Why I hope my children fail

As parents embrace the concept of grit and preparing kids for the real world, one writer wishes failure for his children. How should parents reframe failure into a positive experience for kids?

Adam Davy/AP
Failure is an option: Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (r.) and defender Younes Kaboul (l.) fail to stop Southampton's Jay Rodriguez, from scoring his team's opening goal during the English Premier League match at White Hart Lane, London, on Sunday March 23.

Ultimately, I wish my future children more success than failure, but I hope life doesn’t cheat them out of a healthy dose of disappointment. Having spent most of my adult life working with kids of all ages as a tutor, a mentor, a teacher, and a coach, I have come to understand that growth is not possible without failure. And I want my children to be constantly growing.

The children who struggle the most in school, in relationships, and with realizing their dreams are not the ones who fail. They are the ones so terrified of failing that they never try.

I want to redefine the way we look at failure. More specifically, I want to change the way adults discuss failure with children. By itself, failure is not deserving of the negative connotations we prescribe it. The act of failing is both inevitable and necessary for success. I do not know of a single successful adult who hasn’t failed, and failed hard.

Teaching kids to avoid failure completely does them an enormous disservice. The error itself should never be the focus of a conversation about failure. What truly matters is how we approach the possibility of failure and how we react to our shortcomings. By failing, I will know that my children have tried. I also will know that they have learned.

Instead of protecting my future children from failure, which is altogether impossible, I intend to teach my children how to fail properly. In fact, my aim is to train them to be experts in the art of failure. 

In this arena I feel wholly qualified. To be totally honest, I am great at failing. I have failed at work and with love, with friendships and with finances. At times I have disappointed people I care about and I have let myself down. But I have learned from every failure. And because I have, I am stronger and more confident about my future success than I ever imagined possible. 

My parents were thoughtful enough to allow me my failures, and I am glad they did. To clarify, my parents never encouraged me to screw up, nor did they set me up to be unsuccessful. They motivated me to try new things. And any time we try new things we are bound to fail. My experiences were my own, and because they were, all the life lessons that came with them were mine as well. 

Much to his amusement, my dad allowed me to fall flat with my first car purchase. He kept his mouth shut when the dirt-brown 1974 Chevy Nova broke down on our test drive. He looked on in quiet appreciation as pieces of the car fell off in my hand as I inspected it. He let me buy that car at sixteen-years-old because it was my money and it is what I wanted to do.

He didn’t give me a lecture about financial responsibility or the importance of saving. We didn’t discuss compound interest or safety issues as we drove the sputtering, heaping mess home. Instead, he lent a hand filling out the appropriate paperwork and counting out every last dollar of my savings to buy a thirty-year old car that was more rust than it was car. 

To this day, I am grateful for every skill I learned as a result of having an undependable car. Because of that car I know how to fix flat tires, reupholster seats, and adjust faulty carburetors. I understand the importance of being punctual, and thanking strangers for help. I know how to install a car stereo, jump a battery, and put out an electrical fire.

Over the course of the five years I owned that car, I learned a life’s worth of lessons. What terrifies me most is the possibility of my children never failing in their youth. We must help kids accept that failure is a likely outcome of any endeavor. Rejecting the possibility of failure is a form of denial. The fear of failure is far more destructive than failure itself.

Entire lives are wasted, paralyzed by the thought that failure is not an option. Failure is an option, and sometimes a great one. After all, isn’t it better to endeavor and fail than never attempt? 

Failure teaches us how to respond to adversity and take on new challenges. It helps us learn from our mistakes and apologize with sincerity when we need to. We are only left with two options after we fail: we can give up or we can reflect on our experience, learn from it, and press on wiser than we were before.

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