The Hardest Part of Parenting is Watching Our Teens Make Mistakes

Your son gets caught smoking pot. Your daughter gets suspended from school for drinking at a football game. Your son throws eggs at a cop car (really? a cop car?). Or I guess I should say “my sons and my daughter,” but I imagine you have had similar situations in your family.

teen girl in school hallway
The mistakes our teens make are emotional for them, and sometimes, evermore emotional for us. (Twenty20 @umuller)

The mistakes our teens make are some of the hardest moments of parenting.

These are some of the hardest moments I have encountered as a mother. Our children’s mistakes are so emotional and, often, even more emotional for us. We are angry at their choices while, at the same time, heartbroken as we watch the pain and regret they are experiencing.

Holding my teenage daughter, her body wracked with sobs, fighting back my tears, assuring her everything would be okay while worrying that maybe everything won’t be okay. It is heartbreaking. We want to find excuses or blame someone else for their actions, but we also want to hold them accountable for their mistakes. We want to ask them how they could possibly have been so stupid (really? a cop car?), but we also want to hold them tight and make it all go away.

We want to love them without judgment while at the same time we are judging their choices. With all of these conflicting emotions, it’s difficult to parent at that moment — to know how to be kind, understanding, supportive, and helpful. As we all know, from raising teenagers and being teenagers ourselves, teens make many ridiculous, constant, crazy mistakes — big and small — almost every day.

As a mother, I struggle to help my children through these setbacks’ myriad emotions. How to react? What to say? What to focus on to help them move forward? These are the most challenging moments of parenthood and often the stories we don’t share. We want to protect our children. We want to protect ourselves. We worry about what other people will say or think, so we don’t discuss these problems.

Honestly, it was hard for me to start this piece by listing some of my children’s biggest mistakes. It makes us vulnerable. (Again, a cop car?!?) But since we don’t talk about these situations, it is even harder for us to know how to react. Parents don’t share these experiences for others to learn from, so we are on our own to figure it out.

Expert suggests 3 ways to respond to your teen’s mistakes

Enough as She Is by Rachel Simmons is a book about raising daughters to “live healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives.” If you have a daughter, it is a must-read, but one of the best pieces of advice in the book relates to us all. Simmons points to three steps that might help us through the unavoidable setbacks of life. These three steps have become almost a mantra in our home and have helped us through the most difficult stages of growing up.

Enough As She Is

First, approach the situation with a growth mindset. What can you learn from the mistake? It is easy to say, “everything happens for a reason.” It might be one of my favorite things to say and believe. But the truth is, everything happens for a reason if you make it have a reason; if you choose to grow from the situation, find the lessons learned, and then apply those lessons to your life. Everything happens for a reason if you act within a growth mindset to learn from your mistakes.

Second, be resilient. How do you recover from the setback? How can you be strong to move on and try again? It is so easy in life to give up, give in, take the path of least resistance, feel sorry for ourselves, and shut the door to opportunities that take grit and hard work. Every mistake requires resilience to recover, reset, and try again.

Resilience is a muscle we need to exercise. We need to practice this repeatedly to become truly strong individuals. The beauty is that teenagers make so many mistakes that the opportunity to practice this is endless! Good news/bad news, right?

The third, and perhaps most important, is self-compassion. Be kind to yourself through these mistakes. A bad decision does not make you a bad person. A failure does not make you a failure. We must remind our children of this every day and keep them focused on being kind to themselves through life’s ups and downs.

And maybe we can remind ourselves as well? Parenting is hard. Let’s be kind to ourselves. We deserve our compassion.

Especially when the police are involved…again, officer, so sorry…

You Might Also Want to Read:

What to Say When Your Teen Makes a Big Mistake 

I Wanted to Rage at My Son’s Behavior, But I Found Another Way

About Kristin Parrish

Kristin Parrish is a mother of three living in Cocoa Beach, Florida. She is an almost empty nester, raising almost adults, and almost holding it all together. Long walks on the beach help.

Read more posts by Kristin

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