Over-parenting, helicopter parenting, or being an excessively involved parent in our child’s life is a relatively new concept in the history of parenting. The human species is over 60,000 years old, however, in the past 100 years we have come to the idea that what is needed to be a perfect parent is parenting experts. Doctors, therapists and professional child care providers were introduced to American society in the early 1920’s as parenting experts. Mothers at that time were told they needed the advice of doctors to properly raise their children. This advice has been carried through the years and is a reason why inadvertently we have been teaching our children to fear failure.
Jessica Lahey’s book, The Gift of Failure, is the voice of reason in the culture of over parenting. She gives parents permission to listen to their own hearts and leave behind the loud, over-bearing voice of the American culture. The voice that says we need to protect and control our children because they are vulnerable creatures. Ms. Lahey lets us see that learning to let go of the over control of our children is a journey, a dance between parent and child.
The Gift of Failure is written so a parent can pick the book up and easily relate to the stories Ms. Lahey tells to illustrate her points. She gives some very practical and do-able advice about why it’s important to allow our children to fail and how as parents our job is to teach our kids how to see the lesson in the mistake, turning the mistake into success.
The Gift of Failure demonstrates the importance of allowing our children to fail and guiding them through the failures into taking risks. Children can learn how to be autonomous and competent thus intrinsic motivation increases. Ms. Lahey references many studies throughout the book to support the Autonomy Supportive philosophy of parenting. Autonomy Supportive parenting is described as:
- Parent is not neglectful or permissive,
- Parent sets specific and clear expectations,
- Parent is physically and emotionally present and
- Parent offers guidance when kids get frustrated or need redirection.
She acknowledges that if you are a parent who has a habit of over parenting your child, building this new habit of letting go is going to take time and actual practice. In a chapter dedicated to grades, she offers this advice to practice letting go,
When you feel yourself taking over offering too much advice, go into the other room for a drink of water or excuse yourself to use the bathroom. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself of the goal: autonomy over self-directed goals leads to intrinsic motivation, which leads to better learning and life success. And then breathe.
As a former middle school teacher, I can relate with Ms. Lahey’s ability in describing the middle school years of pre-teens and teens being scattered and unorganized in their behavior and thinking. She does a thorough job of describing the executive functioning skills and how those skills are built in the middle school years. The art of letting go and allowing your child to fail needs to be embraced during the middle school years. Kids who are bailed out from their mistakes by their parents develop their executive functioning skills much more slowly than kids that fail and learn from their mistakes. The middle school years are the time to learn these skills as high school is much less forgiving.
I had this book sitting by my bedside for over three weeks. It finally took an undisturbed weekend at the lake for me to cruise through the 272 pages of this book. I would recommend The Gift of Failure to parents who are looking for ideas, support and advice that will allow them to see that letting go is good for the relationship between parent and child. The overall importance of letting go of control of our children is so that they can achieve their own goals, make their own mistakes and build a life of autonomy away from us. This way of parenting can be carried on so that our children can do the same for their own children and for generations to come.