Parents sometimes act badly and in trying to fix their mistakes, they make the situation worse. Often a parent’s responses to feelings of guilt or pity undermines their child’s capacity to grow as a person. That, in turn, deprives their child of their full humanity. Parental pity or shame makes it harder for kids to learn how to make good decisions and take responsibility for bad ones.

For example, if you ask your teenaged daughter to shovel the front walkway and she doesn’t do it in a timely fashion, she owes you an apology (and a shovelled walkway). Doing those things both play a small role in helping her contribute to the household and be an honourable and successful person.

Being clear about her responsibilities sets her on a path to leading a good life.

Parents Acting like frustrated Toddlers

However, if you start yelling at your daughter for not shovelling the walkway, you owe her an apology for yelling at her. You would also probably need to do something to make amends. As her parent, you are responsible for being a good role-model and responding appropriately to your child, even when she ticks you off.

The Both/And

However, even if you screw up, your daughter would still owe it to you and to herself to apologize and to shovel the walkway. That’s her job, and you acting poorly doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to do her job. All it means is that you have to improve your behaviour as her parent and you have to make amends (such as a hug, or a cup of hot chocolate, or whatever makes your kid feel ok as a person). She needs to keep doing her teenager-sized-work and you need to keep doing your adult-sized-work.

You both need to act according to your age and role in the family (i.e. parent and teenaged-child) and you need to carry out your responsibilities.

In short, don’t ever let your bad behaviour undercut another person’s good behaviour, especially that of your children. Don’t let shame or pity encourage you to be a part of a pattern that encourages anyone to be a lesser version of themselves, including yourself!