The F Word: Embracing Failure as a Parent

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There are few things that make a mother cringe more than the dreaded “F-word.” We pray we never hear it, and God-willing we never witness it. But, contrary to popular parenting belief, your child absolutely needs to embrace it and so do you!

Yes, I’m talking about FAILURE. 

In all transparency, I am a card-carrying member of an entirely unspoken genre of mothers who spend their existence making sure the faux facade of perfection remains neatly intact, framed, and proudly displayed on my mantle and Facebook page. For all intents and purposes, I do have a lot for which to be thankful and proud. My eight children are turning out pretty well…at least so far. But, I credit a lot of their grit, perseverance, and over all “success” to failure.

The road we have traveled has been bumpy. We’ve taken some less-than-popular paths, and we’ve been unconventional, if not controversial at times. I’ve endured the sideways glances and the less subtle commentary. Sure, we’ve goofed. Who hasn’t? So often as mothers we feel failure is the antithesis of success, when in actuality it is an integral component of success. When our children are young, we praise their efforts when learning to walk, write their name, or ride a bike. When they tumble or scrape a knee or fall short of perfection, we simply scoop them up, cheer them on, and encourage them to try again. And yet as they grow older, fear of failure begins to creep in – both for them and for us.  Perhaps, as the stakes are higher, we feel failure is not an option.

Failure is a crucial part of our children’s development; it is crafting the cornerstone of growth mindset. 

Interestingly enough, I feel I’ve been about the same parent for the last 21-plus years. Sure, I’ve evolved. But my core values have remained the same. Yet some of my children so easily bounce back from failure, while others crumble in devastation. So, what gives? I think birth order and personality play a part. But, upon further reflection, I believe some of the kids have truly embraced growth mindset, whereas others have not.

Growth mindset boils down to this: telling a child they are smart and brave and awesome doesn’t make them so. Praising effort, hard work, and risk-taking actually increases our children’s abilities and achievements (for real, it’s science… look it up). What kiddos learn from failures, from facing challenges, and from falling actually encourages other healthy habits like learning to trust in their own abilities, seeking help from others, and capitalizing on setbacks. For example, when my son drops a punt in a tight game in front of thousands of fans and classmates, I instantly want to both vomit and melt into the bleachers. What I need to realize is that making excuses for him or blaming incompetent blocking or popping antacids is not the move. Rather, praising his courage for doing something I could never do and encouraging him to evaluate how his nerves played a part in his loss of focus gives him the confidence to fix the problem and attack it better the next time.  When a kid faces a challenge or is criticized, past failures help him move forward.

Helicopter moms like me must resist the urge to hover and protect and eliminate potential failure. I don’t promise a pain free journey. But if you stick with it, the rewards are worth it. I see it in my oldest son who persevered through grueling military training and rigorous academics to emerge a leader at the US Air Force Academy. I see it in my daughter who survived countless broken bones and setbacks only to earn a four year, full-ride college gymnastics scholarship. I see it in a child who walked away from a sport where she was a three-time state champion to pursue happiness in something she’s never tried before. It wasn’t tear free. It wasn’t pain free. It wasn’t late-night-glass-of-wine free. But it was freeing. Allowing Embracing failure as a parent was the best mom move I ever made!

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