He went gliding down the lane, arms stretched out to the side, a gleeful shout of joy escaping from his cheek-stretching grin, his speed slightly hindered by the training wheels clacking along the cobblestones. “I want to go faster!!’ my son shouted. My neighbor made the proclamation, speaking out loud the words that I have kept muted: “It is time to take off the training wheels! He is ready.”
A little over a year ago, my little man was barely able to handle the bike with training wheels. He was scared to get on the seat, afraid to ride the bike down the lane without me there, holding him up. Tired of the muscle pains that came from long walks spent crouched over, I finally made a decree: “You learn to ride on your own or you simply don’t ride.” This may not be the kindest way to parent, but it definitely worked.
Determined to master the bike, my little man had his best friend push him along, until he found his balance, and managed his way. He fell plenty, but each fall came after a slightly longer distance was achieved on the bike. At first, he cried when he fell, making his little topples into grand tragedies. I comforted and encouraged, and that seemed to make the wailing louder.
Finally, on an evening when I felt especially spent, I gave an altamatum “Nope, no more of that. You figure out why you fell over and do it better, or we just put the bike away. You don’t get to sit and cry.” Again, probably not the kindest parenting known to motherhood, but it worked.
With each spill, my man grinned wider and wider, bouncing up to try it again, trying to go just a little further each time. With me nervously standing on the sidelines, he learned to go wayyyy faster and further than I was comfortable with, but I had to let him have that experience, he had earned it.
And so now… Why am I so hesitant to take those wheels off? Like any parent who wants their child to experience success, I am hesitating to go back through the falls, back through the crouching over that removing the wheels would require.
My son is so proud of his success, I am hitting pause before we go through the phase where mini-failures are necessary.
When my neighbor declared my son’s readiness to ride sans trainers, I was a little embarrassed by my immediate response: “He might be, but I am not!,” but why? Aren’t the falls and spills, banged up knees and elbows one of the best parts of growing up?
When my fatigued father took a break from teaching me to ride, I figured out bike balance after the greatest fall I ever had. Bloody knee and scratched up forehead, I was finally riding a bike, soaring down the street, too proud of my accomplishment ,and too motivated to keep up with my older brother, to care about the scrapes.
When I think about the greatest lessons I have learned through life, and when I think about the things I am most proud of, a traced timeline would reveal a failure of some kind that precedes the learning and feelings of pride.
For me, failure has always been a motivator, an opportunity to learn and do it better the next time. When I reflect and dissect my failures, I understand a situation far better, and take the time to understand what leads to success. Easy successes come and go, without great inspection, so it is the failures that I treasure most.
Five years in, I am still learning about this parenting business. Like everything else, it is my parenting failures that have taught me the most. Knowing the importance of failure, how it teaches great lessons and develops the ability to be resilient, I have to find a way to be more comfortable with allowing my son to find his way, make his own mistakes so that he might have the opportunity to learn and grow.
I am going to give it a try this weekend by letting him fall a few times off his training-wheel free bicycle. I’ll definitely be there to pick him up and cheer him on, but in the end, he is the one who has to sort out the balance act that comes with riding a “big boy bike.”
To read more about the importance of allowing our children to experience failure, check out this New York Time’s article. It reminds me that we have to allow our children to experiences the bumps and bruises that come with learning how to navigate the world.
Have you had an experience where you had to watch your child fail in order to succeed? How did you learn from it?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by “Lady E.” Lady E can be found on twitter @ethrelfall and on her blog, Common Threads.
Photo credit to the author.