Parenting: Kids and parents learn from their failures

News-DemocratJune 24, 2013 

Before I became a parent, I was one of those people who judged other people's parenting and swore I'd never, ever parent they way they did or let my kid do X.

I judged the parents of those loud, obnoxious kids in restaurants and thought all restaurants should have a kid-free section. I judged the parents who gave in and bought their kid a toy just to get them to stop throwing a fit in the middle of the store. I judged the parents who brought their kids out into public wearing dirty clothes.

Yes, yes I did.

But not so much any more.

I've been that parent whose child is having a major meltdown in a restaurant and the object of intense, hateful, judging stares. I have given in to a toy-tantrum in the store just to get her to shut up and calm down. I've been at the end of my rope and done the things I swore I'd never do as a parent just to keep the peace and maintain a shred of sanity.

Most parents have unfortunately learned that sometimes you do have to resort to bribes, no matter how much it rubs you the wrong way. I've been that mom with the kid in the filthy clothes in a public place. Kids are little dirt magnets. No matter how clean she was when you left the house, every speck of dirt, every smear of something sticky will find a way to stick to your child before you even arrive at your destination. That's just the way it is.

Sometimes, I still do judge other parents, but for entirely different reasons.

I can't understand why parents protect their children from everything, and I mean everything. I know kids who have never had a skinned knee because they are so protected by their parents they aren't allowed to go outside and do anything that might lead to a skinned knee. These kids have never climbed a tree or been out exploring without a parent hovering over them every step of the way. These are the kids who will most likely live with their parents forever because they are too scared of the world to venture out into it alone.

Parents absolutely must protect their children from things, like death and maiming and sexual predators. Those are really bad things and to not protect them from those things is neglect and very bad parenting. Very bad.

We can't protect them from hurt feelings or from failure. Not everybody gets, or deserves, a ribbon or trophy.

Children have to be allowed to fall every now and then. It makes them stronger. It's the parents' job to be there to pick them back up, put antiseptic and Band-Aids on the boo-boos and send them off into to face the big, bad world again. Kids should climb trees and ride bikes and swing on rope swings. They should be encouraged to try new things, even if the parent knows the new adventure or experiment will most likely be a failure. A kid still should have the opportunity to learn that lesson on his own.

Sometimes, kids fall. But for each fall, they hopefully learn something from that experience and try to avoid doing the same thing again. It's how we learn. Failure is the thing that drives us to try again, to come at a problem a new way. It drives innovation. Imagine how awful a first failure would be if it wasn't experienced until an adult age. Would that adult know how to react and respond to failure if he had never been allowed to fail before? Probably not.

I have let my kid fail a few times when she tries something new. I knew her newest idea would fail, but she needed to experience the failure herself instead of just hearing it from me. The lesson is better that way and the desire to strive to do better next time is stronger.

We teach our kids and hopefully impart some wisdom they can take with them into the world and use to avoid falling too far or too hard. But, they will fall.

We just have to be there to pick them up, dust them off, wipe their tears, and send them on their way.

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