Jared White Photo of Jared

Expressively publishing on the open web since 1996.
Entranced by Portland, Oregon since 2017.

Parents: You're Not Going to Break Your Kids

When we have difficulties helping our children learn new skills or cope with the tumult of everyday life, it's tempting to want to blame ourselves. But we can choose to see the learning opportunity inherent in every emotional moment.



This essay is over four years old. It's possible my views have changed since I first wrote this, but I choose to leave it online nevertheless. Cheers, Jared

I’ve been doing this parenting thing a little while now. My oldest child will be entering first grade in the not-so-distant future. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years, as any parents do, but there’s one thing I’ve learned by now that helps me temper my frustrations and chill out when upsets occur, and it is this:

You’re not going to break your kids. Really, you’re not.

(All right, maybe if you’re the most mean-spirited, despicable person in the world and get passed-out drunk every evening, then yeah, you’re going to have problems. But I highly doubt you’d be reading this seriously unless you care about being a good parent!)

There are so many times I thought I might be breaking my kid. Oh no, she’ll never learn how to use the potty! Then she learned how to use the potty. Oh no, she’s too temperamental! She’ll never learn how to make friends. Then she learned how to make friends. Oh no, she’ll never learn how to read and write! Now she’s writing her name and other words we spell out to her. (The grandparents were very proud to receive her handwritten cards!)

My point is this: whatever struggle you see in your child which makes you feel you must be a bad parent, you need to tell yourself (over and over if need be): I am a good parent. You’re a good parent for two reasons:

  1. If you were actually a bad parent, you wouldn’t be so worried about being a bad parent!
  2. You’re a good parent because it’s your child you are parenting. You likely wouldn’t be a good parent for somebody else’s child. But for your own child, there’s no one more qualified than you.

In Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Gottman writes the following about parents who follow the prescriptions in his book:

They don’t object to their children’s displays of anger, sadness, or fear. Nor do they ignore them. Instead, they accept negative emotions as a fact of life and they use emotional moments as opportunities for teaching their kids important life lessons and building closer relationships with them.

In other words, when we have difficulties helping our children learn new skills or cope with the tumult of everyday life, we have a choice. We can blame ourselves, which inevitably leads to resentment towards our children causing even more pressure and heartache down the road; or we can accept these situations as normal and constructive, providing us valuable opportunities to grow closer to our children and bring them to a place of greater understanding and awareness.

So listen: you’re not going to break your kids. They’re already set up for success simply by having parents who care enough to want to set them up for success. All you need to do is take a step back once in a while, breathe deeply, and remember to take advantage of as many of these learning opportunities as you’re able in order to shape them into the wonderful human beings they’re destined to become.


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