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Four Parenting Fails that Are Really Wins

I have found myself speaking to lots of parents in 2016. My audiences were filled with caring and engaged moms and dads.

As I listened to questions from these parents, however, I noticed a pattern. Many were working parents who feared they had failed their children. They were concerned their kids will grow up unhappy, disappointed, unready or ill-equipped for life and possibly even need therapy as young adults. Clearly, these parents saw some symptoms in their kids which they believe may result in angst.

I became relieved, however, when I heard their concerns. They said things like:

  • I didn’t have the time to play with my kids outside.
  • I wasn’t able to help them with their homework.
  • I couldn’t run their permission slip to school when they forgot it.
  • I didn’t get them the Xbox game they wanted.

On the surface, these concerns sound like parenting “fails.”

I believe, however, that if we handle them well, these “fails” can actually become “wins” for the whole family. Let me explain why and how.

photo credit: DSC_8881.JPG via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_8881.JPG via photopin (license)

Fail #1: I didn’t have time to play with my kids outside.

I loved playing with my kids outside when they were young. At times, however, I just wasn’t able to join them. For a long time, I felt guilty; like I failed. At times, perhaps I did. But there are situations when this can be a success. When parents go outside with kids, the kids usually default to the parent to “run the show.” What if you said, “I can’t go out to play right now, but let’s plan to play outside tomorrow, as soon as I get home from work. How about you go out and create a game to play with your friends? I can’t wait to hear what you come up with.”

Fail #2: I wasn’t able to help them with their homework.

As my children grew older, I became less and less helpful with their homework. While I did want time with them, algebra and chemistry were not my strong suits. I later discovered this was actually good news. I expressed my desire to help them, but found new ways to do so—providing a snack, some music and maybe even an ice cream trip as a reward later than night. But in not doing their homework with them, they learned to “own” it themselves. They practiced metacognition and learned so much more without my intervention. I became their fun “quizzer” but not their problem-solver.

Fail #3: I couldn’t run their permission slip to school when they forgot it.

It always feels good when we can “save the day” and drive that permission slip or those gym shorts to school when our kids forget them. However, we all know that constantly rescuing our children disables them from truly learning about the consequences for neglectfulness or laziness. You might text something like this: “Sweetheart, I know this is important, but I can’t neglect my responsibilities at work because you forgot yours. I’m sorry. Let’s talk tonight about how we can avoid this problem in the future.”

Fail #4: I didn’t get them the Xbox game they wanted.

No parent likes disappointing their kids. When they ask for a game or gadget, we feel like failures if we refuse to get it for them. But always giving them what they want can produce spoiled brats. They never learn to delay gratification. It doesn’t prepare them for adulthood when they certainly won’t get all they want right away. What if you discussed this issue and said, “I can’t get the gadget you want right now. But let me work with you to save some money and we can go in half and half on it later.” Or, perhaps you could buy the item they want but create your own “lay away” plan, so they can learn to pay for it themselves over time?

Changing Our Ways . . .

It seems to me like we need to change how we evaluate parenting success. Years ago, parents felt successful when they gave their children everything they needed. Today, we only feel that way when we give them all they want.

We are actually successful when we CAN’T do everything for our children. Let’s focus on needs—not wants. And what they really need are moms and dads who see the long-term and build skills in them they’ll need as adults.


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Four Parenting Fails that Are Really Wins