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. 

 

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

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  1. Thank you! I agree with in you in your article. To NEVER stop learning and letting your child fail(fall) to make them think… and work harder to do better. (Pardon me, I’m not a good writer ).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful well written article and need of the hour. It’s a reminder to all parents that failure is very important to make the children more resilient and also for them to learn the importance of not give up. Absolutely wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a beautiful post!!! This is exactly how I feel everyday…just when you think you’ve got it covered, some unexpected crisis slams you!!!
    You are right in saying Parenting is always ‘recalculating’ and always ‘learning’. Our son taught us how to be ok with failing…and because I grew up in boarding school I learnt very early that the only way to move on is to pick yourself up, dust off and move on. This is what I try to teach my kids. It is a good life skill I think.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.. Good luck on your parenting journey!!! Enjoy the ride!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was a good kid. A smart kid. I was well behaved. I followed the rules. I got straight A’s. I got so many A’s I couldn’t stand it. AAAAA. I was B-O-R-E-D in school. I remember coming home one day and through tears of frustration “Mom, I’m so sick of getting A’s”. My mother’s response, “Try getting F’s then.” Tears stopped immediately. The freedom to fail caused me to immediately choose success. Suddenly, A’s weren’t so boring.

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  4. Yes I agree with the author’s point of view.my daughter being the elder we used to assist her prod her through work be it school or extra curricular.But soon she stopped developing sense of responsibility.though late we realised it.n ow with our son we let him do his work the way he would like.we are observing with fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting article though I don’t agree with it fully. I understand standing by a kid’s failure if he/she has given their best. But no, it’s not ok as a parent that my kids leave their room messy with rotting pizza. It is not ok that my kid misses greeting my friend who comes visiting our home and nor is it ok for their kids to jump around on our sofas. I think this whole ‘go easy on your kid’, ‘don’t say no’, ‘let them learn from their mistakes’ is building a generation of softies who will have a bloody tough time facing the real world out there. I think one needs a good balance. Instil the feeling that privileges come packaged with duties from a very early age. I think the author is glorifying failure and almost feeling guilty about celebrating her son’s success!! That’s insane and bizarre. Failure is acceptable, but not desirable. Failure will always be a part of a kid growing up…. The idea is to accept that, learn from it and move on, but not take away the desire to succeed and be rewarded for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. My message is not to glorify failure. And while it’s not ok for your children to leave a messy room, let’s agree that it will happen for as long as we’re training them. My point is.. Do not rescue them because that’s what you will do for the rest of their lives. I fully agree with you that balance is key. I do hope that my limited examples do not take away the lesson of the article. And that is.. Failure is a necessary part of life. The earlier our children learn this, the better for us and everyone else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Carolyne,
        Thanks for the wonderful article. Well said…
        Can we publish your article in a magazine in our language, the thoughts can be spread to many parents.. We want to get consent and approval from you…
        Thanks for such great insight to share with everyone..

        Thanks
        Ayeesri

        Like

      2. Beautiful article. Thanks so much for writing it as it definitely pulled on my heart strings. Failure really builds our character doesn’t it! And prepares us for the future. There is value in failure and we need to embrace it as it teaches us more than success ever will. Thanks again.

        Like

  6. Good article and some food for thought! At least parents who are facing failures can be rest assured that they do not feel small like how sometimes the proud parents make them feel.
    I guess parents worry more about other parents than their children.
    Kids of today are aware of most things and sometimes test their parents and pull them like rubberbands to see how far they will strech. It is we who have let go of them and see how well they fare they will do it with a little push!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is interesting but I don’t really agree because they’re only failing in a system created for control. That doesn’t mean failing at life. I think colouring outside the lines is the opposite of failing. That is succeeding at trying and succeeding at being a kid who maybe doesn’t want to colour in the lines and that’s cool. The lines sometimes represent something they want our kids to conform to but as a parent, I want my kids to test and push and possibly reject these lines altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent.To educate children the real life challenges is a brilliant idea instead of imposing on them unwarranted targets.By doing so, children will develop with a more balanced personality.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved &enjoyed this piece in many ways, until I got to the list of purported “failures”– or at least the first 4, about messy rooms and unfinished homework and the like. That made me sit up and wonder: a messy room is a failure? Unfinished homework is a failure? Forgetting books is a failure? If those are our yardsticks, that’s madness indeed–but it made me wonder how we (or our teachers in school systems) are thinking about failure in the first place. If failure means something like “go face the consequences on your own”–then the lesson there isn’t so much about kids learning through failure, but about how to avoid failure because failure brings consequences! And lonely, shaming ones at that. Not only is that a carrot-and-stick approach geared to getting parents some relief, it reinforces the very logic of failure vs. trophyization I think you’re trying to rethink. [The lesson in that could also be to parents: lighten up! messy rooms are ok! unfinished homework isn’t the end of the world! Maybe even: resign yourself to a thousand unheeded reminders, because that is the work of parenting, after all. But most especially don’t turn your kids’ so-called “failures” into your own.]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I have to admit that my definition of failure here is very limited. I am addressing parents who may have the tendency to shield their children from all kinds of pain and would want to rescue them from taking responsibility. My message is a very small part of the whole journey of parenting and I am aware it can be taken out of context. My hope is that you can pick out the core message. And that is… Parents, please allowed your children to experience pain, struggle and take responsibility.

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  10. Nice article. Its true that we akways expect our chikdren to be successful. When they fail we will feel bad and pressurize them to be successful always which is not correct. Unless kids face the failures they cannot enjoy success. Thanks for the well written article with example.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nice article. Its true that we always expect our children to be successful. When they fail we will feel bad and pressurize them to be successful always which is not correct. Unless kids face the failures they cannot enjoy success. Thanks for the well written article with example.

    Like

  12. Wat a lovely post.i wish we also accept that it’s ok if our child fails.
    more than children parents are too competitive today.we need to understand to calm down n slow down to make them better and let them be children.
    I loved the beautiful post…my re calculating GPS. …t least has some direction now.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Success breeds success and failure breeds failure. I agree in letting your children do their own school work etc., but only to a certain extent. You are after all your child’s life long ‘teacher.’ You qualify because you love them unconditionally and will therefore be the friendliest and most harmless teacher. Let them benefit from the skills and wisdom you have acquired over the years. Not everybody knows how to give constructive criticism and this might cause a lifetime of issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well said .. I truly believe in ..no spoon feeding… our kids need to learn few things on their own n b responsible ..
    But honestly I cant encourage my child by saying .. participation is important than prize .. bec when I see him working hard .. All I feel is he should bank a reward.. May not b always. But try as much as possible wherever his strengths are there. .

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Today I got to know the real meaning of parenting and the real essence of failure.It would of course take some time to accept the worth of this fall till they rise again but will surely give a better learning for life
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Great article, consistent with the growth mindset movement in education. Worth emphasizing here in the comments section is that it is not simply failure itself that helps learning and development but the intentional reflection following it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Its a well written message and every word written down is valuable. Unfortunately, in most Indian schools parents are the defacto teachers. There is no guidance from the teacher to the students to attempt a project on their own, let alone the assessment of the complexity of the prohect assigned. The less said the better.
    I agree with one thing though. One should definitely teach our children not to be burdened by failure but to take it as an opportunity to know their weakness and attempt to address it.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The beauty of parenting lies probably in motivating your child and not checking on their doings all the time… the effort should be theirs but some direction has to be given at earlier ages…. the freedom of preparation is eventually theirs!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Nice article. I agree with what your intent is, but I refuse to term it as failure. It teaching your child responsibility. Its teaching your child that there is no one standing behind you picking up for you the things that you were too lazy to do. Its making the child accountable for actions that they do. It is preparing them to face the world. Its not failure. If an adult keeps a messy home, can that be considered a failure no its not. If an adult fails to pay their bills by the due date. Is that failure? No its just being irresponsible because someone else did everything for you while you grew up. The adult never learnt how to be responsible. That doesnt define success and failure.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. When our concept of failure changes our approach to failure changes too.It is not the end result that marks failure,it is when we stop striving or trying that marks the beginning of failure.If we can teach ourselves and our children to never give up and to put in our best effort whatever it may be we are already on the road to success.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I am moved by this article. I am a father of two wonderful, grown up children. I have always asked myself, “Am I a good father?” Today I got some of my answers.
    I also conduct Parenting workshops, I have now more understanding of the subject and will add another flavour.
    A well written article.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. In the Indian system of education, not colouring inside lines and not writing D properly is indeed considered a failure, by the teachers. That is where the problem starts. Even as a parent if I would want my 4 year old son to probably understand that D is just a semicircle cut by a line, there is no time…the school would have moved to a new letter. Then the teacher brands the kid as “slow”, making parents feel they are the failures. So when a system is built that any small non conformance is a failure, that is when you blight creativity. So failure becomes out of the question. That’s is what the education ensures. So how do we parents teach children its ok to fail?

    Like

  23. Bravo. I am a teacher. Attempts by parents to “intervene” when their child did not do well for the marking period have increased dramatically in recent years. Although I thank the parent for their concern, I also indicate that things will not be changed, and I hold to that, even if you feel that you need to go to the school board. If your child got a 38/100, and the child next to them got an 88/100, I am not going to give them the same grade, or raise that 38 just because “they tried”. My students have realized that if they get a bad grade from me, it is not “personal”, and I want to give them a better grade the next time….but it must be earned….and also, by them…not anyone else. I have had students turn in a paper which was most definitely written by their parents….I do not believe that is teaching the child anything…except how to cheat, and actually coming from the parent, not the student.
    There is nothing better than seeing a child’s face when you hand them a quiz paper with an “A” or “B” on it two weeks after they had an “F”. Children who learn to overcome challenges and “stumbles” early on will become stronger human beings. There are many documented cases where a child who has “aced” everything goes into college and suddenly finds themselves stumbling (perhaps in a degree program that they are not cut out for)…and they can’t handle it. They panic, and they simply do not know how to rebound, seek guidance, or change course. Even one bad test score can throw them into a massive tail spin, as if they had been hit by a car.
    Many great achievers in this world have done so after massive failures. Imagine if they had given up. There would be no Disney World to take your child to.

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  24. I disagree with the teaching aspect. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to teach someone how to write a D, especially the way public school teaches. How do I know? Oh wait because they taught me with stuff that’s been done for centuries, even by parents. However Ive learned some very cool and interesting hands on ideas for teaching and developing muscles to hold a pencil during the preschool age by montessouri teachers. They help teach real long term memory, not just habitual memorization, but knowing. Any parent that doesnt realize the job never ends and that striving to pull one’s self back up is a part of living really shows that people need a liscence to parent. They reflect poorly on society and continuing the cycle of disgusting characteristics that don’t contribute to society. In fact Ive seen it happen many times. so be aware of those kinds of peole and try not to breed with someone who lacs ability to adapt and use common sense.

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  25. If only more parents knew this, failure is most certainly one of the best life tools we can equip our children with, it’s never about how hard you fall, it’s about how you get up, that the back of the line might just be the best place to be right now. Being a parent sometimes we all lose sight of the bigger picture, thank you Lord for your Grace! God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

  26. If you try and don’t succeed, try, try, again. Who said that?

    Great article. Some parents with good intentions to help their children become a crutch instead. During my speaking engagements I ask, “what are they going to do when you are not there?”

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Along these lines, let me add that it is okay to have parents set rules. Too many American kids are waited upon. How do they do it as adults? Feedback from room-mates for matters that should have been ingrained long ago. I am 60 and a parent as well as an educator. Parents are AFRAID to insist on home rules; b/c it is an awful lot of work. Easier to do it yourselves them hold them accountable. And why are kids not told to stop the interrupting. It is as if the world is to stand still when a child has a need. Not an immediate need, just to tell a story or whatever. Eventually all but the very rich will learn that you just cannot interrupt. Kids aren’t to be blamed; they are clueless. Because they are kids. Childhood should be a magical, wonderful time; agreed. But being prepared for adulthood can be built in and the child will still feel like a winner. Congratulate them when you notice they want to interrupt but hold back.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. A year ago I wrote a piece about greatness and mediocrity and I recall relating it to the fact that these days, once our kids are amongst the greats – As and A+ kids, then the feeling that they are mediocre comes to play. These two words are often used as opposites – Greatness and Mediocrity. Is the absence of greatness truly the presence of mediocrity? The opposite of great is not mediocre. I wrote at the time that this issue bothered me because our kids seem to be growing up in is one in which only the 2 ends of the spectrum exists. This kind of mindset can lead to negative pressures for success and feelings of inadequacies that could then lead to a lack of self worth and depression.

    Your piece is a beautifully honest view with much learning for parents in there. I have long reconciled myself with the fact that my son failing does not mean he will be a failure, so I am a smiling parent when my son is appears to be failing and I am cheering him on at the minimal effort. I have had the weird look when my son manages to kick a ball and football practice even though for 30mins he pretty much did not touch the ball. I do confess though that my son’s Asperger’s diagnosis got me to into a better place on this and it did not come naturally. In today’s culture our default mode is perfection.

    Gwen

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Nice read and some very important points on how we recalibrate at every stage of parenting and I agree with failure is important.
    But I definitely agree with Lavneet. We have to understand the line between ” not micro managing their lives ” and ” not disciplining “. It’s critical for them to know that greeting people is an important . Keep your room clean and organised is an important Lesson for learning to live with others . Just as not knowing failure is damaging; not knowing discipline is equally damaging.

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  30. Reblogged this on Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning" and commented:
    TEACHING CHILDREN TO FAIL
    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… (follow the link to reasreasd the full blog post https://carolynescorner.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/teaching-children-to-fail/ )

    Like

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