Jessica Lahey’s ‘The Gift of Failure’ Teaches Parents To Just Let Go
September 10, 2015, by Kristy
Jessica Lahey’s ‘The Gift of Failure’ Teaches Parents To Just Let Go
September 10, 2015, by Kristy

One of the hardest parts of being a parent – for me anyway – is the gap between what we want to do, and what we must do in order for our children to grow into successful, happy, well-adjusted people. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids, and all I wish for them is to be happy, but as their mom, it is often my job to do the tough thing – to say no, to take them for their shots, to push them to do something they’d rather not. It is a really tough part of the job, and it’s only natural that it can lead to wanting to help our kids and baby them as much as we can in other areas. Sown with good intentions, there lies our path to the over-parenting crisis we are facing as a country.

>> Don’t believe me? Check out the Holderness take on Helicopter Parenting with their new parody “Every Day I’m Hovering” … they’ll tell you! (also embedded below)

Thankfully it’s a problem that is finally being addressed, and it’s one of the reasons that I am mildly obsessed with Jessica Lahey and her new book, The Gift of Failure. She recently spoke with NPR, alongside Julie Lythcott-Haims (author of the similarly-themed How To Raise An Adult) about helicopter parenting and it’s effects. I loved this exchange:

Can parents help reverse the tide when it comes to their kids’ experience in school?

Lahey: Watch what happens when you go to a teacher and say, “I’d like to give my child some increased autonomy this year, so I won’t be meddling in his homework and I’d like for you to hold him accountable for the consequences of his mistakes.” You will have an admirer for life.

It’s something we all want to do, and know we should – let our kids make mistakes and fail and mess up, so that they can learn. But man, it’s hard. Even Lahey acknowledges that it’s sometimes tough to take her own advice. Consider this excerpt from a recent post on the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog, written by Lahey:

I don’t blame parents when this happens, because I know that even seasoned parenting and child development professionals lose perspective when chaos strikes at home.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, father and adolescence expert, offered me reassuring professional advice in one breath (“All parents go through rough patches with their kids, but sometimes the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that this too shall pass”) but admitted in the next that he has failed to maintain any sense of perspective when it comes to his own children (“Our son went through a period where he was inconsolable; I thought I’d lose my mind”).

All of this hovering and micro-managing comes from a good-hearted place of love, there’s no question. But just as we are all guilty of placing more importance on product than process, on getting the right answer instead of thinking for oneself, on winning than growing … we all must do our part to stop this train. It does nobody any good – parents are stressed, kids are stressed, and perhaps even more importantly, they are losing out on amazing opportunities to fail and learn and grow.

While there are obviously lots of things we can and should be doing to give our kids a breathing room, guess what Jessica Lahey did as a child, and later did for her own children? That’s right, they all went to camp. Because she knows, just like we all do, that there is no better way for a child to get away, unplug, and learn about themselves than in the nurturing environment of a sleepaway camp. Far from home, without their phones, away from teachers and tests and scores, kids can just … be. They can try new things without worrying about achievement. They can even fail, and supported by their counselors and fellow campers, they will learn to persevere, working on something until they master it. And when they do? It will be all their own. It won’t belong to anyone but them. And that confidence, that glow, will stay with them not just all summer, not just all year, but their whole lives through.

As a parent, it’s so hard to let go. It’s hard to say goodbye, and it’s hard to watch our kids struggle. But if we want to see the excitement and pride of accomplishment on their own terms, we have to learn to let go.

And now, for your viewing pleasure … Copter Mommy:

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