I think most parents have moments of uncertainty, even fear, about sharing their mistakes with their children. Those are the moments when you second-guess your ability, even your right, to take a stand with your kids when you know you’re about to ask them to do something differently than how you did it. If I did something wrong last month and tell them not to make the same mistake, will they even listen to me? If I messed up at their age, do I have standing to tell them to do it the right way?
For me, it was when I was talking to my teens about drinking. Due to issues in my family history around alcohol as well as my own overindulgent days in college, it was uncomfortable for me to take a stand with them on the subject. But I realized I needed to speak up about it, share my own poor choices and the consequences I suffered because I wanted better for them.
It’s tempting to soften our expectations for our kids when we’ve made our own bad choices. But we shouldn’t let our bad choices and the fear of looking like a hypocrite stall or stop us as parents. So parents, fear not! Have courage. At the appropriate age, place, and time, you should share with your children so that they can learn from your mistakes.
Here are some reasons why you should not be afraid to share your mistakes with your children.
History is a good teacher.
Our bad choices in the past do not disqualify us from disagreeing with and opposing those choices now. The mistakes we made in the past are history and history is a good teacher. While it can be uncomfortable, being transparent about our past can actually strengthen our arguments in the present. We’ve hopefully gained wisdom from our experiences and that wisdom needs to be passed on to our children.
Opposing your past doesn’t mean condemning yourself in the present.
Sometimes the fear of feeling judged or judging ourselves in the present for the past can be an obstacle. We need to overcome that. If we’re a child of God and have confessed it to Him, it’s been forgiven, and there is no more condemnation. So we should now feel the freedom to guide and train our kids in the way they should go in the present. Loving our kids well means speaking the truth into their lives.
Who better to say, “Don’t do this,” than someone who has lived with the consequences?
Our mistakes and bad judgment actually give us a lot to offer our kids because of our lessons learned. The natural rebuttal from our kids may be, Well, just because you struggled with this doesn’t mean I will. We can respond by sharing that they may be right. But also let them know that all of us are capable of making bad choices, including them. None of us is immune, and it’s dangerous to think we are. Encourage them to always be on guard.
Vulnerability and humility will enable our children to better identify with us.
Sharing our story in a humble way with our children will make it easier for them to identify with us and us with them. And, when we connect with our kids, it’s much more likely that they’ll really listen to us. In being vulnerable, one concern that a parent may have is that by sharing how they messed up, the child may now think they have a license or excuse for doing the same dumb thing. That’s not a reason for silence. The stakes are sometimes too high. A parent must let their child know that they are sharing their mistake, and the consequences and pain from it (maybe pain that they still carry), because they love their child so much and do not want them to go through the same thing. They want something so much better for their child.
Use your mistakes to provide for a better future for your children.
We shouldn’t assume that our kids have to learn the hard way by making their own mistakes. Will they make mistakes? Yes. Do we want them to learn from them? Yes. But avoiding them in the first place is even better. And so, we should not be shy about making our case to them. We must be bold.
So parents, let’s not give in to fear. We want better for our kids. We want them to make better choices, live better lives, and honor God with their choices.
Do you have moments of doubt or fear about sharing your mistakes with your children? Share your encouragement with other parents in a comment below.