It was late July and the summer days were numbered when we decided to venture out and try a new swimming pool. The neighborhood moms and I packed our swim bags, grabbed our towels, and sun-screened all the people for an adventure. This new pool had a high dive, which is rare anymore as it falls straight into the “too-dangerous-for-kids-these-days” category.
To participate in the high-dive fun, it was mandatory to pass a swim test. My oldest daughter is an anxious perfectionist (her apple falls very near her mama’s tree) who rarely tastes defeat. For this reason, practicing failure was an ever present “to do” for her dad and me, but we found contriving situations for kids to fail is easier said than done.
I knew the moment she asked if she could take the test that my answer would be an enthusiastic YES. She is a capable swimmer, so I wasn’t throwing her to the deep end sharks, but this test exceeded her capabilities. She would get to experience that bitter mix of disappointment that comes so infrequently to kids these days. I gathered round the side of the pool with the other onlookers, a knowing smile on my face because this moment had failure written all over it.
Some might say the sense of elation I got when given the opportunity to watch my daughter fail was inappropriate. Yet, I had been diligently looking for a moment to practice failing and, when one fell in my lap, I breathed a sigh of relief. What better way to practice vulnerability? And tenacity? And resolve that failure isn’t the end, but only a step along the way.
In an era of participation trophies and everybody gets a turn fair play, our kids often miss out on experiencing failure. And we all fail at some point or another … I find myself failing nearly daily some weeks! Without failure, there would be no great successes. After all, life is about how you handle Plan B (or C or D.) It can be hard to find opportunities to practice failing, but it’s a skill that should be tried on for size in childhood. Adulthood is a series of small (and large) failures that lead to great victories and, without practice, failure can be wholly overwhelming.
She didn’t pass the swim test that sunny July day. She cried hot tears down her chlorine-soaked cheeks and we got to have a thoughtful talk about how failure felt, and, more importantly, how she would try again another time. We got to talk about what she could do differently and how, despite being upset, she really was okay. Even better than okay—she was prepared with the tools to succeed the next time around.
My Mama Bear sunned herself on the warm pavement around the pool that day. While it’s never fun to watch your child crumble in the agony of defeat, it’s a great feeling to know they are fine-tuning a life skill that will take them (slightly more) comfortably into adulthood. Mama Bears fail and rise again…frequently…and it’s a gift to be able to pass this down to our cubbies.
What might happen if we dare to fail boldly, comfortably, and completely out loud? What if we let our children fail and then showed up to be there to help them rise again. That's my dare for you: Don't let the shackles of failure weigh you down. Instead, know that each failure teaches you exactly what you needed to learn.
Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.