Parenting Responsibilities: 10 Things You Are (and Aren’t) Responsible for as a Parent

by Sara Bean, M.Ed.
Parenting Responsibilities: 10 Things You Are (and Aren’t) Responsible for as a Parent

These days, we’re bombarded with mixed messages about how to parent “the right way.” It’s easy to buy into advice from the media, relatives, and other parents and start to worry that we’re doing something wrong. Part of the reason this is happening is because adults, just like kids, are over-stimulated. We’re more wired and connected, which means we’re receiving more outside input than ever before. We have easy access to advice (good and bad) on the web, to information about how other parents are doing things, and to each other through social networking sites. This means we’re also more actively comparing ourselves to others—and getting more judgment and criticism from others as a result. We’re on an informational and emotional overload, which is causing many, many parents to feel overwhelmed and confused.

Your children are not puppets and you are not a puppeteer. There is just no logical way that you can control every move your child makes or everything your child says, especially outside of your home.

Related: Exhausted from parenting an angry, defiant child?

On our Parental Support Line, my advice to callers was to trust your instincts as a parent—you know your child best, and in the end you’re the one making the decisions about your child’s future. In the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman says you have to run your family like a business. You’re the chief executive officer of your “family business” and as CEO you have to learn how to set emotions aside and to parent as objectively as possible. Forget how guilty you feel, forget that echo of your sister’s advice in the back of your head—you need to do what is best for your business. You can ask for advice, but in the end, you know your family best. 

One of the most important ways to clear through all the clutter of advice, guilt and comparisons to others is to understand what you are and aren’t responsible for when it comes to raising your child.

What you are not responsible for:

  1. Making sure your kids are always happy. Don’t get me wrong—it’s good for your kids to be happy overall. But that means there will be plenty of times, especially when you’re parenting responsibly, that your kids will be furious with you when you set limits or give them a consequence. That’s part of your job description as the executive officer—not to make decisions based on what your kids will like, tolerate, or be okay with, but to make the decisions that are best for them and your family business, then follow through.

  2. Getting the approval of others. Rationally, you do not need other adults in your life to tell you that you are doing the right thing. Parenting is not a popularity contest in your family or in your community. Sure, it feels great when other adults, such as your child’s teachers, tell you your child is doing something well, but it’s not necessary in order for you to run your family business well.

  3. Controlling your children. Your children are not puppets and you are not a puppeteer. There is just no logical way that you can control every move your child makes or everything your child says, especially outside of your home. Children have their own free will and will act on their own accord—and often in self-interest. It’s important to remind yourself that if your child is not doing her homework, for example, despite your best efforts to motivate her and hold her accountable, that’s her problem and the poor grade she earns is hers alone. The consequence she will get from you is that you will make sure she sets aside time every evening to study, you will be in touch with her teachers more, and you will monitor her homework more thoroughly until she brings her grade up. We can’t control our kids, but we can influence them by the limits we set and the consequences we give. As James Lehman says, “You can lead a horse to water, and you can’t make them drink—but you can make them thirsty.”
  4. Related: How to use consequences and problem solving to change your child’s behavior.

  5. Doing for your children what they are capable of doing for themselves. Many, many times our children will ask us to do something for them that we know they are capable of doing on their own. Your grade schooler might not make his bed perfectly the first time, but practice (and doing it imperfectly several times) is what he needs in order to get to the point where he can do it on his own. I’m not saying to stop preparing breakfast for your child once she’s old enough to pour her own cereal, or to never do anything to help your kids out in a pinch. What I am saying is to let your kids struggle sometimes and try your best to balance the responsibility. Typing a child’s paper for him because you type faster and it’s getting close to bedtime is not striking a balance.

  6. You do not have to be Superman, Wonder Woman, Mike Brady, or June Cleaver. These are all fictional characters that seem to do it all and do it perfectly, right? You’re not one of them, nor should you strive to be. Rather than focusing on addressing every behavior issue or adhering to a perfect schedule each day, try to hit the important targets and realize that you might have to let some smaller things go each day. We call this picking your battles.

What you are responsible for:

  1. Making tough decisions that are not popular ones. If your child doesn’t get mad at you at least once in a while, you’re not doing your job. Along with this, remember that you are not required to give lengthy explanations of your decisions. “It’s not safe” can be plenty of explanation when your teen asks why he can’t jump off the roof and onto the trampoline. “It’s your responsibility” is enough justification for telling your child it’s homework time. You don’t need to get into all the possible “what-ifs” and “if-thens.”
  2. Related: Do you feel like you’re not getting through to your child?

  3. Teaching your child to function independently. One of the effective parenting roles we talk about frequently on EP is the Trainer/Coach role. It is your job to teach your child age-appropriate skills in order to allow them to become more and more independent. There comes a time when your child needs to learn how to emotionally soothe himself, tie his shoes, write his name, and cope when someone teases him. Over time the skills he needs get more and more advanced—typing a paper, saying no to drugs, driving a car, and filling out a job application, for example.

  4. Holding them accountable. At the very least, this means setting some limits with your children when they are behaving inappropriately. For example, when your child is putting off their homework you might turn off the TV and say, “Watching TV isn’t getting your homework done. Once your homework is done you can turn the TV back on.” This could also be as simple as firmly saying, “We don’t talk that way in this house” to your child and walking away. Or, of course, it can also mean providing some effective consequences for something like having missing homework assignments, such as weekend activities being placed on hold until the work is completed.
  5. Related: How to give consequences that really work.

  6. Going along for the ride. On the rollercoaster, that is. We all know but often struggle to accept that life is full of ups and downs—and sometimes it gets turned upside down. There will be times when your child is doing well and times when he or she is really struggling. That is not a reflection on you, it just is. Don’t blame yourself when this happens. Focus on finding positive ways to cope, look for something new to try to help your child effectively, or get some local support.

  7. Do your best. That’s really all you can do sometimes. It’s a perpetual balancing act—striving to find that balance between doing too much and doing too little, or giving consequences that are not too harsh but not too soft, either. Parenting can feel like a circus sometimes and there can be several balancing acts going on at one time. That’s when you have to go back to picking your battles and realizing you are not, nor will you ever be, June Cleaver or Superman.

Above all else, remember that your child is unique and you know him better than anyone else on the planet. You will always get input, no matter how obvious or subtle, from the world around you as to how you should parent your child. You, however, are the expert on your child and get to make your own decisions about how to parent her in a way that teaches her to be independent and accountable while also being loving and respectful of your child and her needs. When you find yourself personalizing, remember the tips here to help you be more objective and remember what your role as a parent really is.

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Sara A. Bean, M.Ed. holds a Masters Degree in Education with a concentration in School Counseling from Florida Atlantic University. She is a Certified School Counselor and a proud aunt to a 5 year-old girl. She has been with Legacy Publishing since 2009 working on the Parental Support Line. Sara has over 5 years of experience working with youth and families in private homes, residential group homes, and schools.


Excellent article! You addressed most of the parental emotional buttons. Thank you!

Comment By : Holly

a lot of info at once. I am doing the program so it was reinforcing

Comment By : artfulval

useful article.thankyou.

Comment By : rajiha

This article was perfect timing for me. I totally lost my objectivity last night with my 17 year old daughter and let her push my buttons. I was ready to throw in the towel. These reminders have helped get me back on track. Thanks for a great article!

Comment By : Not sunk yet Sue

This is amazing thankful for people and sites like this who give this are life savers and should get awards. Please offer more help in UK it needs parental advice too ...thank you thank you thank you... God bless from England

Comment By : Tryingmybest!

Great article. My 17 yr old son is currently not talking to me because he is grounded for lying about where he was going and breaking curfew (two separate days!). Somehow it's my fault for having too many rules. My reaction was very calm and direct. "You are aware of the rules and consequences and your grounded for a week." There was no argument no further debate.

Comment By : momof5teens

Enjoyed the article. Good review and confirmation of what to do and not to do! Enjoy reading the parent remarks too.

Comment By : Lord help me

I like to read such topics about the behaviors of children because in school its hard to control such child's behavior if you don't know the reason why they behave that way or showing such behavior. Your topics here greatly help for a teacher like me.

Comment By : Teacher Nerissa

Thank you very much for the excellent articles.

Comment By : Wang

Having gone over most of the empowering parents articles,which have been very helpful,my 16 yr old son ha sran away form home with a runaway girl who together have moved into a house full of adult 25 yr olds, plus men,refuses to come home, even though the girl has other boyfriends now.The welfare here and the police both say a 16 year old can leave home and they really are not interested as there are other younger children run away,He has not completed yr 10 as required by law here for the schools, who offer only large fines on parents for their childs non attendance?He has come home once to demand we give him his scooter motorbike so he can sell it,We did not let him have it.H emade alot of threats but left without caring any of them out,We have aske dthat he coem to dinner tonight,hopefully he has had time to see that what he si doing is not working ,He has no means of support,one of the men give him a bit of food or smokes,sometimes .very upsetting for us all.

Comment By : Another mother

This article is so helpful right now. I have a hard time as a mother disconnecting myself from my children's poor decisions. I always take it as a direct reflection on my parenting skills. I know, logically, that I have been a good parent (people tell me all the time). I set good examples for my children (obey the law, don't drink, smoke, do drugs, keep healthy relationships, etc.) I just have to accept that they are individuals and at the age of 14 and 15 they are almost adults. I still try and guide them, and hope (pray) that they make good choices. My son has high functioning autism, which presents with many severe learning problems and his decision making is not always appropriate (he is like a 10 year old in a 14 year old body). I can only do my best. I reach out to the community for help as much as I can. This article was helpful, in reinforcing what I have been doing as a parent and what I will continue to do as a parent. Parent.. not be their friends or buddies. That will come later :)

Comment By : ProudMom

Great article! On one hand, I can finally say, "Whew!" because I was stressing out over things that I had no control over, and it turns out I wasn't responsible for them anyway. Still, it's very hard not to want to step in and save them when they're unhappy or sometimes they're not giving their best at school. Then I do feel partly responsible. But I get the gist of this. If I focus on what I can do and do the best at it, I feel confident now that the rest of the details will begin to fall into place. This gives me both relief and hope. Thank you!

Comment By : Tenacious T

The first one is very important. In fact, you are not responsible for ANYONE else's happiness but your own.

Comment By : Christian S

Thank you EP team!

Comment By : don\'t know

You're program is very good and I reccomend it to friends. However, my case is a little different. I adopted two brothers from a group home thinking I could help them. Now that I have legally adopted them. the states attitude is they are MY problem. I take them to therapy, they have been on every medication, but they CHOOSE to remain the same. When I get abused by them and call the police, I get punished because they think because I live in a beautiful home and not the houseing projects, I am exagerating their behavior. My oldest was on probation four different times, six months at a time for unruly youth, but they gave himno consequences. Yet I got to miss work for court dates and PO meetings Their minds are made up and I can't change them. They have learned to take and sponge off of society. They are both intelligent with no LDs just bad behavior and lazy. If their mouths are open they are lying. I will continue to read and put your advice into play but I just anted you to know it doesn't always apply after so many others have raised them. I am extremely consistent and have raised other children successfully. Thank you for everything you do. Father of Five

Comment By : dadnme2

The author states in number three that we are not responsible for controlling our children. Well, she is very much wrong. Legally, as parents we are responsible for controlling our children and if we don't and they end up in legal trouble (ex. truancy) we as parents also must face legal consequences because they are our responsibility. Along with fines and community service, parents have been sentenced to jail time (in Arizona)for their truant child. I feel good when i know I have positively influenced my child, however when issues in our life may be placed the legal chopping block, you better believe i'm going to control him!

Comment By : oothee

* To “dadnme2”: You bring up an excellent point. Sometimes kids do continue to make bad choices almost in spite of how their parents hold them accountable. You also bring up another great point, how important it is to continue holding them accountable for those choices. As parents, we can’t always control our children’s behavior or choices; however, we do have complete control over how we choose to respond. As Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner point out in the article Parenting ODD Children and Teens: How to Make Consequences Work even if it may not feel as if the consequences are having any effect on their behavior, you are teaching your sons a very important lesson: all behavior has consequences. We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to address your sons’ challenging behaviors. Take care

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

Two Words....Thank You.

Comment By : bcorn37

Thank you a lot....

Comment By : hope

Thank you for the informative article. Do you have suggestions on how to support a kid with a diagnosed mental issue. How much can we expect from him? Our home life for the past 5 years has been chaotic. Our son is now 22. We are supporting him in the hopes that we can help redirect his life, at the expense of a peaceful home life and a calm environment for our younger son, whose teen years have been greatly impacted by his brother's problems.

Comment By : toucan

* To “toucan”: You ask a great question. We talk with many parents on the Parental Support line who are in similar situations. It’s not unusual for parents to be unsure about how much support to give to an adult child. When a diagnosis is involved, it can make the situation even more unclear. When we coach parents of adult children, we suggest focusing on establishing clear limits and firm boundaries, as Tina Wakefield outlines in her blog Ask PSL: When Is It Time for Your Child to Leave Home? Something to keep in mind is that as a parent of an adult child, whatever support you give is your choice. I can hear your concern around this issue due to your son’s diagnosis. For that reason, it may be helpful to speak with someone in your area to find out what resources and supports are available for you and your family. There is a great resource available that can put you into contact with services in your area. The 211 National Helpline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto You can ask about local services that may be available to help your son learn the skills to be independent and able to live on his own. If the ultimate goal is for your son to move out on his own, knowing what local supports and services are available for your son may help you come up with a plan towards that goal. It can be difficult when one child’s behavior causes stress for a sibling. I can hear how upsetting this is for you. You might consider having your younger son speak with a counselor or therapist to help him deal with any issues that may arise due to his brother’s behaviors. There is also an article by James Lehman that may be helpful for you: The Lost Children: When Behavior Problems Traumatize Siblings. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to address this situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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