I recently finished reading “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” by Jessica Lahey. As soon as I finished the introduction, I knew this book and I were going to be a good fit. I had highlighted most of it 🙂
I’ve noticed one of the quickest ways to get people gabbing is to ask them about their childhood. More specifically, how they were raised and then compare it to how children are raised today. It’s fascinating to think about the difference one generation can make. Odds are, if you talk to someone older than 25, they will describe a much more independent childhood with more responsibilities and freedom. Things are very different these days and the results are evident in our kids.
In “Gift of Failure”, Jessica Lahey brings a very credible perspective not only as a mother, but also as a middle school teacher. Her message rings loud and true: the sooner we can let kids experience the gift of failure, the better!
Many of the messages in Lahey’s book reinforce the key points in two other books I’ve recently reviewed and loved, “How To Raise and Adult” and “Mindset”. In fact, Lahey cites Carol Dweck (author of “Mindset”) quite a bit in “The Gift of Failure.” The overlap in the messages does not feel redundant to me. It feels important. Personally, I know I need to hear this over and over again, because letting your kids struggle is hard.
How did we go astray?
It’s important to point out that Lahey is coming at this from a point of understanding and empathy. As a parent, she knows that everything we do for our kids comes from a place of wanting to do the best for them. As a teacher, she can also see the effect our loving efforts are having:
“Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness…The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of children’s ways are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative.”
“The Gift of Failure” outlines several reasons that we have gotten to this point. These are a few that stuck out:
- Desire to be a “good parent”. Parenting is a “thing” now in a way that it has not been in the past. Parenting magazines, TV shows, blogs all dedicated to parenting. What used to be a noun has turned into a verb. And of course everyone wants a blue ribbon.
- Enmeshment. Basically merging our identities with our children. We love them so much that solving their problems is like solving our own.
- Taking our take-charge work skills into parenting. So many of us are working, or have worked, in careers where we make things happen. The instinct to do the same in other parts of our lives is only natural.
What can we do at home?
Fostering intrinsic motivation is what it’s all about at home. Rewards, bribes and threats often get us the immediate results we want, but the child doesn’t actually learn why they are doing what they are doing. Ugh…so true. Rewards, bribes and threats are my go-to’s when I want something done. Why do I use them? Because they work fast. Instant gratification, but at what cost?
Stopping to teach my kids why something should be done takes time and is uncomfortable. But I do have proof that it works. Last year, after reading “How to Raise and Adult” we established a morning checklist for the kids to get themselves ready for school and us to stop nagging. I even posted about it HERE. A year later, I can say that it was a good move. One of our two boys is now doing everything without a list and without being asked (and then some). After reading “The Gifts of Failure”, I am getting the motivation to find more opportunities for them to be self-reliant. It’s totally worth it.
Our relationship with teachers & school:
There’s nothing like school to make parents feel like they have to pull out all the big guns to see their kids “win”. No one wants to see their children struggle. I am in that boat too. My gut-reaction to anything that seems unfair or unjust is to go head first into fixing that problem. As parents, especially moms, we are wired to rescue our kids when they are in need. It’s difficult to know when to start drawing the line and letting things go.
Lahey has some clear guidance on what we can focus on during the school years:
“In order to help children make the most of their education, parents must begin to relinquish control and focus on three goals: 1) embracing opportunities to fail, 2) finding ways to learn from that failure, and 3) creating positive home-school relationships”.
In case you need examples, she has a chapter dedicated to each of these three goals and tactical examples of how you can accomplish them. I absolutely loved the simple ideas on how to create a positive relationship with your child’s teacher from the start of the year.
Final Thoughts on “The Gifts of Failure”
I’m going out on a limb and betting this will be one of my favorite reads of 2016. I absolutely loved Lahey’s voice. Her credibility as a teacher and mother made me want to listen to what she had to say. And what she had to say made sense. Without making me feel judged, I was clearly able to see how the little things I do in the name of helping my kids actually being a hinderance. I appreciate Lahey’s insights in “The Gift of Failure” and loved the practical examples on how we can pull back while still being there for our kids.
If we are all here to do what is best for this generation of children, we need to be on the same page with what is important. In my opinion, this book would be helpful for every parent today.