I Think It’s Important For My Kids to Fail — Even Though It Kills Me, Every Time

One of the greatest challenges (among many) I face in motherhood is watching my kids fail, be lonely, hurt or discouraged. When I heard the quote, “A mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child,” it resonated so deeply with me that I have repeated it no less than 10,000 times among my mom friends. 

Thank goodness I partnered with a person who has the stomach to watch our kids fall flat on their faces and get up again, trusting they will be better for it. Some day my kids will be overwhelmed with appreciation for a man who kept their mother from strategically entwining them in emotional bubble-wrap before sending them out in the world. 

Much to our surprise, our second oldest son (Son2) decided on a whim to try out for a tournament basketball team. He is not the most skilled player, but we signed him up believing the more tryouts, interviews, auditions any kid can do, the better prepared they will be for the outside world.

Son2 did not make the team. When I got the news, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach and wasn’t sure I could handle watching his disappointment when he found out. This mother thing ain’t no joke, people. It was certainly a job for SuperDad to break the news, as DramaMama simply couldn’t handle it. 

At bedtime, I lay in the lower bunk with Son3 and listened to a master at work. 

Dad: You didn’t make the tournament team.

Son2: Why?

Dad: Because other kids made the team.

Son2: Oh, okay.

That was it. That was their conversation in its entirety. I couldn’t help but ask Son2 later, “Are you disappointed?” 

His response was: “Of course, but I don’t spend a lot of time playing basketball. I’m going to practice and try again next year.” Well, alrighty, young grasshopper. Again, thank God for his dad. It was as simple as, “You didn’t make it. It stinks. Work hard. Try again.” 

All parents want the best for their children. We want the doors of opportunity to fly open. We want our children to be successful and happy. We want them to experience minimal pain and live exceptional lives. 

When news broke about the college admissions scandal, I could not recall a story when parents went to such great lengths to ensure their children did not fail. (Actually, the Texas mom who hired a hitman to kill her daughter’s middle school cheerleading rival did come to mind). I also thought about the harm and embarrassment this type of “protection” causes kids when parents intervene on the trajectory of their lives. 

When I began brainstorming a list of ways failure helps us, it reminded me that saving my kids from immediate disappointment could cause long-term pain or at least keep them from learning coping skills they might really want later.

Failure helps you learn about yourself

“Well, that didn’t work.” No matter what it is in life, it’s invaluable to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Son2 had the courage to try out for a team, and realized he did not have the skills to be among those players. Then he had a choice to either spend the time to get better or spend his time doing something else. He knew (again, props to his dad who demonstrated it for him) feeling sorry for himself was not one his options. 

Everyone has different talents

We often tell our children they can be anything they want to be. Is that really true? Does it take the same skills or gifts to be an amazing carpenter and also a talented accountant? We want our kids to believe in themselves, but telling them they can be anything they want to be sends them into the wild without a map. Lofty goals should be accompanied with specific steps to help achieve them. 

Our kids are going to have different talents, goals and ideas than we do. It’s hard to overcome the fact that they truly are their own people. Even if they could go to Harvard like you suggested, maybe they don’t want to.  

Doing hard things means it won’t always be easy

Do hard things. To flex those perseverance muscles, kids should chose something they want to get good at and stick with it. We should encourage them to gain a sense of mastery. Becoming successful and achieving something does not happen instantly. There is a process. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice, plus talent, to achieve mastery.

Even celebrities who appear to have fame out of nowhere, (Hmmmm, some friends of reality stars come to mind – like why does Jordyn Woods have 9.6 million followers?) are out there hustling. Think of the small percentage of YouTubers who actually make it big. What appears to us as Insta-Fame, is actually the byproduct of grit, perseverance timing and luck. 

Look at that, you fell on your face and survived

Failure is part of the human experience. Failure is acceptable. Failure is not life-ending. When the kids were really little I would take in a dramatic, audible breath any time one of them fell. Either my mom or husband would remind me that if I make a big deal over their wipeout, it suddenly becomes an unnecessarily big deal. I’m learning that Littles falling is the same as Bigs failing. Don’t make it a big deal, if it doesn’t have to be.

Currently, I am trying (often unsuccessfully) to keep my big fat mouth shut as my kids experience defeat, heartbreak or failure. A couple of go-to questions I have in my back pocket, are: “Do you need anything from me in this moment?” and “What can you do differently next time?” And then I run out of the room before I am tempted to make it all better. 

The parents wrapped up in the college admissions’ scandal truly wanted the best for their kids, just as we all do. This elite group happened to have resources to intervene in a way most of us cannot. Are there less obvious, legal ways we are interfering with our kids’ lives? I know I’m guilty.

These parents sent the following subconscious messages to their children: “You couldn’t get accepted on your own with your own hard work, so I helped you. You aren’t strong enough to handle the disappointment of being rejected, so I ensured you weren’t.” And finally, a profound lesson: “The rules do not apply to you.” 

So, Mommas (myself included), when it’s hard to see our kids hurt, when you see trouble and disappointment on the horizon, when you want them to win even though they didn’t earn it…Let…It…Go. Collectively, we must trust that the scraps, bumps and bruises we all survived over the years made us better and stronger people. Let’s not take those learning experiences away from our own kids. 

Originally Published by Popsugar


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