Parents who are failures, and parents who are not

Not a failure: “My daughter is pregnant.”

Failure: “My daughter had an abortion because she knew damn well what would happen to her if she turned up pregnant in this house.”


Not a failure: “My child is severely depressed.” “My child has debilitating anxiety.” “My child is suicidal.” “My child has learning disability.” “My child is non-neurotypical.” 

Failure: “I have no idea what to do, but there’s no way I’m letting stranger into our personal lives. Professional help is for people who can’t hack it, and I don’t belong in a waiting room with that trash.”


Not a failure: “We are totally crashing and burning in the home school/private school/religious school/public school we thought would be so perfect for our kind of family.”

Failure: “We are totally crashing and burning, but if we quit, we’ll be failures as parents/let down the community/have to admit we’re wrong/change our lives around. We better keep going, so everyone will know we care about our kids.”


Not a failure: “I don’t understand my kid very well, and it’s hard to talk.”

Failure: “My kid has a great relationship with my spouse, or with her teacher, or with her friend’s mom. I undermine this relationship every chance I get, because they’re usurping me. I’m the parent.”


Not a failure: “My kid is screwing up in exactly the same ways I did or do.”

Failure: “Boy, does this look familiar, and boy does it make me feel bad. I’ll punish him double, once for each of us.”


Not a failure: “Despite our best efforts to raise him right, my kid exercised his free will and is now a druggie, an alcoholic, a criminal.”

Failure: “His name is forbidden in my home.”


Not a failure:  “We are too broke to give our kids everything their friends have.”

Failure: “I must do everything possible to get more money, so we can be happy.”


Not a failure: “My child is gay.”

Failure: “I refuse to have gay children, so either the kid or the gayness has got to go.”


Not a failure: “My child has left the Church.”

Failure: “I raise Catholic children, so I guess this is no longer my child.  How could he betray Me this way?”


Not a failure: “I just said or did exactly the wrong thing to my kid.”

Failure: “We must never speak of this again.”

A version of this post was originally published in 2014. 

Photo by Alon via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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7 thoughts on “Parents who are failures, and parents who are not”

  1. My kids are still babies (2 year old and an almost 8 month old), and pretty much everyday there is something new to feel guilty about and I know things will only get harder and more complicated as they age.

  2. I feel like this is a stereotype (almost like a script for an anti-faith movie). I know many, many parents (myself included) who are not “successes” nor have perfect children or family lives. I’ve rarely run across a loving parent who has the failure attitude you’ve depicted. Have you actually heard parents say these things? They are certainly “lines” that could be put in the mouth of a “bad” parent, but how many parents have you actually heard express these ideas?

    1. Sure, I have heard parents saying the things that would categorize them as failures. But I think you’re mistaking the goal of this piece. It wasn’t to call out bad parental behavior; it was to reassure parents who *feel* like failures that they almost certainly *aren’t,* even if they and their kids are going through some hard and awful things.

  3. Thanks for doing this. I often feel like a failure as a parent and there isn’t much out there that is valuable, last time I googled the topic.

    Parents need encouragement today. Especially parents of large families. I feel like it’s hard to meet society’s expectations for kids if you don’t have the endless (
    Time & resourced

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