The Feeling-Like-A-Failure Phenomenon, and What to Do About It

by Stephen Bradshaw February 02, 2017

Little boy holding the hand of his father

“But I want it right now!” My son’s voice echoes off the walls as I stop what I’m doing and turnaround to face him. “No, sir,” I say to him in a stern voice, a disapproving look on my face. And that’s when it happens. His shoulders and arms droop down and his bottom lip begins to quiver as tears fill his downcast eyes. It’s as if he’s been defeated – as if he not only thinks that he’s no good, but knows that he’s no good. It’s as if, in that moment, a small part of him gives up. My heart, meanwhile, aches with such intensity that I wonder if ripping it out would be easier than standing there watching my son’s transformation before me. It’s a moment that brings about a question – a deep and meaningful question – that has been my constant companion ever since I became a parent: “Am I doing this right?” All parents have to sit down and stare this question in the face. Every. Single. Day. As I sat down to write this article, my own mother texted me an apology about a parenting mistake she made when I was a child OVER 20 YEARS AGO. Every parent I know struggles with this belief that we are somehow screwing up our kids. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard to be a great dad: I read books and articles on the best ways to parent, I love and hug them constantly, I do fun things with my kids, I’m home from work nearly every day by 5 p.m., I even pray about my parenting (!), and on and on. And yet, I still can’t shake this belief that I’m screwing up. Do I discipline my children the right way? Am I approaching meals and picky eating the right way? Am I loving and encouraging enough? Am I overly encouraging? Am I being too harsh or strict? Am I being too lenient? Do I need to let the small things go? Do I need to make sure to not let the small things go? These are the thoughts that occupy my mind. So every time my three-year-old experiences one of his sad, dejected episodes in response to something I do, I’m hit in the gut with worry that I’m failing as a parent and doing my children a disservice. As I’ve thought about this feeling, I’ve realized that feeling like a failure seems to be par for the parenting course. It has permanently affixed itself on the crappy Ways Parenting Sucks shelf, right there next to all the other treasured joys, such as Lost Sleep, Health Scares, and Having to Explain Hard Things, to name a few. But it’s not far off from the actual treasures, like snuggles, hugs, smiles, laughter, pride, and of course joy. If I’ve found one solace for dealing with the feeling-like-a-failure phenomenon we all shunt along with us everywhere, it is this: talk to your parent friends. Find friends who admit they aren’t perfect. Find friends who try hard at loving their kids and are okay with not doing everything right. I’m not talking about those friends who have it all together – or so they might claim – and make you feel like you have to hide or downplay your failings. No, I’m talking about those invaluable people who let their guard down and can empathize with your parenting struggles and relate to you. Keep these friends. They are gold. Because the truth is that we aren’t perfect parents, and we will screw up our kids in certain small ways. The best thing we can do is to love one another, show grace and empathy to other parents who struggle and work hard towards becoming better. I think those feelings of failure might just push us to become better parents – and love the heck out of our kids in the meantime.

Stephen Bradshaw


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