How I Finally Stopped Feeling Like A Bad Dad

I used to feel stressed out about how much I was messing up, but then I realized that embracing it was parenting magic.

by Jeremy Wilson
Originally Published: 
A smiling dad putting his daughter's hair up in a ponytail
Morsa Images/Getty

What have I learned in six years of fatherhood? That a good portion of parenting consists of screwing up, doing your best to make sure your kids don’t see you screwing up, and praying that you do better the next time.

I think that’s where most of the stress in parenting comes from. Let’s face it — the little angels didn’t come with instructions. We’re really just winging it as we go, and that leads to the eventual screw-up. Which leads to doubt. Which leads to anger. Which leads to suffering.

As parents, we can be so hard on ourselves that someone calling us out for the kids wearing dirty shirts, showing up late to practice, or having a tantrum in public is all the confirmation we need that we suck and are completely undeserving of the honor and joy of raising children.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got no business raising any more children. Those times when I can’t stop them from running around the house like crazy people, when they refuse to listen, or when I finally reach the point where I scream my head off at them and reduce them to tears…. Yeah, I pretty much suck at parenting from time to time.

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Fortunately though, there’s something I’ve realized will help me with that. Something that apparently I passed on to the children, resulting in a few of these blowouts: sheer stubbornness.

I refuse to quit. I refuse to give up — on them or myself. I refuse to let myself get so bogged down by what I’m doing wrong or the resulting self-pity that I forget what’s important: dusting myself off and trying again. Because that’s the most important thing that I can ever teach or do for my boys.

If there is a secret to parenting, and I’m not 100% convinced that there is, it’s that: Don’t give up. Feel like you screwed up today? You probably did. Think you handled a situation wrong and wasted a good teaching moment with your little one? Most likely. Guess what, though? That’s no different from anyone else, no matter what they would have you believe. Just take a step back, admit you screwed up, and make the promise to do better next time.

Like the old saying goes, “If you’re never screwing up, then you’re never trying.”

When you give yourself permission to screw up, a lot of the stress tends to go away. This ironically also tends to lead to less screwing up. Once you accept the fact that you’re going to louse things up every now and then, it makes it a lot easier to handle when you do. The bad parent isn’t the one that drops the ball once in a while. The bad parent is the one who refuses to pick it back up and learn from it.

The hardest thing to me about being a dad is that I have to be an example. Bringing kids home from the hospital didn’t suddenly bless me with an encyclopedic knowledge of childrearing.

Nevertheless, here I am. Whether or not I’m ready, deserving, or remotely qualified, I’ve got the job. I have to do my best with it. I’m not where I need to be. The only thing I can do is admit that and keep trying to get there. That’s just life in general, parenting or not. It’s a series of screw-ups and second attempts until you get it right. I like to think accepting that is the hardest part.

So let the trial-and-error continue. God willing, in the end, I’ll have learned and wised up enough that my boys turn out okay once all is said and done, and are able to go on and do the same.

An overgrown man-child and connoisseur of geek culture, Jeremy Wilson is striving to raise his two sons to become more responsible, self-actualized men than himself. So far they are not cooperating. You can follow their hijinks at

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