When Our Kids Fail


I spend a lot of time in sessions with parents, and in my writings as well, encouraging parents of adults to let go. We cannot rescue our kids, especially after they become adults. We have to let them find their way. But sometimes that is really hard to do, especially when they fail.

“Jake” is a kind-hearted, highly intelligent high school senior with a mix of poor organizational abilities and social anxiety. His parents came to talk to me recently, because Jake has had a lot of failures lately, and his parents hurt for him deeply. He fails classes because he misses deadlines, even when he understands the coursework. He won’t be getting credit for his math class this year. And he’ll be starting his adult life on the heels of repeated disappointment in himself. He started a job, and was fired for his awkward interactions with customers and for forgetting important steps in his workflow. His parents are facing the fact that there may be nothing they can do. They put Jake in treatment. He sees a therapist. But he still has problems and he doesn’t seem to function up to his potential. His parents are accepting that they may have to watch him struggle and fail, and they are simply going to have to accept it.

Failure is a normal part of life. Someone is going to get cut during tryouts. Someone is going to bomb the test. We can’t all win at everything all the time. And yet, the knowledge that failure is expected doesn’t prevent the parent of a kid who fails from feeling helpless and maybe responsible for the failure.

Parents raise kids and throughout development, try to teach them the skills they need. When failure happens, parents often wonder if they left out some vital lesson.

            Did I not teach her to strive harder? To give her absolute best?

            Maybe I should have hired a tutor for the SAT.

            Perhaps I let him down by leaving him to figure this out on his own.

While it’s natural for parents to care and to hurt when their children hurt, it’s also important to remember that failure isn’t something to be avoided. Not only is failure inevitable, failure is a great teacher. Failure is often necessary for children, teens, and new adults to truly learn what they need to know. Without failure, they may not grow.

So we have to let go and let them fail. Even when it’s scary or painful. Even when we are parenting a kid who seems to lose more than others.

Jake has many strengths, and his recent failures can help him find the career and the life that fit best for him. He’ll be okay, as long as his parents continue to see him as capable and lovable.

What can we do when our kids struggle and fail? We can love them unconditionally and walk through it with them. That’s all we can do, but for a kid facing failure, it’s everything.

Posted on December 11, 2017 .