In coaching parents to lead their children well, we often say:
“Rules without relationship breed rebellion,” and “relationship without rules breeds entitlement.”
We also believe that a home without choices and practiced failure breeds insecurity.
Sara Blakely, thought-genius and founder of the revolutionary company called Spanx, says her home was a breeding ground for failure. She is now a billionaire who has developed over 200 various products for men and women, all because she was willing to risk failure by putting her ideas out to the public.
After two years of being denied, Oprah, of all people, fell in love with her original Spanx and announced to the world that this product was her new “essential.” The rest is history.
Sara claims that every night at dinner, her dad would ask her and her brother how they failed that day. She said he would get excited when they had a moment of trying and stuck their neck out on the line, even when it didn’t end in success. Her dad knew that they had grown in their confidence to move beyond conventional limits. She said trying out for a team and not making it was more exciting in her home than being the star on the team.
Can you imagine?!
Though being billionaires may not be the goal for our children, having them be able to run their own race with the courage to be who they were meant to be, is very much part of the goal.
This outcome requires the practice of choice-making, with many outcomes of failure in a safe environment where the stakes aren’t life and death.
There are two kinds of homes that limit a child’s practice in choice-making: 1) the home where all decisions are made for a child: aka, the “helicopter parent,” and 2) the “dictator parent.” The first is always cleaning up messes, talking to teachers about grades, and making sure coaches play their child. Though done out of love, these actions leave children powerless to fight their own battles. The second type of home rules with anger, leaving children to make the decisions (even the right ones) out of fear, rather than promoting courage and independence to think for oneself. So often, helicopter parents prepare the way for their children, intervening with coaches, teachers, and even their children’s friends, so much so that their kids never have the chance to experience the fall. Dictator parents create a home of fear where children learn to walk the line. Making choices and facing consequences are the markings of a truly healthy adult, and a key found in great leaders. This practice not only develops a deep seated confidence for a child and teen, but it also creates a sense of ownership and responsibility for one’s own actions. No blaming, or excusing things away.
One of the traditions in our home is to make up stories about animals and little kids who make choices; sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
The latest was a story about a little bird who knew she was made to fly. She watched her parents fly. She watched the neighbor birds fly. She could feel it in her soul that she was made to fly. Yet, her nerves would keep her from trying each day, until one day, she took a leap and stepped out of the nest. Her mom was nearby and swooped her up just in time. She was so proud of her little bird for trying to fly, but she was not yet ready. The mama bird took time to teach her little bird all the techniques of flying. And then, it was time to try again. This time, the little bird understood the risks at hand and she was willing to fall to the ground in order to know the feeling of freedom in her wings. She took a jump, with no guarantees, and rose into the wind.
I once asked my two daughters, after telling this story, “What do you think you are made to do?”
Their answers were completely different. My more cautious daughter said, “I am not sure yet. I am still figuring that out.” She’s nine.
My other daughter, who leaps first and thinks later said, “I think I am made to feel, to talk, to be a friend, to dance, to sing, to draw, to play basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and so much more.” She’s seven.
Their different wirings will lead them to various attempts, but in the end, we all want our kids to have confidence to explore, try, and even make choices that result in failure and consequences at times, so that when they are adults, their worlds are not-so-small and they can experience freedom in their wings. Choices make life more full. And failing makes true success taste even sweeter.