mess up, mom? 5 steps for starting over

how to change kids' behaviorI don’t like making mistakes.

It is part of my (recovering) perfectionistic nature.

I want to get it right the first time.

You might guess then that motherhood has been a wee bit challenging for me.

As a mom, getting everything right flew out the window before I was even discharged from the hospital.

The longer I was a mom, I found that pursuing perfection just kept getting more difficult. With each stage, the kids gave more pushback. There was more messiness. Less certainty.

My perfectionistic, people-pleasing personality craved peace and order.  

So I let things slide that I shouldn’t have. My kids weren’t given the responsibility they needed.

I wanted them to be happy. And I wanted things done “right.”

Which meant that I was still pouring cereal for my son at age 10 and making my daughter’s bed at age 12. Sad, but true.

I was too critical at times. And I wasn’t consistent enough in enforcing boundaries.

When my oldest hit middle school, all of a sudden, I was traveling a very rough road, at least in part because I hadn’t laid a firm foundation of consistency. My mistakes were coming back to haunt me — with a vengeance.

My kids loved me, but my parenting style didn’t command their respect.

Now my eyes were opened. But in some sense, ignorance is bliss. I was hit with a wave of crushing guilt and paralysis.

I cried out to God for help. Instead of heaping condemnation, He offered grace.

But He didn’t let me off the hook.

I couldn’t change the past, but He made it clear — over and over again — that He expected me to do the right things for my kids now.

The decision to be the consistent, boundary-setting mom after years of too many second chances was not popular with my offspring. The task of turning things around seemed impossible. It hasn’t been an easy journey. But I guarantee you: It is possible. Here are some steps I took that have helped me turn things around:

1. I quit making excuses. For too long, I’d tell myself, “This is just the way I am.” or “It won’t hurt to let that go just this one time.” I’d rationalize my choices in my head. But deep down, I knew that I was taking the easy way out. When God opened my eyes to the damage I was doing to my kids, I was forced to stop make excuses and start making things different. 

2. I asked God for forgiveness and guidance. Change — even good change — can be painful. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Each day, I would get up and ask God for wisdom and courage. Wisdom to know the best decisions for my kids and the courage to make them. His power enabled me to do things I couldn’t do on my own.  

3. I admitted to my kids that I messed up. I was very honest with my kids. It went something like, “I need to ask your forgiveness. I’ve done things that haven’t been in your best interest. I’ve been too critical. At the same time, I haven’t give you enough consistency and responsibility. I can’t do anything about the past, but I’m going to do things differently in the future. That means that some things are going to change.”

4. I started slow. While I think my kids appreciated my honesty, they were not so crazy about the “changes.” They liked things the way they were. Or at least they thought they did. Eventually, they grew to enjoy being more self-sufficient and responsible. But at first, being held to a different and higher standard didn’t feel good. I started slow, focusing on one area I wanted to change at a time, instead of tackling everything at once. 

5. I found someone to hold me accountable. God placed my friend Kathy in my life just when I needed her. She spoke hard truths into my life and kept me accountable for following through on each difficult change.

Trust me, no matter how badly you think you’ve blown it, mom, you can begin again. 

His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

To this messed up mom, that sounds perfect.

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  • There’s a blurred edge between “teaching our kids to be self-sufficient” and “overseeing a household that we can actually live in.” It takes work to find that middle space, feel comfortable in it, and use it as a base to gradually grow our kids’ self-sufficiency from. (For all of us!) Well done, you, for all your headway. And thanks for your comments over at Souls in the Sandbox.

  • “…still pouring cereal for my son at age 10 and making my daughter’s bed at age 12…” or, waking them up throughout middle school, or brushing your 12 year old’s hair, or helping the 11 year old soap hers up properly in the shower….

    Not like I get this or anything. Ahem.

    Melinda, these are great ways to hem in the wonky aspects of our personality quirks and to let the good parts have a place to shine bright. Love it!

    • {Melinda} Laurie, this is why I love you … we are kindred spirits, aren’t we? 🙂 Been so busy I haven’t had a chance to dig into your book yet, but this week it’s going to happen! I know it’s going to be amazing.


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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