Dear Daughter, I Want You to Fail

 

In the end, by being weak, you are going to be strong. It takes strength to say, “I need help on this.”

 

Dear Daughter,

“Don’t hold her back,” your eye doctor told us after your first surgery for amblyopia, known as “lazy eye.” “Let her try out for whatever sport she wants.” You were three, and squirmy in the examination chair. He and the nurse ran through multiple cartoon trinkets that they held from one side of your head to another to assess your vision.

Here we are now, you at age six, wrapping your fierce little legs around my waist as I carry you from the gaga ball pit to the car. You’re wailing in my ear, “Why?  Why can she play better than I can?” Your sister seventeen months older palmed the ball away longer than you did.

I don’t know if it’s your eyes, sweetheart. I don’t know if it’s that you’re smaller.

Here’s what I cannot say in the moment. . .

I want you to fail.

When you climbed out of the wooden pit, I tried to tell you to watch the other kids to learn, but your protests were too loud. Research shows that kids need to hear from their parents, “Let’s figure out what we can learn from this grade” instead of “Oh no, you got an ‘F!’” One author goes so far as to point out  that I need to talk through the process of what you did to be able to talk about what you could do better.

It’s good advice, and I’ll follow it, but I won’t tell you that you can learn anything. Sometimes, you’ll fail, and the gift in failure will be that you’ll learn you’re limited.

It’s not that I want you to start dismissing an activity or education as “It’s not my thing.” I will never be particularly gifted at math, but after receiving a “D” in trigonometry in high school, I performed surprisingly well in trigonometry on a standardized exam. Maybe if I had taken all the classes I had avoided then after—chemistry, economics, and a full class of statistics—I wouldn’t have had as high of a grade point in high school or college.  But perhaps I would have better thinking skills to perceive the world, even if I had never been as skilled as my friends.

My being limited is a good thing rather than disregarding something as “not being my thing.” Instead, I would have had to seek help—from my teachers and from my classmates. I would have had to dare not to look smart.  I’m sad we have a culture where appearing competent at all times is valued as if we don’t need one another.

Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly, “I want our home to be a place where we can be our bravest selves and our most fearful selves. Where we practice difficult conversations and share our shaming moments from school and work….‘I’m with you. In the arena, and when we fail, we’ll fail together, while daring greatly.’”

Your father and I share this vision for our family too. We want you to fail. We want you to take a risk (albeit, a calculated one), blow it, and try again. We want you to ask for help, and, as Brown writes, to be proud that you just “showed up.” Your doctor was right.

In the end, by being weak, you are going to be strong. It takes strength to shrug and say, “I need help on this.”

The strength of your family, your communities, and your God is behind you.

Love,

Your Mom

 

 

PC: Photo by Ekaterina Kartushina on Unsplash

Heather Walker Peterson

Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.

2 Comments

  • September 9, 2017

    Amy Boucher Pye

    Such good, countercultural advice.

  • September 9, 2017

    Sara Ring

    Great wisdom. As a perpetual problem-solver, it’s hard for me sometimes to step back and let my daughters figure things out for themselves, but it’s such a critical skill to learn. And, beautifully written, Heather. Thank you.