Partly because of my job, and partly because of all the
“millennial” frustration I see on-line everyday, I’ve come to a conclusion regarding my own kids:
I have to love them enough to let them fail.
Let me clarify. We all want the best for our kids. We want them to grow up happy, healthy, and most of all successful. We put a lot of emphasis on that last bit – successful. Why? Simple. We won’t be around forever, and we want to know that they’re going to be okay when we’re gone. Something that has been bothering me though, is that in trying so hard to make them succeed, we’ve set them up to truly fail.
We’ve made them afraid of failure. It’s as if we’ve come to the conclusion that if they don’t receive recognition or reward for everything they do, their tiny egos won’t be able to handle it. Why are more and more kids presenting with crippling cases of depression and anxiety? Because we don’t let them learn to deal with failure, frustration, and adversity. We don’t let them develop the tools to turn failure into success. We let them skip the work and go straight to the reward, never showing them how they’re suppose to get there.
We can go on and on about how entitled millennials are, how they lack “backbone” and “drive”. How do you think they got that way? Who do you think taught them that they deserve something simply because they want it? At some point, we have to take a look at our own role in how the next generation is coming along. I’m not saying that we can completely control how our kids develop and interact with the world (believe me, I’ve looked into the science. We’re not there). However, we are the examples they learn by. If we treat them as the center of the universe, protect them from every disappointment, convince them that their feelings alone are all that matters at the expense of anyone else’s, well, how the hell do we expect them to turn out?
Here’s a hard fact; not all of our kids are born superstars. As much as we would all love to believe we’ve given birth to mental and physical prodigies, it’s simply not the case. They’re not going to be perfect at everything. Odds of your kid just naturally becoming the top student or athlete in their class are slim to none. At the end of the day, my kids are only truly entitled to two things; a fair chance and the unconditional love of their parents. That’s where letting them fail, letting them lose comes in.
It’s our job to teach them that losing isn’t the end of the world. Wanting something doesn’t equal deserving it. They have to learn that just showing up isn’t enough if they want the trophy or the gold star. The only truly worthwhile participation award is experience. If they want the gold, they’re going to have to work for it.
Letting them experience setback and disappointment doesn’t mean we don’t care. On the contrary, it presents the opportunity to show just how much we do love them. They don’t have to be stars for us to adore them. We already do.
“Okay, buddy, you struck out today. Doesn’t mean you’re not going to get another chance at bat. You want to hit that home run? Start working to make sure you hit that single. You got a D on your spelling test? Can’t say I’m happy about that, but if you put the work in, I know you’ll do better. Let me emphasize that last point: if YOU put the work in.”
I’m not going to do your homework for you. I’m not going to jump up and down and scream at your little league coach that you need more play time when there are other kids who are performing better for the team. If you want to make the starting line-up, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take practice. It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to take sacrifice. You have to make the decision if it’s worth it. I can’t make that decision for you. By the way I still love you”.
I worry that we’ve come to a point in history where we have so many luxuries, so many advances, that we’ve decided that one never needs to want, or to experience setbacks. Here’s the problem – if they never want, what do they have to reach for? if we give our kids everything we want for them, if they develop the attitude that someone else owes them what they want, whether it’s parents, teachers, employers, or government, what happens when we’re gone and all those other establishments have decided otherwise?
This isn’t some profound or new perspective. It’s as old as teaching a man to fish so he can eat everyday. We’ve just lost sight of it. We’ve put more emphasis on material success then personal success. There is a difference. Personal success to me is having the confidence to know that you can handle what comes, that if you get knocked down you’ll find a way to pick yourself back up. It means knowing you’ve earned what you’ve got, however much or little that may be, and knowing that no one can take it from you. It’s being okay that someone else may have a better car, nicer clothes. I’m okay with what I’ve got. However they may have gotten theirs, whether or not I think they deserve it, is immaterial. I can’t focus on how they got theirs. I have to focus on how I can get mine, in a way that does NOT come at the expense of others.
It also means accepting your limitations. So maybe my kid isn’t going to be the greatest baseball player in history. Maybe he’s not going to be a Pulitzer prize-winning writer. I’m fine with that on two conditions; the kid has put as much effort as can be expected into whatever he’s doing, and he knows that while I won’t carry him up the mountain, I’ll be there to catch him when he falls.
Here’s the hook – we have dreams for our kids. Those dreams are not nearly as important as their own. They’re not here for us to live vicariously through their accomplishments or to achieve the dreams we didn’t achieve ourselves. If you want them to succeed, let them fail. Let them know failure isn’t the end, it’s the beginning that leads them to truly understanding what they are capable of. Let them know that even if their dreams aren’t the ones you’d have chosen, you’ll still support them.
Show your kids you believe in them enough to let them fail, because you know whatever may come, they’ve been given the love and support to bounce back. Let them fail so they learn to succeed.