5 Parenting ‘Mistakes’ That Are Actually Good for Your Kids

Litle girl with thumb upHas your child ever fallen down on the playground while you were busy sending a text, so another parent had to inform you, yes, it’s your child sobbing over there? Have you ever attempted to leave for work while your child clung to your neck, begging you to stay? Have you lied to a friend about putting your 10-year-old to bed in her own room, when in fact you let her sleep next to you in your king-size? Don’t bother beating yourself up for your “poor” parenting choices—you may actually be making the smartest and best decisions for you and your kids.

Despite what parenting books, blogs, and headlines tell you, there are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to raising kids. Usually the most trustworthy guide is not a bestseller or even the advice of an expert, but your own intuition. You know best, whether it’s deciding if your kids can handle a tougher class, need extra cuddle time, or should quit a demanding sport rather than stay and tough it out.

Rest easy if your actions don’t always measure up to what you think is the standard. You might be picking some great alternatives—on purpose or by accident—that are perfect for your family and your kids. Here are some supposed goof-ups which, despite the side-eye you might get from other parents around you, really aren’t mistakes at all.

1. Letting Kids Take Risks

These days, beds have rails to keep kids from falling out, playgrounds have soft surfaces to keep children from injuring their heads, and a child walking alone down the street can be reported to the police. But if all dangers are removed from their lives, what are the consequences?

When kids perform activities that need strategy and dexterity, such as balancing on a fence or climbing high into a tree, they develop a host of secondary skills, including independent thinking, risk analysis tools, and the confidence to face and overcome a fear. Many recent researchers and writers also contend that never confronting risks leads to depression and anxiety in children. Norway’s Ellen Sandseter published a 2011 paper on how children need danger and excitement, such as using complicated tools and playing near fire. By becoming more resourceful in these situations, they learn to master their environment and have less fear of new and challenging situations.

So if you decide to let your child play in the backyard without supervision, for instance, or to cook when they are only 6 years old, don’t worry about other people’s perceptions. Society’s rules for parenting are fairly arbitrary anyway. Today, it’s considered horrifying to let your kids skateboard without what amounts to full body armor, but 30 years ago, kids managed without. Perhaps your instincts, even when they go against current trends, know what’s really best for your kids—climbing that old oak, perhaps, without a safety net.

2. Letting Things Occasionally Slip

Yes, we’d like to be on top of everything, all the time. And maybe that mythical perfect parent never lets their child skip the vegetable course or watch too much television. But letting something go—even if it’s out of your own sheer laziness—can be much healthier for your child than catching every mistake.

Consistency is good in parenting, but too much consistency morphs from being predictability (which gives your child security) into nagging (which your child will quickly tune out). We need enough flexibility and creativity in our parenting to make life spicy. So if you do the exact same schedule every night before bedtime—which every sleep book will tell you is of utmost importance—and one night you come home late, skip story time, and put the kids to bed without brushing their teeth, don’t worry. Call it a “toothbrush vacation” and delight your kids with your devil-may-care coolness.

3. Putting Your Relationship First Sometimes

Our kids are always supposed to be the top priority, right? We sacrifice everything and anything for them? Not when it comes to our marriages. Experts note when we give kids precedence over a partner, we not only hurt the relationship but the kids, too. After all, their stability relies on ours, and when the parents are fighting, angry, or numbed out, the kids feel it too.

I know many parents who proudly declare they’ve never left their children with a sitter, and sometimes never even with a family member. While this shows a real devotion to parenting, it also lets me know the marriage isn’t getting the attention it needs to thrive. Scheduling a date or even a vacation with a no-kids-allowed policy might feel selfish, but in the end you’re doing your kids a favor—and modeling what a healthy, connected, adult relationship looks like.

4. Having Something Else in Your Life

An adjunct to putting your marriage first is to also have other things in your life you value. Not that you should be out “taking care of you” 24/7, but being dedicated to your work or your softball team is just as crucial to your development as flute lessons are to your children. Why are we always harping on them about the importance of extracurricular activities if we have none of our own?

Someday, whether it’s 10 or two years in the future, our kids are going to leave our homes. Having a full, vital life apart from them is good for us and a great way to set an example of self-sufficiency.

5. Letting Kids Sleep in Your Bed

As with so many things in parenting, sleep issues divide neatly into two categories: what we know is right and what we actually do. So many people I work with in therapy admit something close to shame that their teens still crawl into bed with them some nights, or their toddlers have never slept in their own “big kid” beds.

Yes, a separate sleep environment is healthier for parent and child because each gets more uninterrupted sleep and the child learns to self-soothe. But this is one of those “mistakes” that can translate into some very sweet, very loving time for parent and child.

So go ahead and screw up from time to time. Kids need variety in their lives, and parents need to allow themselves to pick whatever decision feels right in the moment, even if it doesn’t add up to conventional rules and regulations. Trusting your instincts and going with the flow will create more fun, more loving chaos, and more wonderful memories than a strict regimen ever could.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Vicki Botnick, MA, MS, LMFT, therapist in Tarzana, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Emilee

    Emilee

    March 10th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    I always thought that these were the things that made me a bad mom, and yes I have done every single one of them!
    It is nice to know that not everyone is calling out the parent patrol on actually letting kids be kids for a change!

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    March 11th, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    Hi Emilee, I wish more people were as honest as you! We’re all doing the best we can, perfectly imperfect, and it’s great to know others feel just as confused some days as we do.

  • amanda

    amanda

    March 10th, 2015 at 11:12 AM

    It lets our kids know so much to see that we are human too. Things may not always be picture book perfect, but if they are perfect for our home, then that is all we need. :)

  • Iris

    Iris

    March 11th, 2015 at 3:45 AM

    Children are so resilient… but don’t shortchange them either.
    They deserve better than that.

  • Ross T.

    Ross T.

    March 11th, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    Honestly I think that the kids who learn right along with us are the most well adjusted ones. Who always wants to feel like they have to measure up to this non reality of Stepford parents? I think that most of us try as hard as we can to do our best, and I think that when our kids look back on it they will understand that everything we did and tried to do, then we did it for them. We don’t always have to sweat the small stuff!

  • Vicki

    Vicki

    March 11th, 2015 at 4:30 PM

    Hi Ross, I so agree that kids learn from watching us, so the more we can show them how to mess up, take responsibility for it and move on, the more resilient and accountable they’ll be. Thanks for the comment.

  • franklin

    franklin

    March 12th, 2015 at 6:11 AM

    The tendency that I see among parents today is that they want to protect their child from anything and everything but why?
    How else are they ever going to learn about failure and dusting yourself off and trying again if we never give them the opportunity to succeed all on their own?
    We won’t always be there to take up the slack for them so don’t you think that it’s better to actually teach them how to do that for themselves?

  • Grayson

    Grayson

    March 13th, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    I wish that I could say that my wife and I managed to have kids and hold our relationship together like it was pre children, but for both of us I think that we really let the kids take the top spot and now it’s like we have nothing to say to each other anymore of it does not involve them. It makes me sad to think about what kind of relationship we had together once and what I now feel like we have lost, and I find myself wondering if this is something that we can ever get back. Maybe once the kids leave home, I’m not sure but by them it may be too late and that scares me.

  • vicki

    vicki

    March 13th, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    Hi Grayson, it’s great that you recognize the ways you and your wife are putting your kids first. I highly recommend letting your wife know how much you miss your former connection. An occasional date night is a great place to start; every couple needs some protected, alone time. Franklin, I agree completely, we need to let them fail, and to show them how we manage when we fail.

  • TerryG

    TerryG

    March 14th, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    they are only little for such a short time- just enjoy it while you have it because before you know it they are leaving the nest!

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