If our children fail, does that make us failures as parents?

I simply don’t do failure well.

It’s even worse when I perceive that my children have failed.

I know failure is a natural part of everyone’s life. But I still beat myself up when I fail. And when my children fail, I take on their failure as if their failure makes me a failure as a parent.


The Thank-You Notes

I remember well when one of my daughters got married. She had a beautiful wedding and got lots of gifts.

I passed on my mom’s proper etiquette to my daughter: Thank you notes had to be done promptly. Even though Dear Abby said you had a year to get them done, this mother said 6 months max. (But I preferred the next day.)

My lovely daughter did not share my opinion.

As month after month continued with no notes in the mail, I continued to nag and stress. Nothing worked.

One day I was working out with a friend. She asked me, “When do you think Susie is going to send me a thank you note?”

Now, if I had been quick-witted in that moment, I could have replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her?”

But instead, a wave of shame came over me. I felt like the bad mother. I took on my daughter’s failure. She was the one who failed to be prompt, yet in my mind, I was the one who failed.

Why do we as parents—as moms—do this? If our child fails a test or doesn’t get invited to a party or makes poor life choices, we don’t see it as a learning experience for them. We so often see it as our failure.

What didn’t we do to prepare them? What did we not teach them about making friends? What? What? What? I think 98 percent of moms think this way. And quite frankly, society often times puts the blame on us.


How to Get Past Fear of Failure

So what’s a mom to do?

Fear of failure can have a devastating effect on your life. You won’t try new things.  You won’t encourage your kids to try new things. Both you and your kids miss so many opportunities. You live small, and when the going gets tough, you drop out. Is this a life skill you want to pass along to your children?

When I am faced with failure (my own or my child’s), I try very hard to remember three things:

  1. Failure is always a learning experience. Every failure. Every time. Don’t let failure stop you in your tracks never to start again. Failure is a call to get creative and to find another way?
  2. Embrace imperfection. Perfection is an impossible standard. If you try to be the perfect parent, you’ll set an impossible standard for your kids to achieve. But when your kids see you fail and pick yourself back up, it gives them permission to do so too.
  3. Failure is forgivable. Because your children are learning to live an adult life, you have to expect some failure along the way. The key is help your children treat themselves kindly even when they fail. (This is good advice for mom too!)


How to Get Your Child Past Fear of Failure

So, what do you do when you feel the angst of your children’s failure? Here are seven simple reminders:

  1. Give your child permission to fail. It’s too much pressure to be perfect all the time. (And yes, the thank you notes finally got written—9 months after the event. We all lived.)
  2. As long as you learn something from the experience, it’s not a failure. It is a life lesson learned the hard way. Most of life’s lessons are learned this way!
  3. Let your children see you use a failed experience to build onto your next adventure. How you face failure will teach your children how to face failure.
  4. Everybody was once a beginner with everything they’ve ever done in life. Think about how you learned to drive a car. You probably failed when you first tried to drive, but it’s the only way you learned. If you gave up (or your parents took over) the first time you made a mistake, you would have never learned how to drive. You would have been stuck in your driveway for the rest of your life. You don’t want that for your child.
  5. Dare to be average sometimes. If you’re either perfect or not good enough, then you’re going to feel not good enough almost all the time. That is a miserable way to live. Admit to your child when you make a mistake. It will give your child strength to be imperfect too.
  6. Just because you or your child fails doesn’t mean you’re a failure. The people who succeed the most fail the most too. Babe Ruth held the career home run record for decades. He also held the career strike out record.
  7. Your child’s failure is NOT your failure. It is their failure and they have to “own it.” You don’t. Especially as our children head out into the world away from our homes, they have to take responsibility for their own actions. You know you did all you could do to raise them right, but you are not the only influence in their lives. It’s now up to them.

The next time you are faced with failure, embrace it, learn from it. I will.


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 Janet Byington I’m Janet Byington, a former school administrator who helps parents build confidence, motivation, and mental toughness in their soon-to-be college students. Work with me.


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