Let Them Fail

Being achievement-oriented with perfectionistic tendencies, I have read enough parenting books and articles to know early on that I would need to make a conscious effort to allow my children opportunities to fail.


I truly believe that getting good at making mistakes is a key element to being successful in life.  It wasn’t so hard when they were little and the stakes where low, but as my children get older it gets harder and harder to bite my tongue, sit back, and let them roll with the punches.  I still do it, mind you, but finding that proper balance between being supportive and being a crutch is is a much finer line.

A few weekends ago, my resolve was really put to the test.  My son is in his first year of competitive gymnastics.  This whole new world that has opened up to us (FYI: Its called a leo NOT a leotard…and oh btw, and its $100 for the 6″x6″ piece of stretchy fabric ::sideeye::) has been fun, exciting, and chalk full of learning opportunities at every bend. In January, my son and some boys from his team competed in a large regional competition at the XL Center.  His previous competition was a much smaller, local one so this felt a lot like the “real deal”.  At his first comp he came home with fistfuls of ribbons and bursting with pride.  By all accounts, his performance and scores had improved significantly at this next meet, but the competition in his age group was much stiffer.

At the end of the day all the children and spectators gather in a room for the announcement of the winners in the various categories and the presentation of metals.  My stomach was in knots knowing how close it was going to be.  As the announcements when on and the younger categories were completed, the room started to fill with the sound of jingling metals around the necks of very happy children.  I could feel how badly my son wanted one from rows away and I wanted it for him, too.

I “joked” with my wife about buying one off of the officials, just in case.

Well, his age group came and went and not a single metal was awarded to my sweet boy.  I am far from an ‘everyone-gets-a-trophy’ mom, but the way gymnastics awards are given (one for each of several categories) it felt a whole lot like every child got a trophy except mine.  Many children had 4, 5, or 6 metals adorning their necks.  In fact, all the other boys on his team had metaled in at least one category…except him.

I kept looking over at him, with my mama-bear heart quivering, just waiting for the tears.  But, they never came. A glimmer of disappointment in his eye, perhaps, but mostly what I could see between the bobbing heads of all the kids around him was a chin up, goofing around, grin.

We have been talking for years about how this moment would come. We practiced being a good loser during family board games and rec soccer league. But this moment was really something different – so much bigger and so many more eyes than Connect 4 with mom in the living room.  And yet, there he was, putting practice to action, and doing it.

By the time the award ceremony was over and I finally got my arms around him he was cheerful as ever – with a metal around his neck.  Turns out, one of the other boys on his team won several and gave my son one of his. All was right in the world.


On the drive home from the meet, we were chatting about the day and decompressing a bit when he said, “Today felt like a lot of honor.”

I was blown away by his choice of words.  ‘Honor’ – such a great, powerful word and, honestly, not one that finds its way into my vocabulary often, but here it was coming out of the mouth of my 9 year old.

He continued, “I didn’t win any metals from gymnastics, but [teammate] wouldn’t have given me one of his if I wasn’t a good friend.  I feel honored that he gave this to me.  Almost more than if I had won it myself.”

After swallowing the lump in my throat I responded, “You are so right, buddy.  That metal says a lot about the boy who gave it to you AND it says a lot about you.”

I think we pulled out a pretty big win that day, after all.

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