First, an apology: Last Thursday I published an unedited post, I.Hate.Projects, that initially went out to my subscribers. It was a post with substandard language that, while reflecting an extremely frustrating evening (and week) of working on two projects with the boys, was raw with emotion. As a parent, you might have been in that place yourself, but you probably had the insight and self-restraint to contain it. I didn’t. And the necessary edits to the post didn’t occur until the next morning. If you are a reader of my blog and you were offended, you had every right to be. I am deeply sorry. Likewise, my rant was in no way directed toward any teacher, but rather the feeling of a parent trying to manage the everyday of family life while also managing additional expectations that add to the stress. I hope you know me well enough now to know that in my heart I’m like you: constantly striving to be a good parent even if my actions often fall short of it.
If anything, the post itself, even as I was rethinking and editing, was the impetus for additional conversations with other moms. These conversations really required me to reflect on why I was so frustrated with these projects and why I couldn’t be more objective about their completion. Yes, it was the frustration of nagging the boys to get it done. Yes, the projects were requiring me to sit next to one or to literally bounce between both of them as they worked (or didn’t work) on the project. Yes I’m trying to make dinner at the same time and usually have at least a couple more children who need me for something.
But, at the core, I think the gist of the problem for me was the issue of letting children fail and whether it is really a viable option.
Scott, as I wrote in the previous post, said that if the boys choose not to do the work, then let them take the consequences. I responded that in theory I agreed, but I couldn’t shake the guilt that had I managed them and their time better as a parent, then we wouldn’t be in this predicament of doing it the night before the project was due.
It seems like recently the talk of failure is all the rage. Every successful person seems to have a story of failure prior to astounding success. Failure seems to be the prerequisite to success.
Does this also apply to our children? I don’t know. Honestly, I think it is all talk.
I have an app on my phone that allows me to instantly see 24/7 my children’s grades. This app will even send me an alert if the grade percentage slips below at certain marker. You want your child to make all A’s? Set the alert to the precarious 90%. You want to know if he or she has any missing assignments, then set an alarm to let you know.
We are able. . .and encouraged to be involved with our children’s grades in ways that our parents were never really involved. But, likewise, we now feel a certain amount of responsibility that when a grade drops we as parents need to get after our children to bring in the necessary work. Knowing and doing nothing. . .in essence letting the responsibility rest totally with the child is not an option. We feel required to do something with our new knowledge and not wait until final grades come out to dole out the consequences.
I’m not knocking this system. I actually find it more helpful, as I’m sure many parents do, to know in real time how my children are doing and to try to get on top of a situation before it gets out of hand. And yet, this too seems like the onerous for action is on the parent’s shoulders
So when and how do we allow children to fail and learn from failing?
I’m not sure projects are where we do this type of teaching. By their nature projects can be overwhelming. If a teacher (or parent) hasn’t broken the project down, just the sheer act of doing so is a complex skill for a child to do on his or her own. In addition, so much research is done on the internet that projects often require parents to interface between the assignment and the overload of information. We are necessary to these elementary school projects.
The other option, as well, is that we are afraid our children will fail when in actuality they find their way around any problems and actually are able to navigate just fine by themselves. Last Thursday I wrote about a sobbing Luke who, after putting off his work, was trying to answer a difficult question at 9:30 pm the night before it was due. I told him I couldn’t even think at this point in the day. So between sobs he asked Scott to wake him up at 6 am the next morning and he’d try to get it done. Sure enough he did and at 6 am he wrote an answer for the question without any adult assistance.
Will would never have gotten up early to complete the assignment. He would have taken the bad grade and said effectively, Oh Well. He is not phased by a bad grade. This laisseze faire attitude can drive a parent crazy–as much as the “I-need-to-get-everything-right” Luke could also drive one to the proverbial brink.
Finally, there is the question of mom guilt. It is real and harsh and unrelenting. It is the voice that says, Yes this is his project but you should have been monitoring his video game playing better. Yes, this is his responsibility but you should have made him work on it a little bit each day. And, as parents, we feel that had WE done better parenting, we wouldn’t have children trying to finish (or maybe even start) a project the night before it is due.
Ultimately I’ve come to the conclusion that the challenge as parents is not whether or not a child should be given the chance to fail. . .but whether or not we give the child a chance to struggle and grow. Luke found his way around the problem and learned that he could do it. Will needs the sit through the uncomfortableness of not knowing what to do and then at least starting (sometimes in the middle) a project and having something to add on to.
Failure might not be an option for parents like me. . .but struggling should always be considered a possibility for growth.