Free to Fail: Teaching Kids to Care While Letting Them Be Themselves

For about a year, give or take a few months, days, well, hopefully not years, I have had a well of feelings, thoughts, emotions and experiences stew in this big pot of my mind some relating to this blog post and some not.  Yes, a well is stewing in a pot.  A whole well of dripping wet life in all of its drama or serious lack of drama, the drab, mundane life mixed together in a pot bubbling, brewing, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble(thanks, Shakespeare) and the pot is boiling over.  There's much I do not understand.  I never could understand a lot of things and that drives me nuts.  I like solving things, figuring things out, figuring people out, figuring life out and there's way too much I am having a hard time cracking.  I also thrive in the world of observation.  Sometimes I get the great wide world I am observing right and other times I get it wrong.  Sometimes I get it all wrong, what I observe.  I perceive, yet sometimes I don't really see.  We all do that.  I get it.  I don't want to wallow in that truth too much.  We all fail.  We are freetofail.  And way, way more than once. You heard me right.  I want to step back from the proverbial plow of control and take a deep breath, but it's hard.   

And my kids.  You see, they are growing up and I wonder about a great many things way more now than I ever have before.  We are charting new territory over here.  I've got little boys and little girls who don't want to be little boys and little girls any more.  They like their friends.  They like their time away and they are exploring a whole new world of acceptation, rejection, triumph in small ways, seemingly small ways to me, their mother, but huge to them.  What appear to be giant issues, subjects, mindsets to my children can seem insignificant to an adult, to adults at large, to me, but we've seen these things.  We adults for the most part know how to divide the real from the unreal in our minds way more than they do.  I remember what life was like when I was thirteen, don't you?

And kids say things.  They say a whole bunch of things.  Today I heard from one of my kids that Paul Simon's music was annoying and retarded.  I was offended.  I was listening to my "happy" music.  My Brown Eyed Girl, Don't Worry Be Happy and You Can Call Me Al was playing this morning as an introduction to some good old tunes.  Okay, so You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon may not have been the best introduction to his music, but, hey, I love that song.  I just assumed that my kids would love it too.  Then throughout the day there were a bunch of unkind jokes made about certain types of people.  Not any person in particular but people groups in general, but I still didn't like what I was hearing.  No biggie.  Kids say things.  They say a lot of things, but I still wanted to sit them down and make a few things clear.

We don't make fun of people even certain types of people.  I don't care what the reasoning behind the teasing.  We don't tell jokes at the expense of others.  Ever.  Call me intolerant.  An intolerant mother.  Good.  I'm glad to be intolerant in this area at least.  And speaking of intolerance, everybody is different.  Nobody is the same.  Profound, isn't it?  And some people are just annoyingly dead wrong and still continue on in their flawed thinking after being warned, but even still everybody should be treated with politeness and with kindness.  If other people can't distribute the same good behavior in return to you then you are not required to be in their company.  That's fair I think.  When me and my family look at people, I want us to see souls full of worth in each and every one of the people we meet.  Okay, I am a little serious about this.  I'm deep.  I go overboard.  Maybe I need to lighten up, but I believe each person has value, created in the image of God and although we may not be able to make room for everyone we'd like to befriend or reach or teach or touch or share with or help, we can still take the time to see the view of the people from where we are standing in the moment, see who's there, share a hello or a kind word and if we are able also put ourselves in their own shoes.

We all walk into rooms, on to fields, into homes, and on the streets with all sorts of people.  We pick people out of a crowd and gravitate toward the commonalities we possess in synch with our passions or desires.  It's normal.  There are those who shine with all the confidence in the world and there are those who long for one person to notice them, enough to catapult them into their own confidence.  There are kids who can talk to anyone and there are kids who can only talk to kids their same gender, same age, same grade, same hair style, same car, same music appreciation tastes, oh, you know.  Nothing wrong with that in general.  But if their care for others only extends that far then I would question where they are headed in life.  If they can only have a meaningful conversation with those who look, smell and behave the same way that they do they are limiting themselves and missing out on what the great, wide world of people has to offer.  In the same way if they can only be kind to those just like themselves then I am seriously alarmed.  I know.  I know.  Idealism.  Idealistic parenting.  I have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.  I get it.  I don't want to be completely unrealistic.  I really don't.  Kids say things.  They live.  They do.  They fail.  They are freetofail.  They need to be allowed to be themselves and also be allowed to fail.  Please allow your kids to fail.  They learn so much from failure.  

But kids also see what their parents do.  They observe.  Kids are avid observers.  They see when you ignore certain kinds of people.  They hear when you speak to people in some sort of varied or categorical deference.  If you make fun of others for their religious differences they will too.  Whatever you give license to in your treatment of others they may repeat and with high fluidity.  Being a kid is hard enough.  You want them to be themselves, give them the wriggle room they need to grow and learn, allow them plenty of space to breathe and plenty much more room to fail, but we certainly don't want to set our kids up for failure.  Now, therein lies the rub and it's never too late to learn from our mistakes, to learn and grow on this journey with our kids, teaching them to care, teaching them to be themselves, and teaching them that failure is part of the path we take and learning from failure is the smartest thing we can do.    

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