One Parenting Lesson I Learned The Hard Way


When the topic of One Parenting Lesson We Learned the Hard Way was chosen for this round robin blog series I knew exactly what my story would be. All that was left was to figure out if I am willing to tell you all this raw, hard tale or would I substitute it for a hilarious story about maxi pads and Christmas Eve.

Lucky (or unlucky) for you I am pulling up my big girl panties and braving the vulnerability that accompanies telling you about my hard learned lesson.

Let me tell you about a parenting mistake I made. Read my story so you won't have to repeat it. #positivediscipline #parenting.#momlife


If you have been reading around here for a while you may have gathered that I used to be a different sort of mama. I believed all sort of things about parenting that when I look back are more the result of fear than trying to lovingly guide my children through their growing up years.

One such fear based tactic happened during the summer that my son was 4. We were visiting my father in law and his wife for probably a week of vacation. Like all good grandparents, my father in law had a noisy toy for the grandkids to play with. In this case, it was a harmonica.
The high pitched squeak of the harmonica being forcefully blown into by my preschooler was driving me completely bonkers. (I have a thing about noise). A quick decision was made, the harmonica could only be played outside.

I don’t recall how long it was before I heard the beastly instrument being played in the living room again, but when I did I marched over to Hudson just in time to see him hide the harmonica behind his back. That is when mistake number one occurred.
“Were you playing the harmonica in here?” I asked brusquely.
The wide-eyed boy shook his head at me. “No.”
In case you have already missed the first lesson let me spell it out for you. Don’t ask a question you already know the answer to.

Like all good grandparents, my father in law had a noisy toy for the grandkids to play with. (1)


Not only was I super strict mom at the point but I feared my children sinning. Lying of all things. That was a sure way the devil would get a foothold in my 4-year-old son’s life. Now comes mistake number two. I put a few drops of hot sauce on my son’s tongue as punishment for lying.

If you want to stop reading this now and decide that you officially hate me, go ahead I understand.

A week after that visit Craig’s dad sent us an email. A horrible, terrible, life-changing email. In it, he called us borderline abusive parents. He raged about my behavior with the hot sauce, and he made a few other harsh observations about our parenting choices as well. He had taken it upon himself to order us some parenting books that he thought would help us out.  He was brave and stood up for what is right even though it was very uncomfortable for him.

Upon reading this letter I went into full on grief mode. Anger surged through me. I cried at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. This man thought I was a bad mother. The very thing I was pouring my life into had been attacked by someone I loved.

(Confession: I burned the books he sent)

It didn’t happen right away, but I did learn so many lessons from this whole torturous experience and I am actually grateful for many of the things that were pointed out to me in the email.

I learned that I was doing a lot of wrong things as a mother and that my fear should not lay in my children making mistakes, but in whether or not I am loving them enough that they will come to me with their failures.

I learned that second and third and fourth chances provide the opportunity to support my children instead of punishing them.

I learned that things will probably turn out just fine without me being a force to reckon with.

I (sort of) learned to forgive myself. I think it’s probably important that I still have regrets about that time in my life so that I remember the damage that happened, but I also use it as a benchmark to see how far I have come.

What parenting lessons have you learned the hard way?

Be sure to read the rest of the bloggers writing about the lessons they learned the hard way:

Shawna @ Simple On Purpose

Louise @ Talk Nerdy to Me

Jac and Juli @ Two Fun Moms


I am also linking this up with the #wholemama project over at Esther Emery’s blog.
photo credit: X via photopin (license)

Want help not losing your cool during tough parenting situations? I've got you covered. Click the link and get 5 Steps to Keep Calm While Parenting, FREE! Click here


  • Louise says:

    Wow. I don’t really know what to say except I’m glad you have learned so much from this! I don’t know how I would’ve responded to confrontation on my parenting but I think his message is an important one–we want our homes to be a safe place to make mistakes. Unconditional love. THanks for sharing!

  • Shawna says:

    Sarah, I can so relate. Knowing our kids are human and will sin has been a hard lesson for me too.
    Thank you for telling this story with so much vulnerability and authenticity instead of hiding behind metaphors. You are the real deal. God has made it so.

  • Gayl says:

    Sarah, I’m glad you shared this. Also, though, I would encourage you to completely forgive yourself. You were doing what you thought was right at the time. Our children seem to love us even when we mess up, and God can work in spite of our mistakes. It’s important that our children know we love them as you pointed out and for them to feel free to come to us with anything. Because God has shown grace to us, we can show grace to our children as well. I can imagine how you must have felt when you received that letter. It must have been so hard. Just reading your post, I can tell you are a good mother who really cares.

  • Oh man Sarah, I have been there, making parenting decisions out of fear. I love that you’ve moved discipline from a place of punishment to a place of support, I’m working at seeing that too. Thanks for showing us more of your story, even the hard-mama parts.

  • Early on in motherhood, I joined a group of attachment parenting moms. I found myself being kindly schooled by them on almost a daily basis. It was hard to let go of “the way things should be” to “have you thought about trying this?” The introduction to gentle discipline was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’m grateful for the input of gracious moms who didn’t shame me for my choices. I think the guilt moves in from day 1, no matter what our approach to parenting might be. Forgiving ourselves is another one of the best things we can do for our children, because they might need that example later on. Thank you for sharing your story. It takes courage to pave a path to freedom, and that’s what I see you doing here for moms who may be experiencing or contemplating a shift, or who are struggling with regrets. That is a gift. Thank you.

  • Val says:

    Thanks for having the courage to share this. I struggle with finding the line between strict enough to teach good life lessons and too strict. Recently I’ve found myself yelling at my kids a lot and have read a couple articles that have reminded me to look at the big picture and envision what i want my daily life to look like. Will i look back and care whether my kids ate all their peas every night? Probably not. Was it warranted to yell at my child when she made a huge mess? A similar message can be conveyed without yelling. Like you mentioned, those can be moments for gently learned lessons and grace for our kids. Thanks for the reminder to take a step back and evaluate our parenting, which is usually what we learned from our parents.

  • Erin says:

    Wow! This was such a great read. I can relate so much. Thank you for vulnerably sharing ❤️

  • Talya Knable says:

    There is so much I can relate to in this!! I feel like i am constantly making mistakes with my kids and learning what can be done differently!

  • Valerie says:

    My mouth dropped open when I read you burned the books. I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same. I am glad he spoke up and you were able to see the error of your ways at the time.

    I really enjoyed reading this, and it is very well written. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

  • I’ve learned to not judge anyone in their parenting. Parenting is hard work and no one really knows what they are doing. We use a combination of what we liked from our childhood and what we think we should be doing. In the end, we are all only doing the best we can! Good job for your recognizing behavior you wanted to changed and forgiving yourself in the process.

  • Liz says:

    It’s so hard to know how to discipline our kids, especially when it comes to sin, and when we are dealing with issues the first time. The desire to teach our kids right from wrong is an act of love, and trying to figure out how to do it is too, even if we make mistakes. Thank you for sharing and being open.

  • Lauren says:

    It’s so hard to discipline our children appropriately when they misbehave. I feel for you, as I have also given some punishments that didn’t fit the crime. I like how you said that you shouldn’t ask questions you know the answer to. I do that all the time.

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