“The one day you don’t ask me if I’ve got every little thing is the day I forget them.” Thirteen-year-old “Jack’s” voice rose as his eyes, shoulders and mood plummeted. The next few hours of Jack’s life began to take shape in his mind, and they didn’t look good.
Not a coincidence, I thought. I bet you don’t forget your cleats again. But all my husband and I did was tell Jack there was nothing to be done about it now. We didn’t get upset, or raise our voices. We simply informed him that he would have to present himself to his coach, tell him he’d forgotten his cleats and face the consequences.
As soon as Jack skulked out of the minivan in his uniform and his sneakers, I grabbed my phone and sent a message to Jessica Lahey,* author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. I told her what happened, letting her know that she’d inspired me to stop running through the “Do you have…?” list with Jack as I always had prior to his soccer games. He is, after all, just a few months shy of fourteen years old. Shouldn’t he be able to collect all his gear for a game on his own?
Yes, I believe he should. But I’d never given him the chance to carry this responsibility before.
The Gift of Failure takes on the American trend—one might even call it a crisis—of overparenting. Writer, speaker, middle-school teacher and mother to two boys, Jessica expands on her excellent writing in the New York Times and The Atlantic to offer breathing room to parents and kids struggling to keep up with crazy schedules, hyper-competitive parenting and other pressures that never seem to let up. In The Gift of Failure, she explains how our kids are capable of more responsibility than many of us parents allow seem willing to let them take on. By not granting our kids that responsibility, we’re depriving them of the much-needed experiences of trying, failing and learning how to recover. Our kids need to build, over time, the necessary skills and confidence to succeed on their own so that they don’t end up living in our basements when they’re thirty-five years old. (My words, not Jessica’s.) And that means we have to allow them to fail.
How does this philosophy play out in practice?