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Failure is an option

mansfield DENNIS

Welcoming the first of occasional columns by Dennis Mansfield, a veteran of Idaho Republican politics. His book “Beautiful Nate” will be published next month.

America’s future is found in its children, the saying goes. We must center our lives on them. All children must be allowed to succeed. And if we truly love our children, such individualized formula will work, the saying continues. Each of us feels this to one degree or another. As parents, Americans have ensured the success of their progeny via a highly controlled environment and well executed plans.

What if we’re all wrong?

In my own case, as evangelicals my wife and I raised our oldest son, Nate, in an atmosphere of faith-based formulae. Cocooning is too strong a phrase, but not by much. And it didn’t work. In time, he became a drug addict; arrested several times, placed in jail and ultimately he went to prison. His drug of choice was oxycodone and other prescription opiates, until they ran out and then heroin became the suitable substitute.

The result for a family, steeped in formulaic fear-based living, is often that we’re surprised and shocked by the teen that emerges.

It should all work, right?

But again, what if we’re wrong? Apollo 13’s famed comment that “failure is not an option” may in fact be incorrect. Learning from failure changes all of our lives. Why would we exclude our own children from that truth?

When something jars us from our formula and the unthinkable happens – our child gets high, she crashes a car, he physically hurts people, they rob a store, he escalates his drug of choice, becoming an addict.

Or as in the case of my son Nate, he dies from his involvement in drugs.

The child-centeredness of a fear-based parenting model can create the exact opposite of what we wanted, of what we planned for. My reliance on formulae was convenient, but invalid. Rather than the joyful smile of our little 4th grader at the table we began to stare into the surly, self-focused, uncaring and arrogant face of our young adult.

You too? And at twenty, or thirty-something, many adult-sized children still demanding the keys to the family’s car.

What in the world happened?

Somewhere in the mix we overlooked the keys to our child’s heart – by attempting to apply all the right and proper positioning for our son to succeed, we never gave room for the opportunity to fail.

It seems on a larger scale, as a nation we’ve embraced this premise as public policy. So much so that during each election cycle we’ve been forced to listen to a hackneyed series of thread-bare expressions used by politicians from both parties. Yet something in the expression DOES resonate long after voter tallies are put away. It appears to be a self-evident fact: our kids are precious and need to be protected now so that they can live productive lives and be model citizens in the future.

Kids need to be loved unconditionally, to be loved as their own person, to be loved so they too could love others. And they need to be told that the world does not revolve around them. They need to be allowed to fail and start over – repeatedly, if need be. No helicopter parents, no training-wheels of life. Hard times and no fear of failure-to-launch. By allowing them to fail, we teach our children the beautiful reality of failure – and how we can successfully help others through our own experiences of overcoming bad times.

John Lennon wrote in his haunting sonnet to his son, Beautiful Boy, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Today’s the best day to let life happen to your young children, your teens or to your adult children.

Allow them to fail.

You may not have tomorrow to do so.

I learned to no longer be busy making other plans.

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