I know when my kids have a test. “Have you studied?” I ask my 13-year-old daughter before a math test. “Maybe you should review again.” I quiz my 10-year-old son on his assigned spelling words while I make dinner, and nudge him again to review over breakfast.
I nudge (ok, sometimes nag) them because I want them to do well at school. I don’t want them to fail. But I wonder. Am I making a mistake?
Do you remember failing a test in high school or college? That feeling of taking an exam and being so woefully unprepared that as you stared at the paper you wished hard that the ground would open up and swallow you whole?
I certainly do. To this day I remember that test.
And I failed it, to quote my not-very-sympathetic-teacher, “with flying colors.”
There were tears on my end and vocal disappointment on my parents’ and there were math tutors and there was a summer with remedial math, but there was also a lesson learned.
Because although I failed the test, I learned what being unprepared felt like. I saw firsthand what results not studying produced. And I didn’t like it. I disliked that feeling so much that I was never unprepared again.
When I look back at that terrible test, I still cringe.
I want to spare my children that experience of abject failure, of failure so mortifying and unnecessary, of failure that makes a mark on a grade point average and summer plans. Don’t all parents want to spare their children that?
But I suspect that when I remind my children to study so that they can bask in the success of the perfect spelling quiz score, I am depriving them of a more important life lesson.
A lesson of what it feels like to fail and the steps they need to avoid that feeling. Shouldn’t parents be embracing failure for what it can teach? Especially if we’ve learned from it ourselves.