The Power of Failure

The Power of Failure

A couple of videos (that have thousands of views and shares) popped onto my newsfeed this week.

Dad leaps to “stage fright daughter’s aid”

“Mom helps daughter to finish song when she forgets the lyrics.”

These are great moms and dads doing a phenomenal job of feeding, educating, teaching their kids values, getting them to school and extra-curriculars on time, struggling to read articles and watch videos in their free time to become super parents! Hats off to them! Every parent and their struggle to be a great parent is close to my heart as I try to figure out what it is to raise the adults of tomorrow.

But here’s what I see — as we clap and cheer for these moms and dads. As we “like” these viral videos and “share” these pictures. As, we say “awwww” when we read these posts, I see us collectively changing the definition of good parenting.

I was volunteering at a chess tournament recently (I was in the room for the 8 year olds), and heard a tap on the door. I opened the door and went outside — it was a parent calling me to tell me that her son had forgotten to reset the clock after his move. She’d been watching his every move from the window. I felt a pang of guilt as I remembered all the chess tournaments that I’d dropped my son off at the door, run my errands during the day, sometimes sat in a café catching up on some reading, and then picking him up at the end of the day. Should I have stayed and watched through the window? Was I a “bad” mom?

So I’ve been thinking. What constitutes the “best” kind of parenting? The helicopter mom who watches every move? The tiger dad who has very high expectations of his children and doesn’t give up until they’re super achievers? The career mom who isn’t available a lot, but who is a role model for her sons and daughters by her actions? The chilled out parent who takes time for him/herself in order to be a better parent when they’re around the children? After I brush off my own guilt, my own (maybe failed) expectations of myself, I start going deeper into what it really is — not so much to be a great parent but to raise great adults. Adults who will rule the world tomorrow — who will be business owners, teachers, stock brokers, lawyers, beauticians, dancers, scientists, artists, astronauts, and the parents of our grandchildren. And, the more I ponder this I’m not sure I want to go “awww…” at the protective instincts of these “in the news” “super parents.”

I’ve never believed in the Dr. Spock method — of infants crying it out and learning to self soothe. In my opinion, infants need to believe that crying is communicating — and when they communicate distress — aid is nearby. We’re teaching them communication is good — the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Not picking up a crying child and soothing them, therefore, is not something I’d advocate. Of course, parenting is a highly personal activity and each of us chooses our parenting style (and rightly so) according to our own life experiences, values, beliefs and observations of others. We all have the right to create our own rule-book and parent the way we’re comfortable. This just happens to be my point of view.

However, there needs to come a point when we slowly start backing off and allowing the kids to learn basic life facts without ever articulating them. Just by our small actions alone, we communicate that we’re there for them to soothe them, to talk to them when they fail, when they’re hurt, when they mess up, or when they’re embarrassed. After the fact. They need to face the life lesson on their own. We are there to help them figure it out. We are there to help them understand it and not repeat it. We are not there to make sure it never happens. All failures. All life lessons. All disappointments. All feelings of utter sadness, shame, embarrassment, fear, stress — all of these are invaluable in their young lives. We must let them FEEL them. We must let them WALLOW in them. We must let their hearts break a little. We must let them feel they cannot go on. And, then we must come in to comfort them. Not letting them feel pain, sadness, sorrow, fear, anxiety, stress. Not letting them goof up is what is creating teenagers, and young adults with no coping mechanisms whatsoever! We have a generation of youngsters now — who are unable to feel stressful feelings for more than a day or two without “doing something about it”. And, that’s where the danger lies.

We just sent a group of young teens to compete at the global round of the World Scholar’s Cup. Some of them came home with medals, some of the teams qualified for the final rounds, and some did not. The one’s who didn’t were devastated. Some kids have taken the failure worse than others. They’re all disappointed. Our job as teachers and parents is to let them be disappointed, teach them to handle that disappointment, and communicate that it isn’t the first time they’ve failed (remember crawling and walking?) and it certainly isn’t the last. That’s our job — giving them coping mechanisms to deal with failure not coaching mechanisms to always succeed.

Let the 4 year old cry her heart out for messing up on stage — let her feel what it’s like to have an auditorium look at her when she’s forgotten her lines. Let her feel the heartbreak of letting down the rest of her cast. It’s ok — she’ll get over it. And, she’ll learn that she CAN get over it — without someone “saving” her.

Let the 7 year old mess up her lines. Let her cry. Be there to comfort her after the fact. Wipe her tears. Let her talk about how devastated she is. Let her learn instinctively that devastation goes away. Life does go on. No one has to do anything about it for her. She just has to live through it.

Let the 8 year old lose a chess tournament. Be there to hold him while he beats himself up for the clock running out. Let him come to the conclusion instinctively that life goes on. One devastating chess tournament loss does not a life end.

Are we always going to be there to scoop up our children when they face disappointment? Let’s teach them that disappointments are a part of life. Kicking yourself after making a mistake is normal. Being so embarrassed, you want to hide forever is part of life. Being so devastated you never want to go out in public ever, is a feeling that is more common than one would believe. And, if we are consistent — they will soon learn that “forever” doesn’t really last forever! It does get better.

So, the lesson I want to teach my kids is most certainly not — mom is always there to pick you up before or as you fall down, but rather mom is always there with the antiseptic cream and a kiss to make the boo-boo better AFTER you fall down. Fall down you must.

Boo-boos are inevitable — getting better is a certainty too…

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