How do I not screw up my children?

Ah, the age old dilemma..how to not screw up your child like your parents did. Our advice columnist shares her take.

Dear Is This Normal ,

Let me start by saying that I love my parents, and I have a great relationship with them. They weren’t perfect, but I wasn’t either, and we’ve gotten much closer now that I’m an adult. But I’ve started to confront some uncomfortable truths about my parents and my childhood now that I’m a parent, and I don’t know how to deal with them. I’m realizing that the parent I want and hope to be is the complete opposite of the kind of parents I was raised by, and I don’t know what to do with that realization! Basically, my whole goal as a mom is to not f*ck up my own kids the same ways my parents f*cked me up. I turned out ok, and again, they are absolutely not bad people! But looking back at my childhood and adolescence, they made choices and mistakes that I’d like to avoid now that it’s my turn. Is that possible? And is it normal to feel this way?


Raising the Bar

Dear Bar,

Oh hi, are you in my brain? Because you just described my exact thought process when I became a parent—and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of other parents reading this are either nodding along or coming to that same realization themselves in real-time. This is so totally normal, in my experience. And it doesn’t make you or your parents bad people. It just means that when we know better, we do better. And a lot of us are actively working hard every single day to do better.

Now obviously, the vast majority of us do at least *some* things differently than our parents, because we’re raising our kids in the naughts and not the 70s, 80s, or 90s. I’m going to age myself here, but I have very distinct memories of my parents/friends of my parents smoking in the car we were all riding in, for instance. Or being sent outside to play in the morning and told not to come home until sundown. Or getting home from school and being solo until at least 6pm, at the ripe ol’ age of 7! We don’t do those things anymore, obviously, because standards of acceptance and safety change. Technology changes. We’ve evolved and got smarter. We gained some awareness and we changed the way we live, and especially the way we parent.

But I’m guessing that’s not what you’re referring to, and that wasn’t what came to mind when I first read your question. It’s not so much the actions of our parents that we’re moving away from, or what used to be deemed acceptable by societal and legal standards. It’s much deeper than that. For me (and perhaps for you?) it’s less about not letting my kids roam our neighborhood like ferals for 12 hours a day during the summer, and more about working everyday to be the kind of parent that allows them to be the people they are and not trying to make square pegs fit into round holes, so to speak. It’s about giving our kids the space and grace to find their own voices instead of just parroting ours. It’s about parenting with respect, rather than just demanding it in return. It’s about letting them screw up and helping them learn from it, instead of punishing them for their errors in action or judgement. Really, it’s about understanding that our “job” as their parents isn’t to make them into who we want them to be; it’s about supporting them from day one as they go through life and discover that for themselves. 

You asked if it was possible to be a different kind of parent than the ones who raised you. And the answer is YES, a resounding yes, 100% yes. I would even go a step further—it’s not just possible, it should be encouraged. We SHOULD want to avoid the same mistakes our parents made. We SHOULD work hard to discover who we are as parents, which in turn will help our kids discover who they are as humans. We should want better for our kids than we had, always, across the board. That, Raising the Bar, makes you a good parent! And I’ll tell you what: your parents probably wanted more for you too, and maybe even did things differently than their own parents to that effect. It’s a constant cycle of learning, then growing. 

Just a heads up though: while you may not f*ck up your kids in the same ways your parents f*cked you up, chances are you’re going to f*ck them up in new and exciting ways. Because we’re human, and parenting is hard. And that’s ok! Hopefully, in 20-30 years when your own kids are figuring all this ish out, there’ll be someone like me around to tell them it’s all completely normal. 

Keep raising that bar,

Is This Normal


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