The Gift of Failure

POSTED May 14th AT 6:05pm

From the moment you found out you were pregnant, you were probably determined to provide your child with a great life; most of that determination being driven by things that you considered to be lacking in your own childhood. Our desire as parents is to provide our children with a better life than we ourselves had. So from that single desire, we go into parenthood with the goal of making sure that our children have everything that they need from the most basics of needs to pretty much anything that we can think of that will give them a leg up in life.


From day one, your child’s safety is that most basic need and your number one priority. You childproof your house before your newborn even comes home from the hospital. When they’re a baby, you tiptoe into their room when they’re sleeping countless times to check if they’re still breathing. When your toddler starts walking your heart literally drops as they waddle about, unsteady on their feet and clumsily falling all the time. When they’re steady on their feet, you follow them around at the playground to ensure that they don’t fall and hurt themselves. If there’s one thing that your child can count on it’s that you’ll catch them whenever they fall. When they get a little bit older, your heart breaks every time your child cries and you make it a goal to protect them from any emotional or mental pain that comes their way. You’re quick to jump in and intervene when you see a struggle for a toy with another child and slow to punish them when they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be doing because you don’t want to cause them to be distressed. You know that you never wanted to be a super strict parent but you’re finding yourself to be way more lenient than you ever thought you would be.


In all of our efforts to protect our children from these emotional, physical and mental pains that are a part of life, many of us find ourselves in this exact position. As a result, as our children age, the fearlessness that frightened us so much when they were little fades away and our children end up completely reliant on us, overly cautious, easily frustrated and quick to give up when a task proves to be too hard. Our desire to give our children a better life results in us over parenting and our great intentions leave our children at a disadvantage. Our goal to make their lives as easy as possible leads them ill-equipped to handle the roadblocks that life eventually throws their way. Which makes us feel conflicted…we want to raise children that aren’t afraid to ask for help but that don’t depend on our help for their survival. We want to raise children that come to us for counsel, but in the end, are capable of making their own decisions. The question then becomes, how to find that balance? How do we provide our children with that great life we always envisioned without taking away from their future ability to thrive on their own?

The only conclusion that I’ve been able to come up with is that we must give them more room to make their own mistakes without intervention. If our children know that we'll always be there to bail them out of a situation, they'll never learn how to fend for themselves nor will they ever have an incentive to do so. This may sound cruel, but it is impossible to protect them from everything. At some point in time, they will leave the nest and if they're used to their parents making all of their decisions for them, they'll be more likely to fall victim to peer pressure and follow crowds. This means letting them fall when they're learning to walk, giving them the freedom to navigate the playground alone to learn what they're capable of and the space to sort out their own disputes with their peers. This is the only way that they'll learn about cause and effect and consequences both good and bad. 

As much as we want to give our children a better life than we had and have them learn from our mistakes instead of repeating, we have to remember that part of who we are is because of those mistakes. Maybe the goal is not to prevent them from making the mistakes but that they learn from them faster than we did. Along the way, there will be times where they need our help or advice but rather than telling them what to do or solving a problem for them, we should aim to serve as guides. It will be hard because you still don't like to see your child disappointed about anything whether it be a hard math problem, a bully at school or a broken heart, You will want to rush in and save them from the harshness of life, but in the grand scheme of things, one of the best gifts that we can give our children will be the confidence and sense of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing tasks and knowing that they can take care of themselves.

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