Teaching Our Kids to Overcome Failure
As parents, we are intricately tied to our children’s emotions, riding the waves right along with them. We want everything to work out in their favor. We want them to feel good about themselves. We want their dreams to manifest. But as adults, with much more life experience, we know that’s not how life works. Life sometimes punches us in the gut. And when our children are suffering, we suffer too.
Many years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about twenty-year-olds who were depressed, despite having grown up in seemingly perfect families. At first, the therapist was perplexed, wondering what had gone wrong. After all, they had supportive and loving parents and were financially well-off. If the child didn’t do well in math, they got tutors. If the child needed extra conditioning sessions in sports, they worked with a personal coach. The parents had done their best to fix their children’s mistakes, paving the road to ensure a smooth journey. What the therapist soon discovered was that these helicopter parents, in their attempts to protect their kids from failure and rejection, deprived their offspring of one of the most important ingredients to success: resilience.
Recently, things did not work out in my seventeen-year-old daughter’s favor when she found out that she didn’t make the high school sports team she had been working so hard for. The week-long tryouts were intense and created a lot of stress in our house. I gave many pep talks and tried to encourage her not to waste her time worrying about the outcome. On the dreaded day, moments before she heard the disappointing news, I was pacing around my house, trembling in fear and praying for her. When I finally got the call, her voice on the other end of the phone was hysterical, and my heart fell to the floor. Knowing how important it was for me to be strong for her, I had to do some soul searching myself, so that I could lift her spirits and help her rise above her circumstances.
My daughter had an important decision to make. One, as a junior, she could play on the JV team with the other underclassmen, work her ass off both on and off the field, and ultimately prove to her coach and herself that she could excel and become a dominant player. Two, she could quit and devote her energy to activities that make her feel good. Coaches and teachers play powerful positions in the lives of children. With one word, they can make or break a kid. This coach destroyed my child’s self-esteem, and so, my daughter decided that it was time to move on from playing her favorite sport. I told her that I support whatever decision she makes. Right now, as I write this post, the wound is still fresh and raw, even though I know that time will heal it.
The question remains, will the scar hold her back or propel her forward? How do we teach our children to believe in themselves when external forces are telling them the opposite? This is probably the greatest test of all: learning how to be resilient and bounce back after failure and rejection. Everyone is going to face rejection at some point. It’s part of life. For those young adults written about in the New York Times article, it seems their parents had failed them by not allowing their kids the opportunity to build their resilience muscles. Nothing feels worse than failing, but on the same note, finding success after you’ve been kicked to the ground is the greatest gift of all. If life is a game, we’re all going to lose at some point, but the true winners keep playing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue playing the same game where you previously felt rejection. Find a new game––if that’s what fuels you. Most of all, define yourself by your own set of standards, not the standards set by others. We are the creators of our lives, not the victims of our circumstances. So I will tell my daughter to get back out there on the field of life and be a creator––and work toward becoming the best version of herself. Victory comes to those who love themselves first, those who move through life with compassion, and those who rewrite their stories as many times as it takes to become the person they came here to be. Instead of being angry at the coach who, metaphorically speaking, slapped my daughter across the face, I will thank her (in my mind, of course) for the lesson, the lesson that I am confident she will one day triumph over.