What do you consider to be one of the best gifts you can give your child? What comes to mind?
Of course, we want to give our kids everything they need, and then more. Lego sets, electronic devices, Robux, and VBucks, just to name a few. Not to mention trips to Disney World, Universal Studios, and amusement parks.
But what about the things beyond material possessions and excursions?
What do we really want our kids to have in their possession, not only as a child, but as they go through life? I hope the qualities of compassion, empathy, resilience, integrity are at the top of your list.
I have another gift to add. A gift that I’ve been working on giving myself. A gift that might seem like it’s not a gift at all, but a burden. And truly, it can be either. It just depends on how you unwrap it and how you use it that determines whether it’s a gift or a burden.
The gift I’m giving myself, and teaching my son that it is a gift, is the gift of failure.
In the last few months, I’ve been reading and reflecting a lot about failure. Currently, I’m reading Failing Forward by John Maxwell. In this personal quest, I am learning so much about my fear of failing, my deeply-rooted conviction that I need to succeed on my first try, and my paralysis at trying new things or establishing new habits because of a fear of failure. There are far too many areas of my life where I hide in the shadows of comfortable complacency, rather that strive to improve what I really desire, because I’m terrified of trying my hardest, and failing.
Truth be told, it’s not the failing that really bothers me. It’s the inaccurate perspective that I have that if others see me try and fail, I will be scrutinized. Judged. Humiliated. A disappointment. And without realizing it, I’m passing that burden of unrealism down to my son. That is why I must give him the gift of failure.
I must teach him that it is completely acceptable to give it your all and not succeed the first time. Or the second time. Hell, the 100th time. What is not okay is to not try. It’s not okay to get so wrapped up in the failure that you don’t recognize the effort or the lesson or the opportunity to use what the failure taught you to actually make more substantial progress. An example of this kind of progress happened last night.
My 10-year-old son, Tommy, has a lot of things he’s passionate about pursuing. Reading, vlogging, Roblox, politics, Southwest airlines, raising chickens, and tending to gerbils are a few. He is also passionate about cooking and baking. We’re not talking about simple recipes either. All day, use-every-bowl-in-the-house, beat egg-whites-into-stiff-peaks, type recipes. Usually I would be near to give advice (usually unsolicited), or step in when things got difficult or I could see a mistake was looming.
But yesterday, I took a different approach. I stayed out of the kitchen. Completely. He didn’t ask for help and I didn’t muscle my way in to make sure he was doing things the right way. Was it in part because I have grown weary of these kitchen marathons? Absolutely. But there was another reason. If I am there every step of the way, how is that ultimately helping him? How will he really learn if I intervene every time he’s about to make a mistake? What am I going to do, hold his hand every time he cooks to make sure he doesn’t make a mistake? No thank you, Marie Barone.
So I stayed out of it. And things were going well for the 6 hour cupcakes. That’s right, 6 HOURS. Tommy began the final step of piping his homemade chocolate buttercream frosting on each cupcake. I passed by as he swirled over each one and averted my eyes from the kitchen disaster. (Another gift I’m giving Tommy is Mom Doesn’t Clean the Kitchen After You Cook. More on that in another post.)
Suddenly, I heard a yell. Rushing back to the kitchen, I expected to see a horrendous disaster. Cupcakes on the floor or frosting on the ceiling–you know the typical signs that a kid is cooking. But the only thing I found was Tommy standing by his cupcakes, silently shaking his head. When I asked what happened, he replied, “Just look at them.”
Friends, I’ve seen cupcakes that were in worse state that those Tommy had made. I’ve MADE cupcakes that look worse. His cry of frustration was because his frosting had not held the form from the piping bag. It oozed and lost all shape and became more of a glaze than a frosting.
“Is it because your frosting lost its shape?”
I started with my usual pep talk, “You’ve Never Done This Before So Don’t Be Hard On Yourself,” but then thought about my own efforts to grow from failing. So I switched it up.
“Tell me how you made your frosting. Did you follow the recipe?”
“Yes but it said only 2 tablespoons of milk and it was still really powdery so I added more.”
“How much more?”
And there’s the moment. The lesson. The piece that will go with him into future baking and frosting sessions that will help him progress because of his failure.
“You probably did need more milk. But when you add milk, you can only add a little at a time. Otherwise it becomes too runny. Congratulations, you just made a mistake that will make you a better baker.”
But the exchange didn’t end here. Tommy followed up with this comment which proves I need to continue to fail for his sake, as well as mine.
He said, “I just don’t want to disappoint you guys.”
Oh dear heart. Disappoint? How could you disappoint? You just attempted a complicated recipe by yourself, and besides a slight misstep, you succeeded. You stretched your culinary skills independently. You made decisions, that didn’t lead you to what you had pictured in your mind, but will lead you to the correct decisions in the future. That is not a disappointment. That is progress. That is success.
And what did your mother learn? Your mother learned she could take a step back. Your mother learned that for you to succeed, she has to let you fail. She learned that if she hovers and intercedes at every crossroad, she will ultimately steal your chance to build resilience. She learned through you that she too can make a misstep and she is not disappointing anyone. She is finding her own path to progress.
In the end, failure can be the gift that keeps on giving.