The word failure has a negative connotation, but quite awhile ago my neighbor, Bethany, brought up a blog topic idea to me that centered around the theme of: “Failure as a Good Thing”. Failure, especially when it comes to parenting and kids, can teach people quite a bit. I loved Bethany’s train of thought because if moms, dads, and kids are never allowed to fail, then how do people ever learn and do better?
A bunch of us mothers were having coffee or waiting in a lobby to grab our kids from some activity, when Bethany broached the subject of being okay with certain situations where her kids may fail. She explained to me how her oldest son and daughter were in Taekwondo, and as a part of the program they had to go through testings and belt ceremonies in order to evaluate skills. The higher up a student gets in belt color, then the harder the testing becomes because the skills are more demanding in terms of precision and technique.
Bethany’s daughter, Annie, is athletic and very good at Taekwondo. She had been advancing regularly through her testings, and with each advancement Annie was moving up to a higher degree of difficulty in belt color. This past year she was up for a testing and for the first time did not pass. Annie’s mom and dad were initially disappointed, because Taekwondo testing is a big deal (even for parents). The ceremonies and evaluations take up blocks of time and also cost an additional fee.
Bethany was surprised to get a call after the testing to learn Annie had not passed, but she said the instructor did a great job of explaining how Annie’s “elements of form” were not precise enough. The instructors were being fair and strict. They also did a good job of explaining to Annie what she could do to fix these issues. Since Annie was going for a higher belt level, she was being held to a higher standard. The instructors made a big deal about how not passing would propel her to work harder for next time. They also showed confidence in her ability to master the skills. My friend, as a mother, felt really bad for her daughter. However, she also saw the learning factor in this specific failing. It made her daughter see the value in the testing and pay closer attention in class in order to achieve the higher belt next time (which she did).
It is so easy as parents to want to gloss over the tough stuff and do everything we can to let our kids succeed. But if children don’t ever fail, will they ever really try? Or understand the need to practice hard and reach for higher goals? I know that failing is not fun, but it can teach us things. It can show us how to move on from a bad situation, or how to better cope with disappointment.
Kids are not the only ones who fail. I learn a lot from my failures, and I screw-up constantly as a parent and a person. I lose my temper, talk too harshly, and make a lot of mistakes. I left the house twice this week for grocery runs, and forgot to put shoes on my two-year-old. He was not super supportive of the socks only look in Target or Chik-fil-A.
Failing on the mom front has taught me to say “I am sorry” to my kids. When they do something wrong, I often demand an apology. Therefore they should be able to hold me to the same standard (within reason). Sometimes my kiddos deserve the business I am unloading on them. (Example: My middle child hanging on our bathroom towel rack like a monkey, which leads to ripping it out from the wall stud and tearing a huge hole in our painted drywall. Ummm, so yes she is going to get a talking to and a time-out.) However, on occasion my daughters and son may be getting subjected to mommy’s less than happy demeanor because of situations beyond their control. (Examples: washing machine is broken, the dog peed in the house, a publisher is requesting more edits on an already completed article, and the list goes on and on and on.)
I don’t know exactly when, but there was this one time when my oldest was younger and I got really angry at her for no reason. I was tired. I was probably breastfeeding, and really just in an all-around crabby mood. Her feelings were hurt when I scolded her and she sulked off to her bedroom to think tiny, evil, three-year-old thoughts about me. The mom guilt set in immediately and so did the rationalizing of my own behavior. My daughter had probably been too loud or she should know better, or something…but after about ten minutes of inner thinking I knew that I was the one in the wrong.
That was hard to admit to myself, because I like being right (just ask my family!). It may be a middle child thing, or a female thing, or even just my individual personality thing. However, through little failures on the parenting front I have learned that it means a lot to my kids when I can admit I am wrong and apologize to them. They need to know that I am not perfect, and they also need to know that I respect them enough to admit my failings and lack of patience. I definitely do not apologize for every angry instance with my kiddos, but when it is warranted and I am wrong I should be able to say so.
The scenario I mentioned above was probably the first instance of me going to my daughter and saying ‘Hey, I am sorry for getting mad at you. It wasn’t your fault and you did not deserve it.” Her teary eyes dried instantly and she gave me a huge hug. She also let out a sigh of relief. My daughter had been in trouble before that point, but that incident was most likely the first time she saw an injustice occurring. Parents won’t always be fair and correct, but we should at least be able to own up to our oversights when it is necessary.
Grown-ups are not flawless, and parents are going to make mistakes. I don’t like having to apologize. I wish I had Gandhi’s patience and lived an error free existence, but until then and throughout the learning process of life, I will just try to get better at it all.
In the meantime, I hope my kids and others know and understand that failure is a part of life. It may not be fun, but if we can learn from the experience than our hearts (and futures) will be in better places.