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Letting Your Kids Fail

Aly Raisman source: wikimedia commons

Have you been watching the Olympics? You probably have.

I have been as well, of course, and while the athletes are the main attraction, this is the first year I feel for the parents. No, really, I feel for the moms and dads on the stands and watching on television back at home, even tough I’m nowhere near being one of them.

Like you, I laughed as gymnast Aly Raisman’s hilariously adorable parents squirmed and clutched at their chests as they watched their daughter’s lifetime dreams balance precariously on the slimmest of balance beams. But more than laughter, I felt a kinship with them and all the Olympic parents. Every time I’ve seen Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps face off in the pool, every time a gymnast didn’t stick a landing, my thoughts went to the parents — how proud they must be. How much they sacrificed so that their kids could be at the Olympics. But mostly, I think about how strong they are to get them so far and to allow them to fail — because there is only one gold medal, and only one athlete can win it. Hard work and skills and talent have a lot to to do with it, but so does luck. And that, is out of your hands, no matter how much you love your kids.

My kids may not be competing for shiny medals in front of the world, but I can understand what it is like to let your children stretch themselves so far that failure is a real possibility. I didn’t sleep the night before summer camp started — and I’m not even talking about sleepaway camp here — because I knew it would be hard for one of my kids. I was this close to not sending him to this particular camp — one that focused on outdoor activities, and where he would have to choose how to spend his time because I know how he freezes up when he has to make a decision. Outdoor sports have been a challenge, because he gets distracted by everything. But we’ve been working towards this seemingly small step on the road to independence and I knew that it was the right thing to do. I knew that it might not work out, that he might be miserable, that he might prefer something easier — but we sent him anyway, because we also knew it would be good for him. Even if he refused to leave my side at the two pre-camp open houses, and he cried the week before at the thought that he might be in a new group of kids he didn’t know and that there would be new things to try.

We sent him. We knew he needed it.

And yes, of course he is loving it.

You probably could have guessed that, right? It’s how things go with kids. It’s time for something new, and they may or may not be apprehensive about it, but as parents we have to decide when it is time to let them try something new – even if it is likely that they will fail.

We all know that’s what you’re supposed to do, to let your kids go. To let them run too fast, even though they might fall and scrape their knees. To encourage them to ask the girl out, even if she might say no and break their hearts. To apply to their dream school even though there is no guarantee they’ll get in.

Letting your children go so far that they can almost certainly fail is hard. But still, we have to let them. In fact, we have to give them opportunities to fail and fail often. I’m hoping I get better with practice, because I fully intend to encourage them to fail.

It’s the only way to grow.

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