Sunday, December 18, 2016

Failure as Feedback

Jessica Lahey THE GIFT OF FAILURE—How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed

I just finished the last chapter of The Gift of Failure—How the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed, by Jessica Lahey. It is early, and the house is unmistakably quiet. My head is spinning with Lahey’s thoughts and recommendations on parenting. As I started to get up and start my day, my eye caught one of my most treasured holiday possessions. A homemade wall hanging with handcrafted decorations from the first magical years of my boy’s childhood are on full display.  

A few of these ornaments encase pictures of my kids at various stages of their growth and young personalities. In all of the photos, their heads are tilted up, and the smiles are wide and full of life. Those hectic and delightful days are gone, and my sons are now adults. With Lahey’s book in my hands and my eyes glued to those young faces, my mind wandered to my parenting experience. “How did I do?” “Did I provide enough opportunities for them to struggle? “Did I intervene too much? “Was their path too straight?” “What did they learn?”

It was hard being a parent, and I made many mistakes, but there was incredible joy in the learning. These small beings you are entrusted with is such a gift that keeps on giving. The decisions I made throughout their typical days as an infant, a toddler, a preschooler, then through school, and eventually college were never ending, exhausting, and yet looking back exhilarating. 

Lahey’s everyday examples in her book demonstrate how parents can provide opportunities for children to struggle, fail, learn, and succeed. There are so many insights on the value of walking away and letting them figure it out when they are two—yes two! I should have been celebrating the stubborn two-year-old, so when they were sixteen they would be less likely to give up! I should have of proudly displayed the baseball cap, football jersey, and soccer ball instead of all those stupid trophies to celebrate what they love is theater. I should have let them determine what a clean room looks and smells like for their guest, rather than nagging and appreciating the fact their friends choose to be at our house rather than someplace else. 

Should of, could of, would of, can be a dangerous head game for parents. Knowing Lahey wrote this book midstream of her parenting experience made me again appreciate her realism. Whether you are a parent or an educator who works with children every day, it is never too late to give them opportunities to learn through failure.  Each disappointment, frustration, and life’s letdowns are opportunities to gain insights on what worked and what can you do differently next time.  Giving up is not an option. Learning is. 

My parenting days are not over. One of my sons called me just now. Given the hour of his call which is not his usual check-in pattern, my heart was racing. “Mom, do you have my spare car key in the junk drawer?” I got up to check, double check and got back on the phone with an unfortunate. “No.” I proceeded to ask him cautiously what was up, a parenting skill I acquired in the teen years. “I’ve locked my keys in my car.”  I again replied with a few short words of sympathy, but his answer made me smile and gave me hope I got some parenting right. “OK Mom, I’ll figure it out. Talk to you soon.” 

Lahey’s book The Gift of Failure will now be my go-to gift for every baby shower I attend. I also highly recommend it for every educator so the book is also a perfect new teacher gift. I can't go back and mend my parenting mishaps, but I can move forward.

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