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Hard Lessons

Community book study explores The Gift of Failure

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Tears, frustration, and repeat attempts, all ending in failure.

You hate seeing your child like this. They try so hard, struggle to get it right – the homework, the shoelaces, the game – and they just can’t do it. Of course you will step in and help! That’s what you’re here for, after all, that’s your job… 

Or is it?

Is helping your child succeed when they struggle-even though it makes everyone feel great at the time-doing more harm than good? Could our best intentions be setting our children up for even more failure when they reach adulthood?

Dr. Caroline Johns, Northgate School District Superintendent, has struggled with these questions, and so have the small group of parents gathered at Andrew Bayne Memorial Library in Bellevue on a recent January evening. We’ve gathered to discuss Jessica Lahey’s book The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Child Can Succeed. Johns’ decided to begin the community book study after she heard the author speak and knew the message had to be carried back to her district. 

 The book intrigued me as both an educator and a mom to a teenager.  As a parent, I find it challenging to let my son face adversity and learn the valuable lessons that come from doing so.  As an educator, I have seen the implications this can have for children. – Dr. Caroline Johns
The study is scheduled purposely to reach as many members of the community as possible. Additionally, participants need not worry about attending every date but are encouraged to attend any that are convenient for them. Johns explains, “I am always looking for meaningful ways to connect with community members, especially parents.  I find doing a book study provides a relaxed setting where all of the participants can be involved, and I have an opportunity to get to know everyone better.”

I attended the first of these meetings, which began with participant introductions and some general questions from Johns that got the group chatting. This was a casual conversation on topics covered in the first two chapters of the book, including the struggles we felt with our children’s homework, teaching simple tasks like tying shoes, and how the book’s ideas apply to children across the education spectrum, including special needs and gifted students. 

One attendee, Emily Kemerer, gave her first impression of the book: “I really resonate with the difficult truth that our natural fear of pain and desire to avoid suffering can backfire when misapplied to our growing, developing children. But I am hopeful that this is something we can change, especially when we have fellow parents and community to discuss it with.” A mother of two children at Bellevue Elementary, Kemerer has already put Lahey’s recommendations into practice:

I’ve had many opportunities already to step back and resist my habit of micromanaging things for my kids, reminding myself that if they forget necessary materials for school or handle a conflict with a peer less than smoothly, all will serve as learning opportunities for them to do things differently next time. – Emily Kemerer, Bellevue

All in attendance agreed they want to do the best they can for our children. We concluded our Northgate community was a factor in our children’s success. The discussion focused more on what we can do right for our children, and less on what we may have done wrong.

As a parent, it’s often that affirmation that we are doing the best we can for our kids, and that we have the support of our school, Superintendent, and community that carries us through the hard days. Johns is looking forward to the upcoming meetups, stating, “I want to encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest to come!  Even if they don’t have time to read the assigned chapters, they can still listen and contribute to the discussion if comfortable doing so.  It truly is a laid back atmosphere and if the first session is an indication of what is to come, expect a lot of laughter!”

The Community book study is organized to cover two chapters per session and will continue over the next several months. The next meeting is Wednesday, February 19, at 9:00 am at Avalon Public Library (See subsequent dates on the flyer included below). The gatherings alternate between evening and morning times and between Bellevue and Avalon locations, facilitate residents in both towns and busy schedules. Attendance at all meetings is not required, just a readiness to help children in the district succeed.

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Beth Mosley

Beth has lived in the North Boroughs since 2010. Over the past 10 years, she has met fantastic people in each of the North Boroughs, and has grown from a girl who loved Affogato pancakes and events at The Creative Treehouse to a married, working mother of two who loves to let her kids run wild at the Bellevue Farmers Market. In her spare time she can be found working on laboratory quality assurance, jogging on California Avenue, listening to podcasts, and pleading with her sons to stop hitting each other. She lives in Avalon with her husband, two boys, and two cats.

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