Friday, February 10, 2012

Failure *is* an option

                                                       Miss A dressed as Wonder Woman

Last night at bedtime there were tears. Many, many tears. Tired and frustrated tears.

Miss A was very nervous because she hadn't had enough time to study her spelling words. She sobbed into her pillow and moaned with mounting anxiety that if she didn't do well on the test she wouldn't get a good education and wouldn't go to college and would never have a good job.

She's seven.
She wasn't kidding or exaggerating--her fears were real, her sadness deep.
She was terrified of failure.

This began earlier in the week when Miss A's teacher told me that because Miss A had scored a perfect mark on her spelling pre-test she could instead study ten words of her own choosing for the test on Friday. Miss A was thrilled that she got to challenge herself and she made her list with gusto,  selecting words like "despicable" "reprehensible", "geometry", "narrative" and "communication".

And then, after a long day of learning and cheer team practice, she realized she did not in fact know how to spell all of her challenge words--and her world collapsed. 

It is hard to watch your child spiral off into anxiety. It is especially hard to watch your first-born slip ever deeper into the trap of perfection. I won't go into the details of my family history here, but I will say we have a pattern of eldest children bearing the emotional brunt of being the caretakers, being the hold-it-togethers, being the successful-everything-is-normal face of the family unit. This burden has not served our family members well and it is one that I am bound and determined to help my child escape.

This is also the parenting issue where I feel the most pressure to help her succeed--to help her succeed at failure. Perhaps because of our family history I am the most squeamish about Miss A and her avoidance of failure. It is true that most things come easily to her. She is a gifted athlete in her chosen sport, she is exceptionally bright, she makes friends wherever she goes and exhibits leadership qualities. She is a star.

But even stars can fall and I need her to know, to experience firsthand, that she can fail and the world will not end.

My beautiful girl: You do not need to be the best at everything. You do not need to succeed on the first try. You do not need to conquer a task before anyone else does.

My beautiful girl:  You will succeed at many things, and you will fail at some things. Failure is an opportunity to see how much the people around you care for you. We will be there to help you get back on your feet, to support you in your efforts and to celebrate your progress. Always.

1 comment:

  1. I was her. Well, not nearly as cute in my Wonder Woman underoos (which I wore around like a costume...) but I surely hated to fail. And a lot of things came easily to me so it was easy not to fail. But, I do recall one day finding some old workbooks of my Dad's from when he was little. And in it I found where he repeatedly failed his long division assignments. I am pretty sure I breathed a big internal sigh of relief that he had failed a few times and still turned out ok. Did it save me completely from grade anxiety? Heck no. Do I still lament the fact that I made one B ever in college during two bachelor's degrees and two master's degrees? Yes, I do. Silly, as if anyone CARES what my GPA was in college (although my sister and I were comparing SAT scores and GRE scores again just the other day. So sad.)

    Maybe you can dig up some old stuff of your own that was less than perfect and let her see it..she'll see how well you turned out in spite of it. Of course, assuming you ever did bad on anything :)