As a toddler, my son loved guns. In toy stores, he gravitated towards plastic pistols. On play dates, he claimed his friend's water guns. For Christmas, he asked for Nerf guns. But I held tight to my anti-gun stance, disavowing toddler weaponry in hopes of stemming violent play and preventing a path that I was convinced would lead straight to juvenile prison.
And yet, despite my best efforts, I could not curb my son's enthusiasm for guns. I didn't buy him guns, but he'd fashion them out of wooden spatulas, PVC pipe, or a hairdryer. Try as I might, I just couldn't put the kibosh on his firearm fascination. I felt like a total failure.
But was I?
In hindsight, my failure on one level yielded a win on another. Trying to thwart my son's gun obsession opened the door to creativity and resourcefulness in creating his toddler arsenal. I'd forgotten that failure goes hand-in-hand with learning.
For example, when you hold your kids accountable, they often get upset and feel guilty. "But that's not a failure," says Aisha Pope, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the San Diego Center for Children. "Healthy guilt is a bit of a motivator. You don't want to shame kids, but it's important for them to be accountable for their actions now because it helps them learn to be accountable in the future."
Pope shares her own parenting fail/win: With her first child (a son), she felt guilty taking time for herself and never went away for the weekend.
"I wore that as a badge of honor," she says.
Then along came her daughter, and Pope changed her tune, taking a weekend trip when her kids were 10 and 3. Ironically, her young daughter fared better than her son, who had never been without mom and had a harder time dealing with her absence.
"Self-care for parents is super important," Pope says, "because it teaches kids the importance of taking care of yourself. Plus, it lets kids know they'll be just fine in the hands of a capable caregiver."
If leaving the kids for a weekend away doesn't count as a fail, then what other parenting missteps might be a win in disguise? I reached out to some experts for their take on how "parenting failures" often yield positive benefits.
FAIL: Letting your kids experience the natural consequences of their actions.
Why It's a WIN: "Parents often want to protect kids from anything upsetting, but letting them experience natural consequences for their behaviors is often the most important teaching they can do," points out Brittany Barber Garcia, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "Missing an unnecessary day of school leads to make-up work, stealing your sister's shoes leads to her stealing yours. If we 'swoop in and save' kids, then we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to avoid those negative consequences in the future."
FAIL: Not responding to your kids immediately when they interrupt a conversation.Why It's a WIN: "Oftentimes children interrupt adult conversations, expecting to automatically have air time," explains Bobbi Wegner, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Boston Behavioral Medicine and host of the Raising & Roasting parenting podcast. "Remind them that their feelings and thoughts are important but they must wait for the adult to welcome them into the conversation. This teaches manners, respect, and a healthy dose of real-world interaction."
FAIL: Letting kids make some not-so-great choices in friends.
Why It's a WIN: "One of my boys befriended a neighborhood kid, a bit of a trouble-maker," recalls Jennifer Soos, MA, LMFT, a family counselor in San Antonio. "He broke family rules, broke toys, left messes. I started making my son responsible for those things, such as cleaning up messes and paying for broken toys. There were several weeks of my son suffering consequences because of his association with someone else---a valuable life lesson. I reminded him that his friends were his choice and if it wasn't working out, it was up to him choose differently."
FAIL: Not cleaning up after them.
Why It's a WIN: "Parents should give younger children chores like cleaning their rooms and taking out their trash to get them to be more self-sufficient as they age," says Stacy Haynes, Ed.D., LPC, ACS, a counseling psychologist and author of Powerful Peaceful Parenting: Guiding Children, Changing Lives. "Life skills start early, so don't wait until 'they're old enough' to do chores. Let children take responsibility for their own rooms and spaces," advises Haynes.
FAIL: Letting kids engage in risky play.
Why It's a WIN: "When a baby learns to walk, she falls down dozens of times, but eventually gains confidence, learns to walk, and realizes her limitations," says Mary Beth Somich, MA, Ed.M., LPCA, a Licensed Professional Child & Family Therapist in Wake Forest. "Within reasonable limits, risky play is the same thing. We're talking dirt biking, climbing, roller-skating, any play that could potentially result in injury. This isn't irresponsible parenting, but a way of building a child's confidence. A parent who hovers and doesn't allow risky play contributes to the development of an anxious child."
FAIL: Not making your kids do homework right after school.
Why It's a WIN: "Doing homework right after school might actually lead to more challenges than benefits," suggests Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, parenting expert, psychologist, and author of Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up. "Kids have spent a long day at school, and they'll do much better with homework if they're first given the chance to move and do activities that don't involve sustained focus. Plus, if you spend time emotionally connecting with your kids prior to asking them to do homework, then the likelihood that they'll defy your homework request greatly diminishes."
The next time you feel like you logged in another parenting fail, look on the flip side to see how it probably benefits your kids.