Of Failure and Parenting… and Consequences…

 I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas A. Edison

How do we measure ‘good parenting?’ What yardstick do we use to say, ‘that’s a really good parent!’ The number of trophies they bring home? The A’s on their report cards? 350 marks? How well-behaved they are? How articulate they are?

What, really, is the measure of a good parent?

I came across a phrase that really resonated with where I am as a parent, “If parenthood came with a GPS, it would mostly say: RECALCULATING.” That’s how it feels like everyday to me. Parenting is sneaky. At one point, you really think you got it covered. Other times, you find yourself questioning even your most basic move.

Parenting, to me, is a journey of growth, in which you discover more about yourself than about your children. It is a journey wrought with pleasant and sometimes not-so-pleasant surprises along the way.

As a parent. Learning. Never. Ever. EVER. Stops.

So. I experienced one of those ‘ GPS re-calculating’ moments the other day, when I went to pick my son from school. He had stayed late for Tae kwon do practice. I was a few minutes early, so I sat next to this distinguished looking elderly lady, who had a disarming smile and an enviable air of calm about her.

Within minutes, we were chatting up about our ‘amazing’ children, and the Tae kwon do tournament that had just ended the previous weekend. My son had done pretty well, and I was still riding on the high of that victory.

I was feeling like a pretty good parent.

Just as  I was about to launch into a long discourse about how incredibly well he had done, she remarked, rather casually,  ‘‘ my grandson was disqualified in the first round.” Startled (and a little ashamed of myself), I turned to look at her. She had this serene look on her face, her eyes full of love and admiration. “Well,” she went on with a smile, “the next tournament is coming up next month, and I know he will give it his best shot.”

Suffice it to say, my discourse on my son’s performance came to a grinding halt.

You see, many times when I have that look of love and admiration on my face, it is when my son has done pretty, pretty well. Her quiet admission, stated with such confidence and finality, sent my parenthood GPS whizzing back to ‘recalculation’ mode.

In her wisdom, probably spanning over years of failures and victories, this beautiful grandma knew that her 7 year old’s stint in Tae kwon do was just the start of many failures, and many victories that will prepare him for life. To her, this was a very small and necessary part of the journey of her grandson’s life.

To me, my son’s ‘amazing’ performance was THE measure of my great parenting.

Well, they say that we teach what we need to learn most. So, here I am. The one thing that I learned from that encounter was this – I want to teach my son about the beauty of FAILURE.

I would like my son to experience as many opportunities as he needs to fail, in order for him to succeed.

Not a very easy feat, in this competitive, trophy-laden culture.

A culture where we are so sensitive about not ‘damaging’ our kids, that we insist on ‘trophysizing’ everything they do.

Gee! My son has a bigger collection of medals and little trophies that he has collected over his short 7 years, than my decades of toiling and sweating through several ‘higher’ institutions of learning!

In this culture, we have come to define success as ‘the avoidance of failure at all costs’. And that is what we are passing on to our children.

In our mistaken definition of a ‘good parent’, we have embraced this notion that good parenting is equal to protecting our children from all harm, including – heaven forbid -the slim possibility that they might fail.

By not allowing our children to fail, we are failing our children. By shielding them from temporary pain, we are making them permanent quitters.

We seem to have forgotten that without struggle, there can be never be any progress. That our children need to go through embarrassing moments, so they can develop the gift of empathy.

We need to let our children fail, so that they can succeed. How?

Let them go back to school with unfinished assignments, because you will not remind them to do their homework – yet again….This is what we call a natural consequence… But you must reveal to them in advance!

Let them show up in school without their homework books and face the consequences, because you are done putting their books back in their bags for them… Again.. reveal this in advance.

Let them come home after a long tiring trip, and find their rooms as messy as they left them… because you are DONE reminding them.

Let them carry to school that weird looking project that took them the whole weekend to put together – a box-house whose walls keep caving in – because, like my grandma friend says, it is not the end result, but the effort, that counts. And because next time they will try harder to make their project more perfect and learn great lessons in the process.

Oh! And this is a hard one for me. Let them go back to school with sentences that are wrongly constructed and wrongly spelt! (I need to remember that I’m not the one being tested… Sigh).

Let them color outside the lines.

Let them write the D with the ‘stomach’ facing up.

You see, teachers have gone through specialized training to help the kids in a systematic way to learn how to write a D. And to color within the lines. Training which you haven’t been through. Let the teacher do their work, so you can in turn do your job as a parent.

And this one is for mums – let your children fall off their bikes – it is the only way they will learn!

And for the daddies. Go easy on your kids. Let them know failure is acceptable.

Why? Because – the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Your job as a good parent is to walk with them. Not over failure. Not around failure. But through their failure.

To the other end.

Wanna learn how? Check us out on www.beingparenting.com. 


182 thoughts on “Of Failure and Parenting… and Consequences…

Add yours

  1. I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to read this article. I want to thank the author and encourage more writings like this one. Parents need more input on how to help their children in all aspects of life. Parenting doesn’t come with a set of rules and a manual, it is not easy. Having articles like these give parents some tools to help in the development of their children, to become happy “successful” adults. Adults that can then use the same tools to aid their young ones. I believe each parent has a gut feeling as to what works best for their particular child, and should always use their own common sense in dealing with them. I welcome others’ point of view, in how to raise a child, and believe we can all assist each other with this job. Thanks to all, who are there to give us insight into children’s minds and characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great words, appreciated it. Me, as a Mother with grown-up boys and a step-Daughter, my most fervent prayer is to let my children grow and journey in life knowing and believing they are the most precious gifts created by GOD… that they need to live according to HIS will and plan… and in precariousness they knew how to give thanks…


  2. My son is going to be a teenager next month!! i have blundered many a times on all these counts when he was younger.Have learnt it now that this granny’s wisdom is priceless!!
    Thank you for this wonderful writeup.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Carolyne! Oh, what a valuable lesson. My daughter has inherited my perfectionist tendencies (unfortunately), and I’ve been working on this very thing with her recently. She’s only 8 but already thinks she’s stupid if she can’t finish her math worksheet as quickly as she wants. Walking through failure with her will certainly be a struggle – and worth it – for both of us!

    My name is Mary Carver, and I work for ForEveryMom.com, a parenting website. I’d love to share this post with our readers if you will give us permission. We would republish it on our site, giving you full credit as author, linking back to this original post, and including your bio and head shot. What do you think? You can reach me at mcarver@outreach.com. Thank you for sharing what you’re learning and for considering my request! Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is wonderful piece of write up.
    I may say proudly that I have been practically trying to be whatever you have mentioned in this blog.
    I do fight at home stating importance of failure in order to rise up again but there were not many listener.

    Thank you for making me believe that I was and I am on right path as a parent.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a beautiful piece. Every word you have written it is true. I wish I was like this with my elder one. But as you said experience counts and with my second one i am trying not to do the same mistakes. And I can already see the magic working.


  6. Very aptly put up. In our bid to make things perfect for children we tend to rush in to help the child. If the tower falls down we express disappointment and quickly help the child to rebuild it. If the child falls down we rush in to say oh it is ok, or sometimes going to the extent of hitting back the object to solace the child.
    All that we model through this is falls are a disgrace and needs to be covered up or retaliated. We as an adult tend to give up much faster than the child…What we rather should model is, Never give up… look back and wonder what caused the fall….falls are a cause of introspection and bigger enthusiasm to start all over again but this time with more experience and bettering than the last time.
    Beautiful put up Carolyn woh practical points of homework , room set up …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Carolyne, I seek your permission to kindly allow me to use the last sentence of your blog in one of the conferences I have to address the topic ‘Distressed,depressed and disturbed children’.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This was such an amazing read for me for the reason that, as a mother of 3 ‘grown up’ boys, I feel like I’ve blundered my way through parenting…. see, my eldest is 22, middle son 19 and the youngest just turned 14 years old on November 5. I was a young mother and who knows what youre supposed to know about parenting at 20, right? So, I kind of grew up with my kids… the older ones live in a different city now and wherever they go, theyre remembered for their gentlemanly ways and good manners and I get hugs from
    Total strangers who have daily dealings with them and it gives me a sense of acknowledgement that whatever blunders I’ve made as a
    Mother, could not have affected them too adversely since theyve turned into these amazing human beings… but, living in South Africa at this moment in time, Their University year has been disrupted by student protests and they feel like giving up… this past year has cost our family a LOT financially and Im disappointed
    That they are turning out to be ‘quitters’… it makes me feel like Ive really failed as a parent because I’ve given up my dream of furthering my own education in order to raise them and give them my full attention and their father has worked hard to give them everything they ever needed or wated, so, Im having a few of these ‘recalculating’ moments… I worry about their future, I always tell them hat theyre going
    To be husbands and fathers – breadwinners someday and as such need to make a good living – they have expensive tastes – we wont always be around to pick up the pieces… part of me wants to rant and rave and force them to go back and the other part wants to trust them to make a success of their future on their own – trusting that we’ve laid the foundatiotions for them to be strong enough and allow them to pave their own way forward now… for me, as a mother, its really hard to let go… although, cutting financial ties to teach them what it really costs to live nowadays seems like the only option to drive the point home seems cruel, it also seems like the only way to show them what to look forward to, to see if they have what it takes to survive in this world today… I wonder… what kind of a parent does that make me now?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for this. I recently began letting go of my kid, as in letting her do her own stuff even if she fails, or forgets. And as a result she’s done better than the previous yearstudies at school! All on her own. So I see the merit in letting them fail. And I love this post.


  10. Great thoughts! As a parent and a teacher, knowing how to respond to failure I said more important than always getting it right. There is actually research out there’s that shows when you make a mistake and correct yourself, your brain grows.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, how perfect is that quote for parenting? Completely agree that we need to always be learning as parents. Appreciate your thoughts and a good reminder!


  12. It’s absolutely stunning post.
    I can so much relate about “GPS recalculating” moments. It’s very often happening.And you know… Truth it is, we might learn from kids even more than they do from us.
    Following you for sure!


  13. Beautiful and very insightful. This reminds me of my daughter at an occasion she just wanted little space to explore by walking a different path round a building so that we could just meet a few meters ahead. Her mother couldn’t understand the psychology of affirmation and decided to follow her instead of coming with me. At the meeting point my daughter questioned her mother feeling disappointed. She had to apologize.
    Reading through your article made me think of the reason behind many parents’ story of having been excellent in academic yet their records reflect very poor performance. It feels like very few in parenting accomplish a balance between overly attached and overly detached, resulting in projecting missed opportunities by over indulgence in child growth and development, or total surrender and fear to…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a huge reaction you got to this excellent article. The story must be one the world needs now! Smaller families may be one of the reasons–? With six daughters born in the 30s and 40s my mother paid attention but was not a micromanager of our lives and learning!


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