Reading: The Gift of Failure

Being a parent is hard, no doubt.   And having teenagers now is a completely different experience from when I, myself, was a teen.  And my children are also very different from how I was as a teen.

There is a battle brewing in my own parenting philosphy between wanting to be that fully overprotective parent, or being the parent that lets my kids take the reins and be more in control of their own life.

Enter The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey.  In this book Lahey relates to those innermost fears and motivations that we parents have to clear a path to success for our children, and then provides a roadmap to a practical approach to letting go and in a way that teaches children not only how to be more self sufficient, but also, gives them the skills to go on to be successful adults.

The Gift of Failure
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey

My objective in reading this is really to help to back off as my son enters high school.  There are so many ways in which he is already autonomous on the home front- everyting from doing his own laundry to knowing how to make a meal plan through the grocery shopping and actual meal prep.

But where I personally struggle is to stay out of his school business.  I’m contantly checking his grades, checking to make sure his math homework got done and PUT IN HIS BINDER, bugging him about upcoming tests or projects.  And I know that I cannot keep it up.  It isn’t healthy for me, and it doesn’t seem to be helping him.  Also, I know that in four short years he’ll be going out on his own and I want him to be ready, and have any potential failures now while the stakes are low, instead of when he gets to his freshman year of college.  And so this year I’m going to an autonomy supported parenting approach across the board instead of just on certain aspects.

I’m on my second listen of this book.  The first time I listened to it, in my car on a long drive back from dropping a kid off at summer camp, I related to so many of the “this is now” examples.  Yes, I thought, that is what I’m doing now and why I think I should be doing it.  

But helping to get an understanding on why it is not only OK to let kids learn how to fail (and then recover), is helping give me more confidence to take a different aproach as we head into middle and high school with our two children and keeping the longer term goals in mind of a successful adult.  All around me I see the parents pushing potential problems out of the way for their children and I’ve struggled with it myself.

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

Amazon book description

This is a great back-to-school read for any parent that wants some help framing up a way to move away from all the hovering, and move toward a solution for child autonomy.

I’m personally listening to it a second time (on Audible) because while the first time I did a lot nodding along and could relate to the stories in the book, I feel I need a second pass to really internalize some of the advice as I work this summer to help my son develop better executive skills while trying to stand back and see him take those lessons to heart and apply them to his day to day life. I’m not going to lie. It is hard to not want to review his to-do list each morning, check-in several times a day, review his summer homework or have him sit with me to make sure he is doing it. But honestly, as I’ve made a more conscious attempt to backing off, he has really picked up the slack and been doing a better job of getting things done WITHOUT MY NAGGING. And this has allowed us to have lots of fun conversations about his interests rather than lectures about chores.

If you want to get an introduction to her ideas, you can watch her SXSW EDU Keynote talk from 2018.

Educator and author, Jessica Lahey’s SXSW EDU keynote Teaching the Gift of Failure breaks down research and factors on motivation, resilience and learning.