Fail Does Not Equal Failure

My kids are required to have a $500 emergency fund tucked away in the bank and at least a B average in school in order to keep their driving privileges. There are many reasons and lessons to be learned from this. First, if they are in an accident, they are responsible for the insurance deductible to fix their car. Secondly, if they can’t be responsible enough to uphold these requirements, are they responsible enough to follow speed limits and traffic laws? Not to mention creating the habit of having money set aside for an emergency. Or acquiring the consistent discipline of doing work assigned to you and communicating with authority figures even when you don’t want to (sorry Students… that doesn’t stop when you graduate!).

Well, my youngest fell short of these requirements. Alexis had a month’s warning to get on track without suffering any consequences. When the end of March hit, she still had less than $500 in savings, and her grades were still not on par. Just as a disclosure… this girl is smart, and she makes enough money. She’s perfectly capable. So, she lost her driving privilege. And you-know-what hit the fan.

During our heated conversation, she shouted, “You’re right, I failed. I’m just a failure.”


No parent ever wants their kid to feel like a failure. I felt guilty for making her feel that way… for a split second. Then I remembered that she is capable, that the rules are very clear, and she made choices that led to these consequences.

What stood out to me the most is the connection she made between failing and being a failure. This could just be a professional manipulation move on her part, but deep down, I think a lot of people make that connection. When they fail, they feel like they are a failure. I struggle with this. Without even thinking about it. It comes naturally.

After she said that, I wanted to tell her that she didn’t fail, that she just didn’t quite reach the goal because after all, she did have SOME money in the bank, and not ALL of her grades were garbage. I wanted to reassure her that she didn’t really fail. Fail is such a harsh word!

My aunt is one of the most caring and generous and amazingly loving people I know. And she’s a coddler. She will make up every excuse in the book for someone she loves when they don’t quite hit the mark. And I love her for it.

But that’s not me. I want my kids to see the connection between actions and consequences, because the world is full of consequences. And I can’t, nor do I want the responsibility of shielding my kids from their consequences. Not only do they need to see how their irresponsible actions lead to negative consequences, but they need to see how their hard work and responsible actions lead to positive consequences.

It’s hard letting your kids fail. I put on a tough face with Alexis. But my heart weeps. My husband gets to hear my hurt. I want Alexis to be happy. Happy? Or learning how to function in a grown-up world where she understands how her choices affect her? Thereby giving her tools to create her own happiness. I cling to knowing that in the long run it is much more important for Alexis to learn these lessons now, than it is for her to be able to drive to her boyfriend’s house and enjoy the happy-go-lucky carelessness of childhood.

I agreed with her. Yes. You failed. But no, that doesn’t make you a failure. Our actions don’t determine our worth. One action does not dictate WHO you are. But yes. You failed. Now go fix it.

And at the risk of her hating me (which, trust me, she did), I kept my word. I held my ground. Her success in life is more important than her liking me. Another hard lesson of parenting.

And she fixed it. Her grades are up. Her emergency fund is full. And she went with me to get coffee and run errands yesterday; we laughed, we listened to her gangster (c)rap, and we enjoyed a little time together.

Awwww… the ups and downs of parenting.