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THE GIFT OF FAILURE by Jessica Lahey

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jessica Lahey author of The Gift Of Failure, a book on parents learning to let go so their children can succeed. “Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems. Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education, Lahey reminds us. Teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight—important life skills children carry with them long after they leave the classroom.”

If you are lucky enough to be in one of the cities she’s visiting take the time and hear her speak. Make sure you pick up Jessica's book on Amazon, you won’t regret it. Being a helicopter mom myself this book was enlightening to say the least. I appreciate her words and more importantly her wisdom.

Kathy ~What was your inspiration in writing this book?

Jessica ~ After about fifteen years of teaching, I saw that my students were more afraid, worried that they’d appear less than perfect to me, to their parents, and their peers. They could not write rough drafts, they would not take risks and answer questions they were not sure they had perfectly right, and they were unable to experiment with ideas. At the same time, I’d noticed that their parents’ eagerness to bail them out and the pressure they were exerting on their kids to be perfect was exacerbating, if not causing, the problem. Unfortunately, the same day I realized that overparenting was causing a lot of the problem, I was forced to acknowledge that I was part of the problem. I was overparenting my own kids and causing them to be afraid, helpless, and incompetent. I looked for a book about how to turn this around, how to step back and give my kids more autonomy while remaining supportive from the sidelines, and I could not find it. I just wrote the book I needed, as a parent and a teacher.

Kathy ~ Where do you get your information or ideas for your books

Jessica ~ Reading! I am a voracious reader, and like to read a lot of nonfiction about education, juvenile justice, parenting, and child welfare issues. My articles for The Atlantic tend to come out of that reading. I also talk to a lot of parents and teachers, and that’s where the ideas for my New York Times column, “The Parent-Teacher Conference” tended to come from. Parents would write in and ask me about things they were reluctant to talk to their kids’ teachers about. And then, of course, my own kids give me plenty of material. Some of it is private, and I’m not allowed to write about it, but once they’ve cleared a situation or quote or experience, it usually gets incorporated into my work!

Kathy ~ What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books

I think I was surprised by the extent to which learned helplessness and dependence erodes learning. One of the most powerful tools I have as a teacher is something called “desirable difficulties,” where I teach a kid some basic concepts, and then hand them a situation they have never solved before, something that’s just beyond their comfort zone, that challenges them to decode or untangle and thereby make the information or concept their own. When a kid can’t deal with frustration, or doesn’t have the emotional wherewithal to stop, step back, take another look, and try again, they simply are less teachable, no matter how smart they are.

Kathy ~ Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

Jessica ~ I get a lot of emails and letters, and the ones I love the most are the ones that say, “I tried giving my kid more autonomy, and let them know I trusted them to make good decisions, and our relationship has really improved.” When we spent less time nitpicking and controlling, it’s amazing how much time we have to engage in positive, loving, and supportive conversation.

Kathy ~ What would you tell the parent that says, “it will break my heart to see them crushed’

Jessica ~ Yep. Me, too. But we have to keep our eyes on the long game. If my goal is to make my kid happy in the moment and save them from discomfort or frustration, I’m going to end up with a helpless, dependent, and incompetent kid. BUT, if my goal is to raise a competent adult, he’s going to have to feel uncomfortable and frustrated from time to time.

Kathy ~ If you could give a mom 3 pieces of advice what would it be?

Jessica ~ 1. Focus on the process of learning rather than the products of grades, points, and honors.

2. Remember that child development is not a linear slope. It’s a messy, up-and-down, back-and-forth progression, and progress can’t be measured daily, weekly, even monthly.

3. Parenting is a long-haul job, so keep your eyes on what will feel good in the long run, not in the moment.

Thank you Jessica for your insight and most off all for taking time out to answer our questions, I am eternally grateful. xo

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