How Do I Share My Mistakes With My Kids? Five Tips to Help Parents and Leaders

Fuller Youth Institute

Photo by Conor Keller.

This guest post is from Matt Overton, Associate Pastor for Youth and Families at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, WA. Matt’s church was part of our 2013 Sticky Faith Cohort.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of parenting blogs, family ministry books, and research on raising kids. One of the threads of thinking and research that I have seen is the recommendation that parents need to share their mistakes with their kids.

Sharing our mistakes is good as a general principle. Too often, our students don't get to glean from the life stories of their parents or other adults. Many times when teens look at their older siblings or other adults, they see (what appears to them to be) a finished project. They don't know that those adults are still in process, and they don't know that there were loads of mishaps along the way. Sharing both our mistakes and victories can provide some stepping stones to help young people see that they can make the leap to adulthood successfully.

However, every bit of advice needs caveats! So here are five tips to keep in mind as you share your mistakes:

1. Ask, "Why Am I Sharing This?” As a pastor, I constantly have to ask myself as I preach and teach, "Why am I teaching about this?" Do I have an inappropriate agenda? Is there some internal issue that I might be working out instead of just focusing on the passage? As parents, we also need to make sure that what we are sharing is not being shared to meet our own needs. When sharing with our kids becomes a kind of confessional moment, we might want to pause. We might need to process the event with someone other than our children first. Our kids shouldn’t become our primary network of support. Parents can get caught in the trap of sharing everything with their children and teenagers, often because they don't have another place to share. It can become unclear who is the parent and who is the child.

2. Consider the Timing. Often we want to share a story as soon a situation makes us anxious about our kids. That might not be a good time. We need time to calm down and process what is appropriate to share, at what age it is appropriate to share, and why we want to share a particular life mistake. For instance, you might have heard someone share a story of a mistake and it wasn't clear that they really thought it was a mistake. It sounded more like reminiscing or boasting. If those feelings come up, we might want to reconsider telling about that "life lesson” right now.

3. Consider How Often You Share. Pick your shots. Too many mistake stories might sound like you are dredging your past in a campaign to put up as many walls as possible. Your teen will start to feel like you are constructing a plastic bubble around them instead of sharing something authentic as you walk along the road of life with them. Are we teaching our kids by sharing, or are we operating from a desire to control outcomes?

4. Be Careful About Sharing Secrets! Especially for those of us doing paid or volunteer ministry in other venues, we have to be careful that we don't share a story publicly that we keep secret at home. That can really burn some bridges with our children. If you share it at church, it might be hard for them to fully understand why you didn't share it at home first.

5. Don't Expect Your Story to Change Anything. I know this sounds weird. If it won't change anything, then why share? The point is that if we are sharing stories expecting them to change our kids or fix our kids, then we will be likely to embellish, leave parts out, or over-share. Your kids can smell this stuff out a mile away, and will probably tune you out as inauthentic in pretty short order. If it is right to share the story, then share it. Let your kids wrestle with it for a while, or put it in their pocket for future use. Sharing our mistakes when we have a desired outcome starts to look and feel like manipulation and coercion pretty quickly. Just share, and trust God do the rest!


Published Feb 25, 2014
Fuller Youth Institute

The Fuller Youth Institute leverages research into resources that elevate leaders, kids, and families.

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