Are you sometimes (or even constantly) in a tizzy over your young adult children? Whether it’s underwhelming exam results, a lack of any sense of purpose or a reluctance to get out and find work (or even get out of bed), when our kids mess up it’s hard not to blame ourselves. It’s a mum thing (and less of a dad thing apparently), for us to pile on the maternal guilt about our children’s perceived non-success in life.

Whatever plans we may have had for our own lives can suddenly get derailed as we try and mop up the mess and help them onto their feet again. Fretting so hard you can’t sleep when one of your kids hits a bump in their educational road is not helpful. Nor is asking yourself where you went wrong and beating yourself up for your PARENTING FAIL.

Does this sound familiar? Has maternal guilt eaten you alive? Lola Borg, a psychodynamic therapist, has some sound words of advice:

“We are in a period of collective madness about children, they’ve never been so monitored and watched and fretted over in some ways. But children go through periods when they underper-form and today a lot of us get het up about this. Parents can get incredibly competitive over it. And then some us live though our kids and take it very personally if one of them underperforms.

“Failure happens and we all have to get used to it.”

Children never get the chance to let the wheels fall off but they have to mess up at some point. We’re all fed this idea that ‘if you don’t do this then this won’t happen’ and that there are no sec-ond chances. But you can’t make them study. Failure happens and we all have to get used to it. And your child may not do what you want them to do – they’ve got their own route.

If you’re contending with disappointing exam results, accept that for a week or two you may need to help them research alternative courses and schools, retakes etc. Then you have to let them get on with it again. This is one exam result, not a reflection of your parenting. Or of what they are capable of. Also, try and be kind to them at this point. They may be grumpy and difficult but they need you to love them the most when they feel they’ve messed up.

As a general rule, if you’re set up correctly they will ask you for help, now and in the future. What-ever they tell you don’t look shocked or they’ll clam up and never tell you anything again. Encour-age them to talk to you so you get the problem when it first starts to develop, rather than when it’s a crisis. To keep the channels of communication open find something you can do together, an activity you both enjoy, so you get the chance to share stuff without the big heavy talk. Or just hang out together regularly. Often the kitchen or the car are good places”.


Always praise the effort and not the result. They may not be capable of A*s but if they realise hard work is the key, this is what really matters. This is the really important bit!

Accept that they may have a different idea of what they want to do.

Sometimes children need to go through messing stuff up to really understand the relationship be-tween working hard and doing well. Turning yourself around after failure is a really useful life skill.

Education is a marathon, not a sprint – there are a lot of steps along the way. Just see exam re-sults as one step.

When parents crow about their kids’ results (I think it should be banned!) – stay off social media.

Of course if your children are already fragile, anxious or having mental health problems they may need more support and help.

There will always be stuff that derails your life. Just remember to get back on track as soon as you can.

Words: Lola Borg and Marina Gask.
Lola Borg is a psychodynamic psychotherapist with practices at London Bridge and Hackney.