The fine line between parenting success and failure

Father and son:
Walking the fine line between parenting success and failure

Kipling probably wasn’t thinking about a day out at a country park with a 20-month-old when he began penning that poem about treating the twin imposters of triumph and disaster just the same, but he possibly should have been. I say this, because yesterday I went to a country park with my 20-month-old son and stared parenting success and failure in the face many, many times over.

So how did the cookie crumble in the end? It crumbled into many, many pieces in my pocket, thanks for asking. But enough about my daring dad snack and back to my afternoon with the bubster. Looking back, it has to go down as a success for the following reasons.

We didn’t have to go to A&E

Slightly melodramatic, I appreciate. But always a good start when you are dealing with a fear-free toddler, who likes mixing it with the big kids, on the highest climbing frames.

We didn’t get into a fight, argument or lively discussion

It’s half term, parents are stressed and every conceivable place to take your child is heaving. So if you can make it out of a soft play, play park, city farm, country farm, National Trust property or other such location without experiencing any kind of delinquent child bullyfest or parent-on-parent unpleasantness then you have to stick a tick in the win box.

We found multiple sand pits

If you’ve read my piece around things I learned from taking my 18-month-old on holiday, then you’ll know that my son prefers beaches to swimming pools. This is largely because he likes throwing sand, loves meticulously moving sand from one container to another and hearts kicking over things I’ve built. So guess who was the happiest kid in Aldenham County Park when he discovered not one, but two sand pits filled with plastic toys, buckets and spades? Spoiler alert: it was my son.

We took lots of nice pictures and videos

As every modern parent knows, no day out can be described as a success unless it a) produces megabytes of friends and family spamming Whatsapp material, b) gets more than 42 likes, a couple of shares and 6-10 comments on social media, and c) causes Apple to send you a passive/aggressive message about upgrading your iCloud storage for 79p a month.

We bonded

I’ve chronicled the struggles of being the less popular parent on a fairly regular basis. It’s an issue that’s caused me a lot of stress and angst, but yesterday it really felt like something changed. And to prove as much, my son actually asked for my shoulder rather than his mum’s when he woke up at 2am. Whoop whoop! Start the car. Wah-pah-cha. Daddy’s day has finally arrived.

The reality check

So far, so much humble bragging. But fear not, readers. This post is not just an ego-boosting exercise. It’s also meant to be the blogging version of the slightly above average 1998 film Sliding Doors. What on Earth am I going on about? I am going on about the fact that the line between parenting success and failure is very thin, and that yesterday could have turned out very differently if either of the following had escalated into a slightly bigger incident.

The lost welly

My delight at remembering to take my son’s new welly boots to the park, was only matched by my horror at getting to the end of a nappy change and discovering that we only had the left one. Cue a frantic search of the baby changing room and interrogation of the suspect. Unfortunately, the changing room was clear and the suspect wasn’t saying anything except, “Daddy, daddy, chips. Chips. CHIPS!”

I had no option but to retrace our steps. We looked in bushes, checked behind fences, searched the big tunnel and re-played the musical instruments, but alas no right welly was forthcoming. It seemed like day over, £20 lost, and a guaranteed lecture from my better half, but then out of the corner of my eye I spotted a little girl playing with something in the corner of the bigger sand pit. It was a plastic cow that had been suspended in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst. Was it really? Of course it wasn’t. It was my son’s welly.

Ouchy head

Around 45 minutes after dodging that bullet, my son discovered the adventure playground’s slide. It was pretty awesome, and easy to use, with a nice runway up to a covered area where you could look over the park and shout at the top of your voice before propelling yourself down the slide. So I did what any self-respecting 37-year-old father would do – i.e. charged up, down and around the obstacle like a giddy schoolkid who’d just mainlined a bag of sugary snacks.

It was great fun until… I ran headfirst into the covered area at such force that it knocked me off my feet. It was a real You’ve Been Framed moment, but fortunately it did not spark me out. If it had, then I have no idea how the day would have panned out, although I can predict it would not have been a success.

All of which brings me back to Kipling’s twin imposters of triumph and disaster and my point about the line between parenting success and failure being exceptionally thin. Yawn. Who cares about what an old poet and an occasionally amusing dad think? I think you should and here’s why.

Success and failure, failure and success

If the line between parenting success and failure is exceptionally thin and easy to cross, it means that the line between parenting failure and success is equally tiny and just as easy to cross. This should be a relatively simple concept to get your head round, but for some reason we parents just can’t do it. And thus instead of viewing ourselves as ‘unlucky’ or ‘close to good’ when we have a bad day, we brand ourselves as terrible, awful, rotting, stinking, disgraces to the parenting profession.

For the good of our kids, and ourselves, this needs to stop and to help this happen I’m going to recall a conversation I once had with a top sports psychologist. His name is Dr Karl Morris and he has advised big-name rugby league teams and major-winning golfers. A few years ago, he told me that the world’s best golfers are able to perform so consistently because they understand mental equilibrium. This basically means that they are always able to focus on the job at hand because they never get too excited after a good shot or too down after a bad shot.

Can you see how embracing this idea could help your parenting? If you can, congratulations. If you can’t, here goes. By not getting too giddy after a good day or downbeat after a bad nappy you’ll always be mentally ready for the next thing your child throws at you. Which, let’s face it, could be a cute smile. Or a difficult question. Or a rock.

Got that? Fantastic. I’d wish you luck, but given your new state of mental equilibrium, I don’t think you’re going to need it.









  1. Brilliant, lovely, well done you! but are you SURE that it’s good that he wanted you in the middle of the night? LOL
    I do get the idea of success vs failure, though. It’s so hard to feel like you’re doing a good job, because, let’s face it, toddlers are less forthcoming with constructive comments than, say, adult bosses.

    • I don’t know. Some of the bosses I’ve had… Completely agree, it is tough to pick the positives out of a negative day, but I think it’s something I need to get better at. Too often I find myself (and see others) writing the day off as a failure, when some decent stuff must of happened.

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