What To Do When You’ve Really Messed Up Parenting

Let’s start by getting our cards on the table – we’ve ALL messed up parenting! Mistakes are part of life and no matter how hard we try to listen to our kids and treat them fairly, there will be times when we lose our rag and yell things we shouldn’t.

We see red. We shout. We lose objectivity.

5 steps to follow when you've messed up parenting again - child stood in a pile of leaves

The guilt when you’ve messed up parenting

Then it passes and, if you’re anything like me, you dissolve into a puddle on the floor as you realise you’ve messed up parenting again…

The guilt creeps in. You re-live it all over and over. You know you should have dealt with it better. And your brain “helpfully” replays all the other times you’ve failed at parenting too just to rub it in even more.

“What’s the point?” You think. “I’m never going to be any good at this.”

Well, you’re not alone. We all have days when we go from cheery to cheesed off in the blink of an eye. We all want to throw the towel in because we’ve messed up parenting too many times.

So if that’s you – or that’s sometimes you – then this post is for you!

Help I've messed up parenting again - two children on scooters in the park

What to do when you’ve messed up parenting

1. Say sorry

I know there’s a lot of debate about this one, but here are 3 quick reasons why apologising to your kids is important:

  1. To teach our children that they deserve to be treated respectfully and kindly
  2. To stress the point that anyone not treating them respectfully is in the wrong
  3. Because we can’t claim to see our kids as equal humans if we think ourselves too important to need their forgiveness

2. Think what you could have done differently

Evaluations help you iron out problems! So think through what happened:

  • What led up to the blow out?
  • How could you have handled it differently?
  • Could you have intervened earlier?
  • What would have been a better outcome?

Self compassion and self love are essential when we've messed up parenting - child holding an autumn leaf

3. Don’t beat yourself up

Accept that everybody makes mistakes. Feeling guilty about losing your temper won’t fix the situation (in fact it could make it worse – see point 4).

I’ve written before about the importance of creating time-limited consequences for our kids (we need to deal with the issue and then forgive and move on)… Well apply that to yourself too – say sorry, and then leave that failing in the past.

4. Visualise a happier outcome

This is sooo important.

Brains are designed to reuse the thought pathways that have been used the most in the past. So if you spend a lot of time thinking about how badly you reacted, you’re more likely to react badly again next time because that’s the most accessible pathway.

You need to redress the balance and imagine it going right. Create a new “most popular pathway”!

Be positive – imagine a new approach and picture how that would work out differently. The more times you imagine it, the easier it will be to access that pathway in the heat of the moment!

Here’s a 2min video on Neuroplasticity if you’re not sold on this idea yet…!

When you've messed up parenting you need to visualise a happier outcome - child holding shiny conkers

5. Don’t give up

It can be tempting to think, ‘I’m not calm enough to do gentle parenting,’ or ‘I’ve messed up too many times,’ but don’t give up.

Gentle parenting takes practise, just like any other skill. And it’s especially hard because the challenges of parenting change so rapidly as our kids develop and grow. I don’t think it’s possible to be the finished article. But keep trying. Keep pushing. Keep growing.

It’s worth it!

If you messed up parenting and got angry don't worry - follow these easy steps - child riding a scooter

Be a positive coach

And it all boils down to this: The principles of gentle parenting aren’t just for kids – you need to gentle parent yourself too!

  • Use empathy to appreciate why you reacted that way
  • Treat yourself kindly and fairly
  • Deal with the mistake and then don’t bring it up again

These are all things we’ve discussed on Lucy At Home in a child-context, but adults need a positive, supportive coach too! The trouble is, as an adult, you don’t have someone external to do that for you – you have to be that coach for yourself.

So encourage yourself. Forgive yourself. Reassure yourself. Inspire yourself. Believe in yourself. Be attentive to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Respect yourself. And coach yourself with the same patience, understanding and love that you use with your children.

You’re worth it… and so are they. xx

What to do if you've messed up parenting and yelled - child talking to dad on the swings

Do you struggle to forgive yourself when you make a parenting mistake? What are your thoughts on apologising to your children? What advice would you give a friend who was feeling down about their parenting fails? Let’s help each other out and share our stories – join the conversation by adding a comment below.

PIN it for later:

What To Do When You've Messed Up Parenting - if mum guilt is creeping in you because you yelled again, don't beat yourself up. You need to practise some parenting self care and self compassion. Follow these 5 simple steps to make everything okay again #parentingtips #mumguilt


Add yours
  1. 1
    Enda Sheppard

    Just to say I agree wholeheartedly, but another asowect of this to be considered is how emotionally manipulative our kids can be … provoking negative reactions and then claiming the high moral ground and judging us parents so harshly. Using it as ammunition against us. Particularly teenagers. Important to note this and consider it when dealing with their efforts to push the envelope. Be kind and respectful, yes, be also be firm, be strong, and don’t take this crap. Can be done without losing the plot. I have been working hard on this. My daughter has learned a way of behaving which will take some time to get out of.

    • 2
      Lucy At Home

      This is a really good point, Enda. I guess I haven’t had to deal with this yet as my kids are younger than yours but it sure does sound tough. I guess it’s about being firm but fair, trying to treat them as they should be behaving rather than taking the bait (but it’s easy to say that and soooo hard to do).

  2. 3
    kerry robinson

    This blog raises some really good point. As parents we make daily mistakes and we need to deal, learn and move on. It’s hard to find that balance between being firm and providing good boundaries and not going to far. Both my kids need firm handling (one is ASD and one is adopted) and they need things to be clear and fair.

  3. 4

    Oh this couldn’t have come at a better time. I was that shouty parent this week and I never shout at my daughter. It was just too much for me this week. My anxiety feels like an all time high at the moment, that and with half term was just too much. But after I shouted at her I apologised and she’s was the sweetest little girl. It’s ok Mummy we all have moments like that, but we shouldn’t we angry we should cuddle. Like the sweetest comment ever. #BlogCrush

  4. 6
    Alan Herbert

    Such a great post.
    When we first become parents we think we will just ask our children to do something or stop doing something and they will.
    Then reality sets in and they develop willpower and stubbornness.
    So important to apologise when we do stuff up.
    Making mistakes is human how we deal with them and show us children what to do is more important than being perfect.

  5. 8

    As a ‘gentle parent’ myself, and a parent of adults I so agree with this. There have been many times when I have been consumed with guilt over the things I’ve done. I’ve had to work really hard on forgiving myself. There are times when my eldest daughter tries to pull the guilt trip on me (I could write a book about the relationship between myself and my eldest) but I have to keep reminding myself that I did the best I could at the time. The neural pathways idea is interesting. I always re-enforce positive thoughts, but my daughter is just not able to do this and constantly focuses on the bad. It’s so sad because she has forgotten so much of the good, her thought processes are always negative. she is having counselling and has some serious mental health issues. But she is a perfect example of what can happen when you create negative neural pathways. Thankfully, she’s the only child of mine like this. x

  6. 9

    Beautiful post that can change lives. The bit on accessible pathways was new to me. I am very much a parent who constantly questions myself and my parenting. On really bad days I think I was selfish to have children and inflict myself on them in the first place. Having said that my mum was less than perfect and could hurt me but I would not have wanted another! Which goes to show if we come from a loving place, our children will love us and remember us with affection when the time comes. I am sure this will help so many mums out there so thank you for writing it. Will watch video when less folks around.

  7. 10

    Thanks for the encouragement, Lucy! We all want to be better parents for our kids. I lose my cool many times then I beat myself up because of it. This is a reminder that I can be a better mom every day. Small changes will add up. Every day is a new day. #BlogCrush

  8. 11

    Some great points here. We can be too harsh on ourselves at times, but at the end of the day we are all trying to do our best. It is a steep learning curve. Pinning for later. #BlogCrush

  9. 12
    Jen @ The Frozen Mind

    The positive thing is that your mistakes are an opportunity to teach your kids how to handle it when they make mistakes.

    They are a great opportunity for a teaching moment and if you can turn it into that, then you just redeemed yourself!

    Most parenting mistakes are not going to be permanently detrimental to the child. It is important to keep perspective!

    Great Post! #BlogCrush.

  10. 16
    Beccy - Raucousbynature

    Great post, I try to be a gentle parent but have a very short temper which often results in me having to apologise. For me that’s the most important thing, if my boys inherit it then they need to know its not ok and when to apologise. I try not to beat myself up over it as its not all the time and its also part of their life lessons – sometimes people get stressed and short but acknowledging that is important as is how we rectify it. #blogcrush

  11. 18
    Daydreams of a Mum

    I do always make sue I apologise when I’m snappy or grumpy , unfortunately with teenagers I don’t always get the same in return but I can only lead by example!! I’m really intrigued by the positive visualisation!! #blogcrush

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