When Good Parents Make Bad Choices

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I’ve told my daughter multiple times, “You aren’t a bad girl, but you made a bad choice.” I always want her to know that choices have repercussions, but that I love her no matter what. It’s a difficult thing to communicate with a toddler. So whenever I reprimand, I make sure to tell her, “You aren’t a bad girl, but you made a bad choice.”

I’m hoping that this concept holds true for parents. Because while I like to think of myself as a good parent, I know that I’ve made some bad choices. Sometimes, they’re made because of convenience. Others, my temper gets away from me. And every once in a while, I make a traditionally bad choice because I honestly believe that its necessary. Whatever the reason, no matter how many parenting books, blogs or articles I read, sometimes I resort to parenting techniques that I know I should stay away from.

If we’re going to talk about bad parenting, lets get the biggest one out of the way. Spanking. There are plenty of studies to tell us that spanking is at the least, not effective, at the worst, detrimental to children. We should know that it’s never the answer and never an effective way to communicate a punishment to our children. Yet in severe situations, when my daughter is doing something that could be dangerous, I’ve spanked. If my daughter runs into a parking lot, when she knows that she must have an adult’s hand, that might be serious enough to constitute a spanking. I resorted to spanking due to my difficulty reasoning with a toddler.  No matter how many times I said the word “dangerous” she just didn’t understand. She couldn’t.

Now, I have to admit, I attempted spanking my three year old this weekend when she tried to open the oven. I am apparently so timid and afraid of actually hurting her, my attempt was met with a Stephanie Tanner-style “How Rude” glare. Other than the look, my daughter was unphased. Obviously, my spanking days are done. But even though I knew the consequences, I spanked. I spanked because I didn’t know what else to do. And I’ve never really accepted ignorance as an excuse.  This was a bad choice, but does it make me a bad parent?

And spanking isn’t the only thing! Bribing. Bribery is supposed to be bad. It teaches children to only behave well when they get a reward. We get this, but I know that I’m the only one who gave out candy for six months every time my child walked in the bathroom. She didn’t even have to do anything in there!

What about negotiating? Two more minutes is now my daughter’s favorite phrase. I know that I shouldn’t let her push it. It just leads to more and more negotiating. It tells her that I’m not firm or serious in what I say. This is the message that negotiating sends to children. Yet there are so many nights that I just don’t want to argue. Her two minutes really doesn’t hurt anything.  So I don’t fight it.

I guess that I could have entitled this post, “Excuses for my Bad Parenting.” That might have been more fair. If I acknowledge all of these are bad choices, because they really are, can I tell myself the same thing that I tell my daughter?  I’m not a bad mother, I just made a bad choice.

(Photo: Thinkstock)


  1. Jennifer

    May 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I’m am not a parent… But my sister is and as I’ve gotten older and watched my niece and nephew grow up I’ve come to realize that even when you are a parent you are still only human, which means you may make more than a few mistakes along the way. But similar to the mistakes I make in my own life, I’m sure as a mother you have made certain mistakes with your child that you have learned from which has led you to develop new choices and different ways to do things when disciplining your toddler.

    Plus it’s obvious that kids do not come with a manual and they are all different.

    It is a learning process for both of you and as long as you pick up and recognize what works and what doesn’t along the way.

    Nobody is perfect.

    I commend you for this article.

    • Lindsay Cross

      May 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

      Thank you so much! I think it can be hard for anyone to admit that they’ve made mistakes. You’re definitely right, admitting them is the best way to learn from them.

  2. Carolyn

    May 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

    I don’t yet have kids. My opinion comes from being very unhappy with the way my parents raised me. Every parent makes mistakes, but the important part is whether or not you learn from those mistakes. Making the same mistake repeatedly is what makes me start to question the quality of the parenting. I resent my mother for the times she saw that her parenting actions hurt me and she repeated them. Example: intervening with my teachers every time I had a fight with a particular girlfriend. Kids get into disagreements. They learn to work it out and in turn how to handle similar situations as they come up again and again in life. But my mother thought it would be better to have the teacher sit us down together and talk it out and get lectured about being nice. I was the laughingstock because the entire class would know that is what happened. I would come home crying and embarrassed and my mom would apologize and promise to never do it again. Then the next time I confided in my mom about a disagreement with this girl I would find myself in the sticky situation again at school the next day. (This was probably about 6th grade). I look back and can’t believe how much my mom disrespected me by disregarding my feelings about privacy and wouldn’t let me learn how to solve my own problems. (Even now as a 23 year old adult, I avoid opening up to her because it caused me so many problems in the past) I could give you 100 more examples of times my mom could see her parenting hurting me and did not adjust it accordingly. Maybe she is just crazy and other people don’t have trouble with this. I don’t know. BUT. Truly, as long as you periodically evaluate the outcome of your parenting decisions and learn from mistakes (and successes!) you should be in the clear to call yourself a good mom 🙂

  3. J

    June 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I don’t have children, but have worked with them in my past jobs in preschool. I have other family members who have children who I watch and spend time with. I also teach dance. Needless to say, my experience has been learned through a number of resources and continues to grow. The one thing that I have found to be one of the best things with kids is to explain things at their level.
    Take opening the oven, for example – for a toddler, “It’s hot and you can get a boo boo.” A 5 or 6 year old should know better, but you can ask them not to come into the kitchen because the oven is on and you don’t want him/her to get hurt.

    Also, when you can – involve them!!! This takes the curiousity factor away. Kids will try to do what you tell them not to do, if they’re involved, it’s less appealling to them when no one is watching!

  4. Connie

    July 1, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Don’t think you’re wrong on that one. spanking should be an absolute last resort. sounds like you used it wisely.

  5. Jémie

    July 12, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Personally I don’t find spanking to be a bad parenting choice. With spanking I think the biggest mistake is when it isn’t thought through. For instance, am I spanking my child out of anger or because I want them to associate the offending action (such as touching an outlet, stove, etc…) with pain? Personally, I would rather my child take a crack on the behind as opposed to getting hit by a car, touching a hot oven, or pulling a pan off the stove. That is a VERY different thing than say, spanking your child for a tolieting accident.

  6. Brian

    April 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

    I grew up being spanked by a belt. Once you have that happen a few times you actually think before you do something potentially questionable.

    I honestly believe the system was without fault.

    I have children now and have followed this scheme.
    Infants: Tell them no, mine actually understood.
    Toddlers: Touch/Play with something off limits (Stove) Smack their hands
    Children: Scold them, inform them what shouldn’t have been done. Repeated behavior (I have one that LOVES to smash her sisters toys). Spankings.
    I had my daughter last week look me in the eye (she is 7) “I’m not going to do anything you tell me to do!” I said “Do your homework” (Clearly, succinctly, not yelling) I got “I will not do my homework!” I knelt down and very plainly looked her in the eyes and told her “Yes, you will.”
    She screamed “I’m not going to do anything you tell me to do”
    (This is where it hit the fan)
    I used 2 fingers and popped her on the cheek, told her to stop screaming and do her homework. She screamed “I will no-” I used 2 fingers again and popped her on the cheek.
    She started screaming and kicking, threw her pencil which hit my other daughter just above her eye, I snatched her up, took her upstairs, dumped her in bed.

    If you want to call me a bad parent, sure, join the club, my 2 finger slaps, twice left a bruise on my daughter. I am not some gargantuan beast either. I rarely drink, have never done any illicit drugs (I was/am a nerd), I don’t beat my spouse, have a very reasonable temperment and the video of the judge “disciplining his daughter” from youtube I couldn’t even watch more than a couple minutes because it made me ill.

    As far as I’m concerned. To each his own. I don’t spank with a belt, because I was and the sense of de/attachment and the defining difference between discipline (you are spanking your child, you feel the sting as well) and beating (un-attachment with a paddle or belt) is very real.

    However, the local school administration, reported me to CPS for abuse.

    Physical discipline is not allowed to leave marks, this is tantamount to blind folding someone for pin the tail on the donkey and telling them they will be charged for child abuse if they miss the mark. You never know until marks are left, if the marks will be left.

    I have since adopted a discipline strategy I read about by a child development doctor it is as follows (paraphrased of course):
    Unless the undesirable act is Dangerous, Destructive or Embarrassing you should ignore it.
    Following this mantra (because clearly all doctors know best) I have since let my children decide whether or not they do homework, housework, bed times, etc.

    I am ONLY required by LAW to feed, clothe, house, maintain heat or A/C.

    I previously used to employ what we like to call “The Crane”, which is both arms up straight over the head and standing on one leg until they were able to calm down. I have read ANY punishment should be no more than 15minutes with a 10minute break. I haven’t run into any of the 3 definitive NO’s since and haven’t had in implement this.

    Which is the worse parenting ‘style’?

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