Parenting Mistake: How to Fix a Parent-Teen Relationship

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It’s natural to make mistakes as a parent, but those mistakes can cause serious damage to the relationship with our kids and teens. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to restore the parent-teen relationship. In this video, we discuss how to repair a fractured parent-teen relationship after a parenting mistake. We also offer helpful strategies to restore trust and communication between parents and teens.

Full Video Transcript

[Note: I’ve made minor edits to improve readability and flow]

What do you do as a parent when you realize you’ve really screwed up? I’m not talking about the simple things like, you accidentally tossed the little tiny bite of cookie that was left on your preschoolers plate into the trash because you thought he was done with it. And it turns out he wasn’t. 

I’m talking about the really big things when you realize that you’ve messed up as a parent. Where you chose a certain parenting tactic or idea or philosophy that you thought was going to help you achieve the goals that you had in parenting your child. 

Dad and daughter cleaning boots. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

And you suddenly realized that maybe it worked even. But that it caused serious damage to your child. 

Parenting mistakes with teens

How do you handle it when the way you’ve been parenting your older children, you suddenly recognize, is not effective for what you’re trying to do? Or it’s caused damage, and so you change what you’re doing with your younger children.

But now what do you do with your older kids? How do you handle that with them?

Our recent experiences

Family in church clothes. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.
All of us in church clothes. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Truman

We’ve had to give this a lot of thought recently because two years ago we left the church that I had grown up in. Where my older kids had grown up in and spent all their growing up years. 

So there’s a lot of teachings because the church… There’s lots of doctrines and things that I recognize were either unnecessary or were unbiblical, but were a part of the traditions of the church. So we had taught them, thinking they were biblical.

So we’re in this process of recognizing that so much of what we’ve done with our kids as parents either caused damage. Or was simply ineffective for what we were wanting to have happen. 

Mom and daughter. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

So we have been working through this process of, how do we repair that? How do we fix it with our kids? And I’m going to share with you what we’ve been doing.

Still in the learning process

I’m a mom of six, and my oldest is not yet an adult. My youngest is kindergarten age and I’ve made my fair share of parenting mistakes—plenty of them!

And I want to say that I’m not done making my fair share of parenting mistakes!

It’d be nice if I had figured it all out, and knew that going forward I was never going to mess up again! But I know that’s not true. 

It’s about the relationship

Teen girls and parents playing board game. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.
We have a lot of fun together with our teens!

So I’m going to tell you what I’m doing, and what I do, when I realize I’ve made a really big mistake as a parent.

And I don’t want you to understand this as, “Do this and it will work,” because I can’t guarantee that. 

I don’t actually know if it’s going to work yet. I do not have adult children who are coming back and saying, “Hey, that was a really good plan!” 

Keep them talking

Dad and daughter in sunglasses. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

What I do have, is teens who are in conversation with me, and who are willing to talk with me when they recognize something that I did in the past that caused hurt.

So if that’s what you want—if you want to have a relationship with your teens where they’re able and willing to talk to you about the hurts that they’ve been through or are going through…

I can tell you that so far this is what’s working. So that’s why I’m sharing it here. 

Not because I’ve figured it all out at all. Definitely not! But because I’ve seen that this is what’s working for our family. So I want to share it with you today. 

Parenting mistake example: eating and food rules

Family with children at the table.

A recent example of a parenting philosophy that we thought was really good when we started parenting, and have realized that it was dangerous, was our approach to teaching our kids to have a healthy relationship with food.

We, for many years, parented the way we were parented. Which was, expecting our kids to clean their plate. Expecting them to eat whatever we put in front of them without complaint. And if they didn’t eat what we put in front of them then they were just gonna have to be hungry until the next meal. 

It seemed like a good idea…

Girls at tea party table. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

That was the principle that we followed as parents with our first three children. And it seemed to work because all of our older three girls pretty much eat what’s in front of them without complaining. And they know it’s bad manners to not complain.

So it seemed to work, is what I want to say. 

Until it wasn’t

However, along came our sons! One of our sons struggles to… Most people would call him a “picky eater”, and that’s what we thought he was too. We thought he was just being picky, but there’s way more to it than that. 

Kids at the dinner table. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

I’ve never seen someone who can, um, be so averse to eating standard food—not talking about disgusting food here, folks! We’re just talking about what’s standard on our table—who could be so adverse to eating a particular thing that they will actually start to gag and everyone at the table will be feeling ill watching this person attempt to try to eat whatever food it is. 

So we ended up with our fourth child who definitely was not of the same make as his older siblings. And so we had to totally rethink our approach to feeding our kids and what the rules were around food at our house. 

Our parenting mistake about food

Family at breakfast with Dr. Seuss hats on.

So our big parenting mistake was that we thought that in order to create adventurous eaters, and in order to create kids who eat what was put in front of them with no complaints and would just be polite kids at the table. Who could be polite guests at someone’s house… 

Our mistake was that we thought that the best way to do this was to just follow the eating rules we had growing up.

Our son, when he came along he got to the point where he was starting to be in danger of not getting enough nutrition to gain weight and grow appropriately. 

@dinkumtribe Children need to be supported and encouraged and guided – they do not exist to be made into whatever their parents want them to be. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #ParentingAdvice #ParentingWisdom #ParentingMistake #LearnFromMyMistakes #ParentTalk #ParentTikTok #LearnBetterDoBetter #AlwaysImproving #MomSupportingMom #MomTalk #momtiktok #WhatILearned ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel

Professional help

And our doctor—I’m very thankful for our doctor who helped us with this situation because she just leveled with us. 

She said, “You just need to feed him what he’s going to eat. His nutrition is more important than making sure that he eats what’s in front of him. Offer him things that he will eat, because he needs to eat to grow appropriately.” 

Recognizing my own triggers

Jenn as a toddler. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

As a parent it was hard for me to hear that, because I had grown up feeling so much shame. And being parented in a way that attached moral failure and moral obligation to whether or not I ate the food that was on my plate.

I was not allowed to, like… I was taught that the most important person at the table in a group meal was whoever had made the meal. And it was most important not to offend or hurt that person’s feelings by my response to the food. 

I was not taught that the most important thing was for me to get the appropriate nutrition.

A common parenting mistake

Boy eating a ketchup packet with baked potato in front of him. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.
Sometimes, ketchup is the main course…

And I don’t think that’s an uncommon teaching. I think a lot of families grow have grown up with that. But I needed to hear from my doctor that it was okay to let go of that. That was actually the best thing for my child. 

So I’m really thankful that our doctor said that. 

Older teen vs. younger kids

But anyway, this created a disconnect with our older children. Who had been raised with those same principles that my husband and I both had about food and eating.

So recently we recognized that there was conflict happening at meal times. Because we had not made a point of explaining to our older children why we had changed our philosophy on this. 

Dad and boys watching computer on bed.

Communicating a parenting mistake

So what do you do when you realize that you have really screwed up on a parenting decision? And so now, going forward, you’re completely changing your parenting tactic in a certain area?

So here’s what we have done and are doing. And it seems to be working well in terms of maintaining relationships with our teens.

And like I said, I can’t guarantee this will work at your house. I can only tell you it’s working so far. Check in with me in 10 years and I’ll have more perspective, because my kids will be adults and I can check in on that. 

First Step: apologize

Dad and boys hugging. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

But here’s the first step.

We called our kids in who had been impacted by this change, and who were aware of it, and we straight out apologized. 

We just said, “We were parenting out of the best of what we knew at the time. And now we know better and we recognize we need to change what we’re doing and what we have been doing. 

“I was wrong. I totally made a mistake here. And I recognize that this decision that I made previously in my parenting may have caused you harm.” 

Own the parenting mistake and say sorry

Dad and son smiling. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

So we had a very open talk with our oldest children. Who had been growing up with this principle of having to eat everything in front of them at the table and not be allowed to complain about it. Not be allowed to refuse any kind of specific foods that they may not like. 

We recognized that was not a helpful parenting principle. And had actually caused damage to our girls who are the oldest ones who we’ve had grown up with that. 

What language to use

So we openly apologized and said, “We recognize that our parenting decision in this area, it may have hurt your feelings. 

“It may have caused damage. It may have, um, really caused you a lot of pain, and we’re really sorry about that. And this is why we’re doing things differently with your younger siblings going forward.” 

So that was the first step: apologizing and taking full ownership of the fact that our decision caused them pain. 

Parenting helps Pinterest Board

Second Step: clarify and communicate

Second step in making the adjustment of, “I screwed up as a parent and I need to change what I’ve been doing going forward” is… Not only do we apologize and take full ownership for our choices, but I spent some time talking to them about why we made, why we changed our mind on the decision. 

Because we had been parenting one specific way, and now we were doing a really big change. Parenting in a completely different direction because we have better information.

Warning sign: Do not Go beyond this point.

New information requires making adjustments

And that is the thing that I am emphasizing to my kids when I realize I’ve made a parenting mistake—big one!—that involves a whole new way of thinking for me as a parent. 

I talked—we talk—to our kids and we say, “We have better information. We realize that the way we’ve been doing it doesn’t work. It isn’t giving us the result we want, so we’re changing what we’re doing.”

And we just openly say that to whatever children are impacted by the decision. Or if it was something we used to do and we now realize was a bad plan, then I just say… I just openly say it to the children impacted by it.

Healthy eating principles

Boy eating Cheetos outside. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

We talked about this with our eating and meal time principles. I just expressed to my older kids that we realized it wasn’t working the way we wanted it to. 

It was doing actually the opposite of what we intended. And so with this new information we wanted to change what we had been doing. 

And owning, also, that it probably… There may be some damage that they recognize, or some hurt that it caused, the way we used to do things.

Initial conversation

That’s the conversation we had with them so they could understand why we had changed what we were doing and why we were doing things differently with their younger siblings going forward.

Now this was a single conversation we had. 

Third Step: keep the lines open

Mom and Daughter making V sign. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

But I think the third, and really important thing that you need to do if you’re making a major parenting decision change is to say to your kids… 

And we’re talking about talking about the kids who are old enough to understand what’s going on, right? If this was a two-year-old I would not be having the same conversation obviously! But I have teenagers. 

And so we had this open conversation with them. But we also said, “Hey, we recognize this is a lot to take in. And you may discover things later on that did hurt you that we’re not talking about here today.

“Our door is open. Please come when you remember something that we’ve done that has been hurtful to you. Please come and let us know and we want to talk with you about it and we want to fix it.” 

Healing a parenting mistake takes time

And that’s what we do. 

It’s super important when you have made a really big parenting mistake to recognize that it’s going to take time for your kids to understand the full impact of what has happened. 

You may apologize once, very specifically.

But if you really want to build a healthy relationship with your kids and your teens, you need to realize and be ready for the fact that, in the moment when you apologize, they may need time to process that apology. 

And they may need time to think through whether there’s anything else you need to apologize for. So I want to normalize that. 

Teens watching a phone on a couch with Labrador on floor in front. Repairing a Parenting mistake with teens.

Apologies aren’t “one-and-done”

When you’re saying sorry to your kids, recognize that this may not be a one-time deal where you say sorry and it’s all over. 

They may need some time to work through feelings. They may need some time to think of other ways that they need to know that you are ready to apologize for. 

As a child in my family I was taught that forgiveness is a one-time thing. A simple statement. A decision, a choice. And it is all of that, and it’s way more!

@dinkumtribe Forgiveness is a word that’s often misused by abusive people to shame victims. Here’s some clarification. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe #forgiveness #forgiveandforget #forgivenessnotpermission #forgiveness🙏🏻 #forgivenessvstrust #forgivenessvsreconciliation #reconciliation #conflictresolutiontok #christianforgiveness #misusingthebible ♬ Once Upon a Dream – Invadable Harmony

Forgiveness is a process

Forgiveness in a relationship means that, not only are you making a choice to extend forgiveness to someone else…

But if you’re the person who’s being forgiven you need to recognize that though someone may forgive you, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re done talking about it.

And them bringing it up again isn’t always a way of holding it over your head. Sometimes forgiveness takes time to process, especially if it’s a big deal.

Sign says: It's ok to be sad about something you thought you had healed from.

Give time to process

I’m not talking about, you bumped somebody as you were walking down the road. Or you accidentally gave away something that you shouldn’t have. 

I’m not talking about a simple single act. I’m talking about these big, long-term parenting decisions where you realize that you messed something up, and you really need to fix it. 

As parents, we have to recognize and be okay with, especially our teens I think and pre-teens who are thinking more and taking time to process. 

Apologize again if needed

We need to recognize that they may need us to apologize more than once. Because they may need to sort through multiple memories of this particular issue. They may need to sort through multiple aspects of the problem. 

And so we might, as parents, have to apologize several times specifically for specific issues. And we need to be ready to be humble, and just say, “You know, I wish I had done differently.”

Parenting mistake doesn’t equal bad parents

Mom and 3 girls at horse camp.
Mom and girls at horse camp

A lot of what my husband and I have been trying to say to our oldest kids is, “We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought we were being good parents. 

“And our goal was always to be good parents, but we didn’t have all the information. The information we had was not helpful and I own that. It’s not my fault my information was bad, maybe, but it’s still my fault that hurt was caused. That you got hurt by my lack of information.” 

And owning that goes a really long way if we can do it honestly and humbly.

END TRANSCRIPT

©️ Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2023.

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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.