Teaching our Children How to Fail
"The test of observance of Christ's teachings is our consciousness of our failure to attain an ideal perfection. The degree to which we draw near this perfection cannot be seen; all we can see is the extent of our deviation." —Leo Tolstoy
New York City kids seem born to succeed. They take tests for preschool, tests for entering high school, and tests for college. The pressure starts early to perform well, to secure a place in a coveted school, private or public. As a parent in the city, I feel the pressure to ensure that my children are enrolled in the right schools and most advantageous activities. Are we reading to them enough? Should we be pushing sports activities or music? Should they be reading more by now? And my children are only three and six!
We believe that if we do our parenting job right, our children will go to college, begin satisfying careers, and form healthy, stable relationships. At that point we will look upon our children and breathe a sigh of relief.
But as I reflect on this quote from Tolstoy, I am reminded that teaching our children how to succeed is simple. Perfection is a straightforward goal. Achievement is a basic equation of talents plus time plus work. The more challenging lesson and one that is so integral to our faith is how to fail. Failure is universal. Failure is inevitable. How will my children handle failure when they miss the mark?
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." —St. Paul
There are two ways to teach this gospel truth.
The first approach:
We shame our children when they sin.
We express our bitter disappointment in their behavior.
We withhold love and communication when they do not follow our checklist to success.
These children will know that they are sinners. These children will know that they have no hope for perfection.
The second approach:
We express grace for each other, giving second chances, and offering apologies liberally.
We refuse to break connection over any decision, no matter how vile.
We start each day with the knowledge that we will fail at something, but we will keep loving, no matter what.
These children will know that they are sinners. These children will know that they have no hope for perfection. But these children will know that none of us do. These children will not equate love with performance, but they will know that love is a product of grace.
And that is what makes us Christian.
How can I show grace to my children without being too permissive? What does grace look like within a framework of strong discipline?