5 ways to be a better parent and not repeat your parent’s mistakes

Written by Levi Daniels
Published on February 26, 2021

I want to be a better parent than my parents were. 

I know, it sounds sort of arrogant when I say it out loud. At a minimum, it can appear ungrateful or condescending. But that’s really not my intention or perspective at all. I do love my parents, and I could fill up pages with examples of the love and sacrifice they showed me throughout my childhood years. 

But as I’ve stumbled my way into adulthood, marriage, and eventually parenthood, I’ve also become more aware of the many childhood wounds and scars that I’ve carried with me all these years. 

And if I’m really honest, I’m both fearful of replicating those mistakes and determined to do everything I can to avoid them as best as I can. 

Recognizing our wounds

Each of us enters adulthood with a wide range of wounds from our childhood. For some of us, the wounds may be minor, like a parent’s voice that was raised too loudly, or a glance or comment that made us feel insignificant. 

These are valid, but healable, with some intentional processing and inner work. For others, the wounds may be deeply traumatic, maybe even hard to ever share or admit. These more severe experiences often require much more time, often professional help, and extended healing time to recover from. 

But regardless of where we fall on this spectrum of hurt, the desire for us to work toward healing those wounds, and the effort toward not instilling the same wounds on our own children is valid, necessary, and noble. 

Doing better in our own journeys

But whether we have a fantastic example from our parents or a terrible one, how do we do better in our own journeys as parents? How do we learn and grow from those childhood experiences? How do we avoid making some of the same mistakes? 

To that end, I’d like to offer a handful of suggestions. 

1. Start with forgiveness. 

Now please hear me out. I know for some, you’re ready to shut me out already. And you’re right—I don’t know what happened to you. I also am not arguing that those who hurt you deserve your forgiveness. All I’m saying is that unforgiveness is one of the biggest hindrances to our own healing. 

It hardens our hearts, removing the pliability needed for our growth in love and grace. And as much as we’d like to compartmentalize or ignore our pain, unforgiveness will often come out sideways, and usually toward those we’re closest to. 

There are some incredible resources around this topic in particular. If this is an area you’d like some extra encouragement in, check out some of the content I’ve linked below. 

2. Walk in humility. 

This can be a tough one as well. Have you ever found yourself saying the words “I would never do that?” Well, I’ve said it. And I’ve done it. 

It’s so much easier for me to judge others when they fall short than to recognize that I’m just as capable of falling. 

When I was young, my mom would occasionally have to hide the bruises on my neck and shoulders when we went to church. They were painful marks left from my dad grabbing me too hard in frustration when I wasn’t listening well or goofing off too much. I never thought I’d be capable of something like that with my own children. Then I got angry one night and realized it would have been possible if I hadn’t walked away. That night was a wake-up call. 

“First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (Proverbs 16:18 MSG). 

If we are going to be better parents, we must realize that we are not better people. We are just as broken, just as sinful, just as human—and that’s OK. 

We also have years of learned behaviors ingrained in our subconscious from our childhood. If our parents yelled a lot, we may default to yelling ourselves. If our parents were overly physical when we were rambunctious or disobedient, we may hold those negative parenting lessons deep in our subconscious. Humility allows for the reality that we’re imperfect, and the possibility that we may have some healing and retraining to do. 

3. Actively work on your own mental health. 

One of our boys got a splinter the other day while playing outside. For the longest time, he refused to let us go near it. It hurt too bad, and the pain of us working to remove it hurt even worse. 

But the process was necessary for him to heal. I think that many of us are still walking around with our own splinters, and they often can build up over the years. At times we’re able to ignore them, work around them, pretend they’re not there. But ever so often they get bumped, and we’re reminded that we’ve got some things to work on. 

I really can’t overstate enough how crucial it is for us as adults, especially as parents, to work on our own mental and emotional health. I see a therapist regularly, and I talk openly about the splinters I’ve experienced throughout my life. 

Sometimes just talking about them is enough to lift them from my heart, while others require many conversations about how those splinters are shaping the way I relate to people today. The key here is talking about it. Be honest with someone you trust. Be willing to shed some tears. Those splinters don’t have to stay there. 

4. Be present. 

As a father, I often feel the pressure to be a good leader for our household. I want to make the right decisions, create good plans, and help steer my children towards successful futures. I want to make our home the nicest it can be, provide the best financial future that I can muster, and personally be someone that my kids can be proud of. 

But I’ve begun to finally realize that the most important thing I can provide my family is my presence. And not just physically being in the room, but being mentally and emotionally present, engaged, and interested in my wife and my boys. 

I know it’s inevitable that I will make a multitude of mistakes as a father, but I am committed to making sure that absence isn’t one of them. 

For me, this looks like keeping social media platforms off my phone. It looks like taking my kids out for ice cream during the week. It looks like turning the TV off more and reading them stories. It looks like asking them more questions about how they’re feeling and what they’re excited about. 

Simple things like this can feel underwhelming or unproductive, but sometimes extraordinary is found at the end of a long road of ordinary. 

5. Be quick to apologize. 

The truth is that even if you do all the hard work to heal and grow, you’re never going to be perfect. You’re going to have bad days, make questionable decisions, and ultimately be the cause of some pain in your kid’s life.

I hate that a lot. But it’s true. 

And this is why some of the early suggestions are so important—start with forgiveness and walk in humility. Our parents are not the only ones that need to be shown forgiveness. We will also need to walk in humility and ask for forgiveness ourselves. 

Don’t try to be a perfect parent. Try to be a present parent that is quick to ask for forgiveness and learns from mistakes. 

You’re not alone

One last thing—parenting is so dang hard. It’s messy, and it’s a journey full of failures and successes. Can I encourage you to simply be kind to yourself? 

If your journey feels overwhelming right now, know that you’re normal! If you don’t have things figured out, welcome to the club! You’re in the right place. 

Let’s keep walking this road together. 

Live perfectly imperfect

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Levi Daniels

Levi is a husband, father, and a bit of a coffee addict. He and his family currently reside in Texas.

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