Refining How I Let my Kids Fail

I love failure.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who loves failure as much as I do.

I mean… I hate it, just like everyone else, when I fall short and mess up, but I’ve learned to see it as a beautiful thing.

I read a fabulous book a few years ago called Failing Forward by John Maxwell and it was one of those books that made the world shift upside down. The thing I thought was unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs (I am a classic, overachiever, A+ ONLY kind of gal), turned out to be good – WHAT??. The moments I thought I was at my weakest were actually moments of great potential for rising and moving into greater things.
Fabulous book – HIGHLY recommend it.

I now SEEK OUT opportunities for failure. I now press IN when I’m met with failure. It’s a whole thing and it has made my life so much richer.

Naturally you would assume I would be 100% on board with the parenting rhetoric of the day, which is that as parents we should let our children fail.

If they forget their lunch, they’ll just have to go hungry and eat when they get home. That’ll teach them to never forget their lunch box again! If they forget to set their alarm, don’t wake them up! They’ll be late to school or work and have to deal with the consequences of their actions. It’s a mean world out there – better they learn NOW while it doesn’t matter as much, than later when the consequences are worse.

I certainly believe in preparing my children for the world by allowing them to experience natural consequences of their actions.
Absolutely – 100%.

I do however have a few thoughts and concerns to propose for those of us letting our kids fail.
I am uncomfortable with a few ways that this principal can be applied – mostly from the way I HAVE applied it and as I have considered and prayed through this concept, a few adjustments have been incredibly helpful to me in this area.

When I am confronted with ANY parenting idea…I have to start with one important question: Is this Biblical? Does this find roots in scripture? Should I apply this in my life?

The Bible says: “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” Meaning, children are evaluated and judged and should stand on their own actions. They are building a reputation even as a young person. I have often told my children that they are free to choose to tell lies, but the consequence of that choice is a reputation of someone who is not trustworthy. They will erode trust with me, they will erode trust with their friends and teachers and once trust is eroded it is difficult if not impossible to rebuild.

And this brings me to my first consideration for those of us letting our kids fail:
Are we taking the time to FIRST teach our children the consequences of their actions before throwing them into the ring?

Yes, I do think LIVING OUT the consequences of one’s actions is a great way to learn, but I think our kids can also learn from us TELLING them. And there have been many times when I have been lazy or just forgetful, to teach my children FIRST. (Disclaimer – my children are ages 8, 6, 5, 2 – so I still have relatively young children, and we are very much in the TRAINING phase…but even still…I know that as a pre-teen, I remember being kind of oblivious to the cause and effect of the world around me…I think even our older children can need to be reminded and verbally trained every now and again)

Here’s an example, I remember a few years ago (before I was as intentional with training my kids on nutrition and how food affects our bodies) my son ate a ton of candy for Halloween. He got a terrible stomach ache and actually threw up. My response to him was: “Well, that’s what happens when you eat too much candy!!!” Not compassionate. Too bad. Now you learned your lesson. Deal with it.

I cringe to think of it. Yes, he did learn his lesson. But – did I EVER have a conversation with him about what candy and sugar and food dyes do to our bodies and our stomach? Nope. How could I expect this child, who has only been marketed to by the candy companies as candy being good, and delicious, and colorful, and fun – know what would happen if he ate too much?

So often, I just assume my kids know better. When in fact, I have not taken the time to instruct them and I’m just upset that now I have to clean throw up off of a Spiderman costume and I’m actually probably more irritated with myself for not paying attention or not wanting to fight him and restrict the candy consumption.

Imagine how different the situation would have been if I would have said: “Hey sweetie, today is Halloween. You will be getting a LOT of candy. Here is what candy and sugar and food dyes do to your body <insert description of all the diseases and health problems caused by large amounts of sugar>. It is your body and your choice what you do with all this candy, but I want you to know the consequences if you choose to eat a lot. How much do you think you should have tonight? …… Ok, how can mommy help you stick to that amount? Do you want me to put the rest up high so you aren’t tempted to eat more? Great! Sounds like a good plan! I can’t wait to see what pieces you pick to enjoy tonight!”


Now, my son may still eat too much, he may throw up, and that’s fine – some kids DO need to experience it. But I don’t want that to be an excuse for me to not adequately train my children.

This can apply to so many areas:
Are we training our children how to manage their schedules?
Do they know how much time each activity takes?
Are we training our children how to handle money?
Are we teaching them how relationships work?
Do they know how much gas costs?
Are they aware that food and sleep affects their health?

These are just a few of the areas that I ASSUME my kids will just naturally know. And if they sign up for 5 different extra curricular activities – WELL, they better still get their homework done!! (but, if I never trained them on how to plan their time, how can I expect them to encounter ANYTHING BUT failure?)

Isn’t this how God deals with us? He GIVES US His law, He tells us the consequences, He reminds us of the blessings that follow obedience. I want to treat my kids like that.

How else does God treat us? Well, with compassion.

I think this is the default for most parents. As I polled several of you on social media on this topic I was so encouraged at the desire to let kids fail combined with unconditional love and I think that is so important and most would agree to that.

But as I pushed deeper into how God deals with me and what the Bible says about relationships and community I started to wonder – what does a “You’re on your own kid – if you forget too bad for you.” kind of attitude teach my children? Will it teach them not to ever trust or rely on others? Is that what I want to teach them? As I intentionally teach them independence, am I unintentionally teaching them that they don’t NEED community? Am I ok with that?

I want my children to take responsibility for their own actions and life, but also know that it’s ok to rely on a community or a family to have your back. I think about how my husband deals with me, I realized that there are absolutely times when I SHOULD have suffered the full consequence of my mistakes – I locked my keys in the apartment, I forgot to set my alarm in the morning, etc. and my husband has graciously helped me out. We are a family and we support each other and I am so THANKFUL for the grace and mercy shown to me.

Being in a relationship with others is wildly inconvenient. I am ashamed to say how many times I have used this “You forgot it, too bad, next time remember.” principal simply because I did not want to be inconvenienced. In our family we cary each others burdens and sometimes that means we turn back and get the long-lost, beloved toy left at a restaurant even though we are all tired, because we LOVE the person it belongs to and we sacrifice for his/her joy.

At the end of the day, God doesn’t always allow me to feel the full consequence of my mistakes or sins either – yes, He allows punishment and consequences to befall me but there are many times when He is gracious and I can do the same for my kids, even at great cost to myself.

My final thought on this issue is a question I am constantly coming back to: In my parenting efforts, is my goal to create moral, conforming, “good” little girls and boys, or to parent my children’s hearts towards the gospel? And what is the difference?

Morality tells me to at all times strive to be good and do good and live virtuously. It tells me that my identity and worth lie in how good, responsible and mistake-free I can live.

The gospel tells me that my sins and actions have weight and worth and are grievous to a Holy God. The gospel tells me that I cannot EVER be good enough to earn God’s favor or save myself. The gospel tells me when I fall short, there is grace because Jesus SACRIFICED and paid the PENALTY for my sins.

Jesus did the ultimate “bail out” by paying the FULL PRICE for my sins.

I do not always want to bail my children out of their messes, but sometimes – I do. Sometimes I’d rather preach the gospel to them. Sometimes I’m ok with letting them fail and struggle and find their own way and feel the weight of their consequences, but now with these considerations in place:

I will educate you before pushing you into the wild world.

It’s ok to still rely on community and family, we are not islands unto ourselves.

When you are not good enough – Christ is your Savior.

Now get out there little ones – and fail GRANDLY…I’ll always be here to remind you of grace, as you fight your own battles.

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