By Smarty Guest Blogger Sybil Cohn, Palisades Episcopal School Lower School Director
Failure. Next to snakes, this is my number one fear in life. It seems there are opportunities for failure at every turn – at work, with family, in relationships, at completing adult obligations, and probably my biggest worry…at parenting. When these parenting “fails” occur, it doesn’t just affect me. This human that I brought into the world, who I love so fiercely and for whom I am responsible, is affected too. This fear of failing as a parent and seeing our children fail has led to a whole new parenting problem. While most have heard of the “Helicopter Parent,” a new term I recently learned was the “Lawnmower Parent.” These parents are those who create a smooth, neat path for their children, ensuring any rocks, bumps, or weeds one might encounter along the way are eliminated.
As a parent, I have indeed been the Helicopter Parent and the Lawnmower Parent a time or two (or more than I care to claim). As an educator, I have seen the harm that these loving, caring, well-intentioned, knowledgeable parents are doing to their children. By hovering over our children to ensure all is right with their world, and eliminating situations in which our children might face adversity, disappointment, or hurt, we are creating a society of children who lack the confidence, resilience, perseverance, and intrinsic motivation to be well-adjusted, independent members of the community. What we seem to have forgotten is that from adversity comes growth.
As part of my ongoing professional development, I read Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure and Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult. Both reads were eye-opening for me in my roles as a parent and an educator. This raising children business is HARD! The day to day challenges often make it difficult to keep our end goal in mind…raising independent children who are prepared to go out into the world. We want and need them to handle those things that knock them down, and have the tools to get back up and carry on, learning from those struggles and failures. In our fast-paced society, keeping the long-term result in mind when the short-term, quick fix is SO much easier, is a challenge. Who has the time to teach a five year-old to tie her shoes, repeatedly, painstakingly going through the steps each time for weeks on end only to have them untie again 30 minutes later because they weren’t tied quite tightly enough in the first place? If I tie the shoes, it only takes 10 seconds. Better yet, I can buy her slip-on shoes and not even deal with those stinking laces. But what is this teaching her? I think the lesson is summed up well in the following picture a friend uses with the parents in her class:
Not only does a child learn that we can do it better than they can, but they also see that we aren’t confident in their ability to learn HOW to do it. Lahey reminds us in her book that “the goal is for children to learn how to do for themselves, not for the task to get done.” This is a lesson that is oh-so hard to remember when you’re just trying to get out the door on time. We have to let our kids try all those time-consuming tasks in order to fail at them, try again, make more mistakes, and get better with each attempt until they finally are able to successfully do it…WITHOUT OUR HELP. End goal.
Another tough aspect of this parenting path is navigating school and, particularly, our relationships with our child’s teachers. As we send a piece of our heart off to someone else to care for them, educate them, and be responsible for them 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, we wonder, “Who could possibly love them, care for them, and look out for their best interests better than me?” As hard as it is to do sometimes, TRUST YOUR TEACHERS! They want what is best for your kiddos. Seeing your child succeed is the most fun part of a teacher’s job. Believe me when I say that we receive no joy in writing the note home or making that phone call about something that happened on the playground, in line, during assembly, or fill-in-the-blank crazy scenario. A teacher uses those bumps in the road – the poor grades, the impulsive hurtful comment, the disagreement with a friend – as teachable moments; a time to say that while a mistake happened or a poor choice was made, here is a better way to handle it when it happens again (because it WILL happen again). If you question a teacher’s methods every time there is an incident or a bad grade or a consequence for your child’s choices, you are sending the message to both your child and the teacher that you don’t trust them. If you intervene and smooth the way every time another child upsets your own, you are sending the message to your child that they can’t solve their own problems. When I walked the halls and visited the classrooms of the teachers at my school, I saw the following:
I was thrilled to see that our teachers are encouraging our students not to be afraid to make mistakes and acknowledging that failure is going to happen but that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It made me smile when I went back to grab a picture of the “Success is not final, failure is not fatal” slogan on the wall and discovered the imperfections of missing letters that had occurred after a few weeks of hanging in a classroom of children where life happens. Though there were mistakes and “failed” letters, the message was still clear. Our kids are going to fail in some form or another, whether it’s failing the spelling test they take on Friday, being unable to open the bag of chips without help at snack time, not sharing the basketball with a child at recess, or any number of big or small failures. Our job as their parent is not to create a world of rainbows and butterflies for them but to empower them to turn their failures into learning opportunities on the path to independence and success.
For more information on PES, or to schedule a campus tour, visit www.pescharlotte.org.
Now Offering Equestrian for grades 3 – 8.
Upcoming Admissions Events
Reading, art and music workshops for parents & children ages 3-5 years. All Storytime Adventures begin at 10 a.m. Space is limited.
October 12, 2018
November 9, 2018
January 11, 2019
February 22, 2019
April 12, 2019
Bring a Friend Days
Students are invited to spend the day at PES and learn more about our school. You do not need to know a current student to attend our Bring A Friend Days.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Monday, October 22, 2018
Friday, March 29, 2019
Experiential Information Sessions
Sunday, November 11, 2018 @ 2 p.m.
Saturday, December 8, 2018 @ 10 a.m.
Every day is an Open House at PES – tours scheduled at your convenience.
Register for any of these events at www.pescharlotte.org/upcoming-events