Lessons Learned Through Mindful Failure


I had a mom friend tell me once that she was encouraging her middle school son to go out for orchestra because she knew he would not make the cut. My puzzled look prompted her to explain further, “He is so overly confident and full of himself. He constantly knocks down his siblings for their efforts, so I am purposely setting him up for failure. I want him to learn now, at this age, what it’s like to not succeed at everything.”  

I’ve thought a lot about that mom’s wisdom since then. I have read many books and attended seminars on parenting and childhood development on this very topic of raising a well-adjusted, resilient child. I often wonder whether I am striking an appropriate balance of support and freedom to let my children navigate their world without unnecessary interference from me.  

Last year I read an article in the Columbus Dispatch on classes being taught in public schools on how to have “grit”.  These classes were designed to teach children how to handle failure or life’s letdowns.

Yesterday I came across an article entitled “Adulting Classes.”  The piece discussed teaching millennials classes on “how to show up on time for meetings,” “how to have a face-to-face conversation with someone,”  “how to pay bills on time,” “how to do laundry,” etc. It makes me sad to think that we need to offer these types of classes to our young adults, retrospectively.

Being fortunate enough to still have a living grandparent (she will turn 99 in March), I thought about the changes in parenting since my grandparents raised my parents, how I was raised, and now how my husband and I are raising our girls. I don’t want there to be a need for these types of classes for my children or for any children in this generation.

After some reflection, I realized that many parents (often me included) do too much for our children. We make a special trip to the school to take a forgotten lunchbox so our child doesn’t have to charge. We launder their sports uniform at the last minute because they forgot to bring it home the day before and need it for their game that night. 

Why do we do this? Because we love them. We want them to succeed. We want them to be healthy. We want them to be happy and well-adjusted.  But, we are sometimes the very reason they fail and are ill-prepared for some of life’s responsibilities and crazy rides. We are enabling them to deal with disappointments, natural consequences and life lessons, which leads to children who grow into adults who can’t cope when things don’t go their way. 

So in 2017 I am resolving to let go a bit more in order to be a better parent. To let my girls learn some natural life lessons without me being their safety net. To strike an appropriate balance between providing parental guidance on dealing with the lemons of life, and allowing my girls the independence to become more resilient on their own. I resolve to help my children become well-balanced, well-equipped to handle the bittersweet moments in life and have grit. I’m afraid if we don’t let our children fail now, they will fall much harder later in life.