Holding Yourself Accountable as a Parent


As a parent, you may find it difficult to say “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” or “I made a mistake.” Some people view this as a sign of weakness or fallibility, something they cannot show to their children. Others view their roles as authoritative and feel it will undermine their power to admit to a mistake. Still others struggle to acknowledge that they did something wrong, but children are always watching. Especially when you do something that you have told them not to do, they will notice. That scenario is likely to happen at some point—we are all human— but whether or not you are accountable for your words and actions as a parent is what truly impacts your child.

“Do What I Say, Not What I Do”

Whether it is cursing because another driver cut you off on the road, having your cell phone at the dinner table, or drinking heavily, your child will absolutely notice a double standard between what they are expected to do and what you are doing as a parent. Obviously, your child will have more stringent guidelines to follow, but they will also find hypocrisy when you have asked them to comply with a rule for the benefit of the family and you yourself do not also comply.

Some parents really struggle with following their own rules and might tell their children “Do what I say, not what I do.” The lack of accountability in that statement alone is not only confusing but can cause anger and resentment toward you as well. If you set an expectation, you need to also follow it and be accountable to your child and the family when you don’t.

Exposure and Availability of Substances in the Home

Both the attitudes about and the usage of substances in the home can impact a child’s future attitudes and substance use. The availability of substances in the home can also be a factor, as children often first use substances in the home. Studies have shown that exposure to substance use and the availability of substances in the home are associated with an earlier initial use of substances by children. Additionally, early availability and exposure to substances within the home can be a predictor of heavier substance use even in young adulthood or later.

Parents can be accountable for their words and actions surrounding substance use. When parents educate children about responsible alcohol use, but their actions demonstrate otherwise, the mixed messages can almost seem like permission to a child. While some children may be so driven to escape that they will use common household products like glue, gasoline, cough syrup, and more, having easy access to prescription medications, marijuana, illegal drugs, and alcohol can make it easier for them to begin experimenting. Parents who keep medications and alcohol locked up or do not keep them in the home demonstrate that their actions match their words.

To Err Is Human, to Be Accountable Is to Earn Respect

One of the most important lessons you can teach your child is that making mistakes is human. Even more important is to teach your child to be accountable for their actions. Whether this is about mental health, substance use, responsibility, how you treat others, or any other important life lesson, we all make mistakes. Being able to tell your child that you made a poor choice, be accountable for it, correct anything possible, and then not do it again is a way to truly earn respect.

Respect is a two-way street. Even more important than you earning their respect is that you are showing by example how they can be accountable, too. If they witness you being disingenuous or dishonest, they will assume that it is okay for them to do that, too. However, when they see that you not only talk the talk, but you walk the walk, they will learn by your example. Taking responsibility for your words and actions is a powerful life lesson for your child.

Accountability Can Keep the Lines of Communication Open

When a child sees you do something that is not in line with your values or guidelines, not only can they become confused, angry, or resentful to you, but they may shut down and not be willing to communicate with you. Accountability builds trust, and trust and mutual respect are important to open communication in any relationship, but particularly with the parent-child relationship.

Trust and open communication are vital when your child is struggling through their adolescent years. At a time when they are trying to be independent, yet still need so much guidance, an honest, open, transparent relationship can help them to make better choices. Accountability as a parent is a crucial component of this type of relationship. When you are who you say you are, your child knows they can depend on you.

Parents are not perfect, but you can be perfectly accountable. Your child learns the most from watching you, including your attitudes and actions surrounding substances and mental health. At Sustain, teaching our clients accountability is a priority. We also work with the families to help create an environment for the child to thrive in after treatment. Our Southern California residential treatment program for adolescents is committed to restoring accountability and integrity as a part of recovery from their substance abuse and mental health diagnoses. We offer extended residential care for those who need more than the traditional length of treatment, as well as opportunities for adolescents to reintegrate into their homes and community as they transition back home. We also help them stay connected post-treatment and offer involvement opportunities for alumni. Call us at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is the right program for you and your family.