Here’s a secret: Parents make mistakes. Odds are, you’ve probably made a couple today.
We all want the best for our kids, but parents are often still struggling to learn how to live life as their best selves. We hope our children can avoid the pitfalls we’ve tumbled into in the past — whether it be stints in rehab, arrests, a history of emotional issues or money problems, a general lack of direction until your late twenties, or the time you put a cigarette out on your arm to prove you were a tough guy (I know it can’t just be me!).
As much as we try to shelter kids from going down the wrong path — paths we may have walked before — the past will always influence your parenting decisions. Eventually, the time will come where you might have to admit that you aren’t, or weren’t always, the great example you strive to be every day. Despite that, you can still be a role model for how to make changes and move forward in life.
Taking accountability doesn’t equate to you pushing your child down the same slope. “You don’t have to feel like you’re giving your kid a hall pass to go out and use drugs,” says Allen Berger, a psychologist and the author of 12 Essential Insights for Emotional Sobriety. “What you’re doing is sharing your experience that no one’s going to be perfect.” You are modeling growth, and that is a worthwhile and brave thing to do.
But confronting the past and accepting responsibility can be terrifying. Acknowledging our flaws in front of those we cherish is even more so. I spoke with four experts about productive methods to parent children effectively when your own past is imperfect.
Recognize your past mistakes, but don’t project them
Before having a conversation about your past with your kids, it’s important to fully process it and understand how it has impacted who you are today. “You want to make sure you really dealt with it yourself first,” says Stacey Younge, the owner and lead therapist at Sixth Street Wellness in Manhattan, who has also served as a clinician for people returning home from prison.