Kids Safety Network

This is Why I Let My Kids Fail

Upset problem child with head in hands sitting on staircase concept for bullying, depression stress or frustration

It’s natural for me to be protective of my kids. It’s a primal instinct, one that can not be flipped off like a switch. The mere thought of my children experiencing fear, physical pain, or emotional distress causes me to feel…fear, physical pain, and emotional distress. So, sometimes I shield them. When they were little, I covered the corners with cushions and I blocked the stairs with gates. I walked behind them as they teetered and tottered, my back hunched so my hands could hover around them, ready to catch them if they tipped over sideways or protect them if they veered too close to a sharp edge. As they got older, I hovered less but told them, “Be careful! Be careful! Be careful!” even if they were already being careful. I know I will continue to protect them in many, many ways, for as long as I am a Mama. It’s in my nature.

Having said that, there are times when I’ve made the conscious decision not to insulate them and to let them make it, or fail, completely on their own. I think there’s a fine line between protecting from harm and obstructing from growth. Sometimes I stand aside and I grip my two hands tightly together to ensure that I do not reach out and catch them if they stumble. Sometimes I am right there next to them and I still let them struggle. It is not always easy because it feels a bit uncomfortable. Watching them suffer seems to cause me pain by proxy.

Right now my kids are dealing with relatively insignificant life problems. They drop a book and can’t reach it when they’re strapped in a car seat. They lose a balloon that escapes from their hands at a carnival. They fall backwards onto wood chips when they try to go up the slide at the park. They can’t get their pants up above their fluffy diapered bootie. Right now if they fail at these things, the consequences are pretty short lived. When they’re older, the stakes will start to get higher. They’ll have papers that need to be written, projects to be completed and commitments to be honored. They’ll have g.p.a.s to maintain, dance recitals to perform, and friendships to nourish.

There are going to continue to be scenarios that I could “fix”, that I could protect them from failing at if I wanted to, but I won’t. Even if the repercussions last a bit longer than they do now, I know it’ll be okay because I know they will learn from each of their failures. They’ll learn that things are earned and not given, that not everything is easy, and that some mistakes have epic consequences while others don’t really matter all that much. They’ll learn that some things are out of our control, that some things are beyond their current ability, and that some things are ridiculously unfair. They will learn that no matter what failures they accumulate I will love them anyway. They’ll learn that even if they fail, they can still love themselves.

I’m of the opinion that when it comes to learning from experience, proper failure far outweighs undeserved success. My parents let me fail, and let me tell you I really did it up! I’ve accumulated some legendary blunders thus far, and I’m quite sure there will be more to come. I’ve learned, though, from screwing things up so many times, that failure isn’t necessarily something to be feared. I’m no longer afraid to attempt tasks that seem difficult, daunting, or out of my typical comfort zone. I’m not afraid to fail anymore because I’ve been there, done that, so now I can focus on my growth and progress instead of my lack of imperfection. Learning to cope with disappointments and setbacks when I was younger has led me to find greater success and happiness as an adult.

Even if I wanted to save my kids from every potential failure they face, I know that I can’t. Their failures and their triumphs are not mine to “give”. They’re not mine. Sometimes I need to remind myself that their achievements and their defeats are theirs, and theirs alone. Even little kids understand when they’ve done something on their own or when someone else took care of it for them.
My kids will complain, will get frustrated, will get angry and scream. They’ll be disappointed, upset, and sometimes distraught, because sometimes they’ll fail. That’s okay. They’ll get over it. And down the road, they’ll be better off because of it.

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