Is Failure the Key to Parenting Success?
Like most kids, my kids hate homework. One of them really, really hates homework. Every evening we engaged in major homework battles. I am sure this sounds familiar to some of you. After consulting his teachers and many wise parents, the best advice I received was, “quit fighting him and let him fail.” WHAT?!?!? Aren’t “good parents” supposed to ensure their kids succeed in school, and every other aspect of their lives, all the time?
No! In fact, just the opposite. “Good parents” let their kids fail. Failure allows kids to face the natural consequences of their actions. When my smart kid received his report card after slacking off all semester, the tears rolled down his cheeks. He was so disappointed in himself, we didn’t have to say a word. Was it difficult for this type-A, perfectionist mom to let him fail? Absolutely. But allowing him to fail taught him an important lesson.
I recently read an article on slate.com about alarming increases in depression and anxiety among college-aged students.* The statistics are frightening and, as the article points out, a direct result of a generation of kids raised by overbearing “helicopter” parents. These are parents who have micromanaged all aspects of their children’s lives, protecting them from every possible failure along the way. As a result, the kids leave for college incapable of making decisions, unable to solve their problems, terrified of making mistakes, and feeling they have no control over their own lives. This sounds like a perfect recipe for depression and anxiety.
I have no doubt helicopter parents have good intentions. Like all parents, they want their kids to succeed. However, these parents put their own needs of feeling important, infallible and in control ahead of the needs of their children. Kids need to hear and, more importantly, be shown that their parents believe they are capable of solving their own problems, making their own decisions, and recovering from their mistakes. If we, as parents, allow them to make small mistakes along the way, hopefully they will avoid making bigger mistakes as they get older.
So what should we, as loving, dedicated, well-intentioned parents, do to avoid helicoptering?
- Let them fail. If they have a piano recital coming up but refuse to practice, they may have to learn the hard way that practice pays off. We are sure to cringe in the audience, but they are learning!
- Use empathy and deliver the message, “you are capable.” The frustrated child says, “I don’t know which classes to take next semester.” Dad responds, “I can see the choices are pretty overwhelming but I know you will make the right decision.”
- Realize their failures (and successes) are not a reflection on you. Reassure yourself, even when your kids make terrible mistakes, it’s a normal part of growing up. There are many great parents with troubled kids. There are many troubled parents with great kids. Be careful not to take too much pride in their successes or beat yourself up too much for their failures. Our children are their own people, after all.
Lastly, helicopter parents, and maybe all of us, need to reconsider how we define success. A college dean interviewed for the article on slate.com stated most parents he encounters would prefer their children be depressed at at Ivy League school, rather than be happy at a “lesser” university. Yes, our children may earn a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard. But, if they are paralyzed by anxiety and depression, is that a success Let’s focus less on on our kids’ achievements and more on their well-being.
Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or firstname.lastname@example.org. “Like” her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/erinkassebaumrds.
*Lythcott-Haims, (2015, July). Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out. Retrieved from Slate.com.