Failure As An Option

No one likes to fail. We do everything we can to avoid it.  We fear failure so much that as parents we do everything in our power to prevent our children from that feeling of having your heart crushed in your chest. But sometimes we need to fail.  In Homework Without the Yelling I touched on allowing my son to fail at his homework in order for him to learn inner motivation.  To hate that feeling of yuckiness so much that he will work even harder towards success. (Along with how to coach him towards success.)

Then I posted the article, Free Range Parenting, where I talked about how letting go of your fears and letting your child take risks builds their confidence as well as YOUR confidence in your parenting.  One of the biggest risks in parenting is letting your child fail.  My heart breaks a little every time my boys come to me with tears in their big blue eyes and a shattered, “I couldn’t do it,” on their lips.  As a parent you feel helpless. You can’t fix failure. You can’t make it un-happen.  That’s what makes failure feel so very risky.

But here’s the secret. You are supposed to fail.  Often.  I have little failures every day.  I slopped my coffee out of my cup.  I didn’t save that document I was working on before my computer decided my software needed to be updated right now.  I forgot my son’s residency card that I must have in order to be seen by the dentist.  Some of my failures are bigger than others, but they all have their purpose.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.  ~~ JK Rowling

Let me tell you, people, I am definitely living.

It’s not that we fail, it’s what we learn from the failure. It’s how we coach our children (and ourselves) into learning from their failures.

Daddy Batman had it right. We fall so we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

So how do we teach our kids to pick themselves back up?

One of our family’s (especially E’s) favorite television shows is Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel.  One of the refrains of the Mythbuster team of Adam and Jamie is “Failure is always an option.”  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you watch an episode. (Full episodes are available at  The Mythbusters take an urban legend or pop culture myth and try to replicate it to either bust the myth or to prove it as plausible or true.  They have at least one fail in every episode.  And they revel in how spectacularly they have failed.

Then they break it down.  Adam and Jamie sit down and go over what parts of their project failed. Then they talk about what worked. And most importantly, they talk about what to improve/change/scrap for the next time.

There is always, always a next time.

They continue to try until they have proved the myth to be true or not.  They celebrate their success and they talk about their failure.  They continue to break it down: what worked well; what could be improved.  They even take past failures and apply those lessons to current myths they are busting.

What would happen if we also reveled in our failures? If we really took a look at what went wrong rather than pushing it out of our minds as quickly as we possibly can?  Would we have a more successful society?  Would we live more creatively?  Would we be happier?

The short answer is “I don’t know.”

More research needs to done. By each and every parent.  We need to actually weigh the risks and the rewards of our decisions, parenting and personal, instead of going instantly to the path of least risk.  Sometimes the risks pay off, as I will share in a future post, and sometime we fall.  It’s how we pick ourselves back up that counts.

And I leave you with these lyrics from a classic Nat King Cole song.  Funny how they were true then and they are true now.

Pick yourself up,
Take a deep breath,
Dust yourself off.
And start all over again

Nothing’s impossible, I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up, dust myself off
And start all over again

Don’t lose your confidence if you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off
And start all over again

2 responses to “Failure As An Option”

  1. […] while we are talking about “parenting risks” (from my articles Failure as an Option and Free Range Parenting) let me tell you a little story about letting your child take a BIG risk […]


  2. […] is a tricky one and it tied in with letting them take risks.  As I noted previously, knowing your child is going to fail and then letting it happen is one of the hardest things […]


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