To Me, Sometimes Failure *Is* an Option

People who knew me as a nerdish bookworm in high school might be surprised at this post. People who knew me as a determined young mom taking 14 years to earn my Bachelor’s degree while raising kids, moving homes, and supporting my husband through college might be surprised at this post, too. In fact, anyone who knows me well enough to know that I love a challenge, love to exceed expectations, and seem to constantly put more on my plate than I can possibly digest will wonder at the confession I am about to make.

I allow my kids to quit and fail.

And I don’t freak out when they do.

Even though I consider myself an ambitious person, I have come to realize in my lifetime that there are just some things not worth succeeding at.

Take for instance junior year math. My oldest daughter is struggling, and…well…failing at it. She is not a bad student, doesn’t waste away her days, run with the wrong crowd, none of that. She just doesn’t “get” math, and doesn’t like it. And, honestly – parabolas, conics, and quadratic equations? Not exactly required in day-to-day adult life.

Of course I would like to see her pass and avoid having to make up the credits in summer school. But do I get all knotted up with expectations for her to succeed at everything? No. Do I come down on her with lectures about doing the “hard stuff” and “sucking it up” and learning that “failure is not an option?” No.

Because you know what? I think failure *is* an option. I think too many people are concerned with what it looks like to others or means in some big picture of “principles” to succeed at things that don’t mean anything to us or don’t mean anything in our ultimate futures or destinies. ┬áLike it’s a badge of honor to struggle and sweat and toil for…the sake of saying you survived it?

Don’t get me wrong, my kids do struggle and sweat and toil. The same daughter who’s failing math goes through some of the most grueling training for marching band. I would *never* be able to endure what she endures while learning drills in the hot Houston summers. She knows how to do “the hard stuff” and how to “suck it up.” But for something she believes in.

My second daughter had an amazing experience where she struggled through “the hard stuff,” even with little chance for reward. But she did it because it was something she believed in.

My 9yo son on the other hand? I let him quit something (and caught a lot of flack for it!) because it meant nothing at all to him.

There is something to be said for doing what needs to be done when a future goal or someone else’s success is on the line. I am not against teaching my kids to put their shoulder to the wheel. I just think there are some things in life that we can let go of without fear of the world falling apart in front of or before us. And I’m hoping to teach my kids the same.

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  • Great points! We are all going to fail at some point or decide to move on from certain projects. It’s a part of life and you become better for it! There’s a time to persevere, and there’s a time to focus on what works best for you.

  • Dawn Sandomeno

    I’m like you, but at odds with my husband on this philosophy. I will qualify by saying there needs to be a good reason and it can’t become a pattern.

  • Jessica Barrus Morgan

    I love this post. I think you’re a great mom for showing them you love and accept them even when they can’t do something, or won’t. I still feel like my parent’s love is conditional on what I do and how well I do it – not the best way to teach kids about a loving and merciful Heavenly Father.

  • Love love LOVE this post! My mom is a lot like you and I feel so fortunate to have been raised with that philosophy. We honestly aren’t meant to be good at everything.

  • Nanette ~ A Mom Blog

    You said this so well. Our kids have to know it’s ok to not be able to be Awesome at everything and if you aren’t it’s ok.

  • Desiree Peeples

    I think your approach to parenting is very realistic and practical. And I don’t think your kids will be “damaged” because of it… great post!!!

  • There’s nothing wrong with trying and failing at something. I never understood why people were made to HAVE to succeed – somethings aren’t for everyone. I just simply ask my children try their hardest, that’s it. To give everything they try 100%. If they don’t like it, then that’s their prerogative. You know?

  • I admit that I hate seeing my kids fail and struggle. What parent doesn’t? but like you, it is important that they realize they have weaknesses. I don’t require my kids to get A’s. I require them to TRY. If they are trying, then they will never fail in my eyes. Others may consider it a failure but not me!

  • Aparna Rota

    Well said. We need to encourage our kids passions. If they are passionate about something, they will succeed.

  • Renee

    I agree with you that we don’t have to be brilliant at everything –we all have our strengths and weaknesses. My 10-year old daughter took trombone for three months –she learned what was expected of her, but she didn’t enjoy it enough to practice, and we made a mutual decision that three months of trombone lessons was plenty.

    In regards to your daughter’s experience with math in particular, I think too many schools don’t take the time to teach kids math in a way that makes the concepts real and concrete, so as the math gets more and more abstract, they don’t have the foundation they need. I teach in the physical sciences in a college, and my students don’t need to solve math problems, but they may need to understand the relationships and changes that are happening as they view information displayed on a graph. I wish schools taught math in a way that stressed that understanding, rather than just rote-problem solving skills.

  • hrorr

    Well said. People are more likely to try new, challenging things if they know they can walk away from it if it doesn’t turn out for them. Why waste time sticking to something that isn’t of an benefit to you?