were expected of you (for example blind obedience) and to determine whether you really want the same things for your child.
When you take the time to reflect on what really matters to you and your family, you will find the courage to let go of the things that hold you back consciously or unconsciously. More importantly, reflecting on your true values will make it clearer to see the skills you need to work on:
- If what really matters is receiving more respect from your kids, it may mean getting informed about different discipline strategies in line with you and your family.
- If what really matters is being able to spend more time as a family, it may mean trying to find a job that is better aligned with your family life.
- If what really matters is having your kids listen without you having to yell, it may mean making a conscious effort to change how you communicate by learning better ways to communicate without yelling.
6 | Put yourself on your priority list
Self-care is not a selfish act when it comes to parenting. It can make the difference between being too overwhelmed to effectively respond to your child or finding the physical and mental strength to deal with problem behavior the right way.
If you are not on your priority list, you will end up feeling stressed, drained and helpless. When you take care of yourself, you will find it easier to take care of others. That’s why it is important to schedule “me time” for yourself every day.
This could look like taking 20 minutes every day to read, taking a 10-minute coffee break alone every day, scheduling time to work out or take a walk, and so on. The more you take care of yourself, the easier it will be to take care of others.
One of the reasons why many mothers feel guilty is because of the feeling that they have hardly any time for their kids. It is hard to find that time, unless if you put it on your to-do list.
It is not the amount of time that you spend with your child that matters; what does is spending regular quality time together.
An easy way to do this is to brainstorm 20-minute activities the whole family enjoys doing, then do one activity each day for the next 30 days. During this family time, have everyone disconnect and put all phones away. Here is a 30-day challenge of activities your entire family will enjoy – and they all last between 15 and 20 minutes!
Last thoughts about feeling like a parenting failure
When your child’s behavior makes you feel like you are failing as a mother, remember that for many parents, parenting often feels like walking on a winding and slippery road. There are almost as many highs as lows, and being forward-looking instead of focusing on past mistakes will help. Give yourself grace.
If you feel like you are failing at parenting, you are not alone. But focusing on your failures will only make you feel helpless. Learn from them. Get the help you need to do better next. Making a mistake or having a failure in your parenting does not make you a failure.
What makes you feel like a parenting failure? Share with us in the comments section below.
References and further reading
Policy Alternatives for Solving Work-Family Conflict
The impact of parental burnout
I have a 24 y/o daughter who can’t remain faithful to her partners. She has married twice and twice; she has stepped out of marriage. She wasn’t raised with her bio father, but he was somewhat there. However, she’s had a great stepfather who has helped me raise her since she was 11mths old. She is currently on her second marriage, and it’s been discovered that she has had an affair. She has a 1 y/o from her second husband. I feel like I failed her by not advocating for her when she was smaller. By keeping her bio father in her life, while he pushed her off on other family members during her court approved visits. I failed her by not addressing her bio father when she would cry to about feeling like she wasn’t enough for him to love her. I have a young woman on my hands with daddy issues and a grandson who deserves better than a broken marriage…a broken home. She’s seeking therapy, but it’s not her first rodeo with therapy. She’s in this self-destructive path taking everyone down with her; especially me. I feel lost and broken for her husband and her son. I am failing at understanding her when I know she’s willingly and conscientiously hurting her husband, who loves his wife and rolls out the red carpet for her. Through all of this he still remains faithful and patient. I didn’t think I was a bad mother, but now…I see that the memories we made as a family, the endless, support, love, didn’t matter because I couldn’t provide the one thing that she needed acceptance from her dad.
I’m a dad of a 16 year old daughter and we both have issues with ADD. Often we get on well, usually in a limited context…she is a teenager afterall and not so interested in hanging out with her old man…and I know we have some good connections and love each other. But my struggles and failures in life have simply become echoed in her life and there are times when it feels like we both just latch onto each other in frustration and yank ourselves straight into the quicksand, or tar pit, or black hole…take your pick…and things just go from bad to worse rapidly and with an open-endedness that seems to make anything good about our relationship or even our own lives just see superficial by comparison. I feel like I’m philosophizing right now in writing, but I came to this article this morning out of absolute desperation and even a sort of horror….so much so that I couldn’t even read the whole thing for the tears and overpowering sense of overwhelm, not to mention the feeling of dread that one day my daughter will finally have the nerve and complete sense of hopelessness to end it all.
Your article, which is straight reality talk about how hard it all is, is such a relief to me right now. I can only digest it in little bits at the moment, but I’m going to take the ideas on one at a time and follow up on the links, etc. As a parent I wanted to share all the good things in life with my daughter and give her all the strengths I have in myself to give and, in truth, I’ve done a lot of that, but what I didn’t think about was how she was going to get all the weaknesses too and suffer for my mistakes as well. Having the consequences of my own unresolved issues thrown back in my face by someone else who now has joined me in suffering for these issues is just the worst thing that has ever happened to me. When it was just me dealing with failures, etc, that was one thing….but now my beautiful, imperfect daughter has to struggle with all of it too?!…and ending our argument yesterday, in which she criticized and blamed me for everything under the sun, by turning the tables on herself and screaming about how much she hates herself and knows she’s an awful person (teen drama, yes, but does she really feel that way…absolutely)…well, it’s just not the kind of defining moment one wants to face as a summary of my parenting ability to date. I was never suicidal, even in the worst stages of my long-term depression (never knowing until five years ago that depression itself was merely a symptom of the problem…and ADD has always been the problem), but the feeling of wanting to be done with this life has come to me much more often over the past two years and was at its apex last night. And there’s no doubt in my mind that these kinds of awful arguments are bringing that emotion up in her as well. I’ve apologized already for sucking at conflict resolution, but the bottom line is that she has been criticized in her core yet again by one of her parents…and theoretically, I’m the one who should be most understanding…but the core-level criticism has done its poisonous work over the last ten to twelve years or more, and seeing the results just brings me to sobbing tears (I’m an emotional person, whether simply by personality or the affects of ADD hyper-sensitivity).
Ok, stopping now. I wanted to do two things here: 1) Send you a huge thank you for this article and 2) just tell enough of my story for anyone else who reads comments to maybe see themselves or their situations and feel, as you say, that we are not alone. Almost done, but the Einstein thing is a huge dynamic that is hard to overcome. The argument I had with my daughter last night happened because I approached the issue the way I have so so many times before: same actions, same results. And the main reason I keep doing this is because when there’s relative peace, I tend to just relax and forget, and then hope, without reason, that when I do need to deal with some issue that involves inevitable conflict, that it will just go better this time…and when it doesn’t, obviously, the emotional pain is just so much worse because I already know very very clearly how these things will end up: with her swallowing more awful core criticism that just leads to more frustration and more self-hatred and despair.
Jim Gaffigan, great sage of parenting advice, was once asked what it was like having his fourth child. His answer comes to my mind all the time, even though I only have one child, but a host of ADD-overwhelm issues/responsibilities to deal with. He said, “Imagine you’re drowning…and someone hands you a baby.”
Thank you so much for this powerful message, especially at a time that must have been terribly difficult for you. I was touched by your story and so grateful that you chose to share it because it really helps to know that we are not alone when things get messy, and sad, and desperate, and tough…
This parenting road is often so slippery and there are so many times that we fall…and in these times we often forget about all the times that are actually great. It’s so important to keep getting up even in our bleakest moments. I’m the one sending you a huge thanks and telling you to hang in there. I really think that getting professional help can help you both better deal with any underlying issues and make it easier to address conflict in a way that doesn’t affect your self-esteem.
Simply having someone to talk to can really help with suicidal thoughts and depression. If anyone reading this feels like they need help, please contact the suicide prevention lifeline in your area. Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength and shows that you are committed to making things better.
Hang in there, and think of all the positive moments instead of all the things that make you feel like you’re failing at parenting.
i resonate with your words so much. I’m a single mother of a 14 year old daughter and I am struggling so much. I have never received a diagnosis but i do feel I am dealing with ADD as well. I’m am extremely emotional in the way I parent and I know that my daughter is been affected by it. I have found a lot of good insightful suggestions in this article.
I wish you good luck !
My 5 year old son can be real hard work but also has the most kindest, generous heart you’ll ever know. I always think of myself as a calm parent until moments hit where he just doesn’t listen / ignores me and my husband. His attitude can be on another level and has a great way of turning the blame onto me or his younger sister. I feel like I’ve been down every avenue to get through to him over the years and nothing works! Sticker charts, naughty step, taking toys away from him, talking to him calmly to understand why he’s behaving this way, having a firm tone to my voice when telling him off, yelling with frustration and even the old tale of phoning the naughty boys school to come and take him away! I’ve spent many a time lying in bed crying wondering where have I gone wrong?!
Today we went to a castle with loads there and I ended up telling him off after he spent the whole time complaining and crying telling me he was bored… then when we decided to leave he started crying saying he didn’t want to go! I feel like I can’t please him, it’s as if he’s never happy with anything we do. I almost feel as though I’m not suited being his mother – how bad is that??!!
I hear you Mia ! Feeling like a failure as a parent sucks ☹ I’ve always thought of parenting as a merry-go-round – both highs and lows – and I really think that celebrating one’s successes really helps. Two things really helped me to feel less like a parenting failure: I stopped taking my kids’ behavior personally (or as a sign of my “poor parenting” skills and I finally understood that kids’ personality impacts their behavior more than we think. I know that the lows can feel terribly low but I know that you’re doing the best you can for your son, and I also know that you’re perfectly suited to be his mother. Give yourself grace. Things will get better.
Hi, I want to thank you for such a nice article. I need your help. I am usually angry with my child because of his attitude. He doesn’t listen to me and often do the things which I have stopped. He keeps on laughing when I stop him from doing something . I sometimes get stressed by his attitude. I slapped him today. I am so much repenting on my action, that I am about to cry right now. My child is just 4 years old. I feel as if I will never ever be able to bring him up in a good way. It seems as if it is very late, now. Please, Please guide me.
I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. The reason why so many of us feel like we are failing at parenting is because it’s damn hard! But it’s not too late to adopt strategies that can help you change how you communicate and interact with your son. Here are a few links that I hope will give you useful tips:
Kid won’t listen without yelling? Stop yelling and do this instead – https://raising-independent-kids.com/why-you-need-to-stop-yelling-at-your-kids-and-6-tips-to-show-you-how/
Proven tips to setting limits that reduce your child’s problem behavior – https://raising-independent-kids.com/proven-tips-to-setting-limits-that-reduce-your-childs-problem-behavior/
How to deal with a “difficult child” – https://raising-independent-kids.com/how-to-deal-with-a-difficult-child/
I hope you’ll let me know how things go
Thank you so much for this article. I felt a weight lift off my chest at the mere suggestion that I should write down my successes as a mother and clarify my values. I know if I do these things, and keep them top of mind, it will free up head and heart space so I can not feel so much pressure every time I interact with my 17 year-old daughter.
Sanya Pelini, Ph.D. says
Thanks for stopping by Niki. You’re so right – I think so many of us forget to celebrate our successes when we feel like we’re failing as parents. I’m glad you found the article helpful 🙂