Letting your kids see you fail

Last spring was the first time I’d taken up playboating with any degree of seriousness. Playboating is where you dabble in the waves, skirting the edge of tumult, and using the force of the water to move around, but never really downstream.  Truth be told I’d rather run a river any day, but unfortunately my life situation (little kids to care for, a husband with a job, and–oh yeah–the lack of rivers in Nevada) doesn’t allow much time for that. Instead I started going down to the kayak park with a friend of mine; a fellow Mom and an amazingly good playboater.

I often met her down at the kayak park just as Joe was getting off work. I’d bring the kids down and Joe would meet us there on his bike. Joe and the kids would catch crawdads, throw rocks and play on the playground. I would play on the waves and as soon as I had sufficiently trashed myself we’d all drive home together.

One day in particular Joe and the kids were sitting on the sidelines watching me. As usual, I kept getting dumped over in the wave (i.e. tipped upside down). Despite the fact that I’d always roll back up, this really concerned Ari. He kept yelling at me to “be careful!”  Eventually he caught on to what was happening. He would still get worried when I went upside down, but he also started to celebrate with me if I actually did something that resembled a trick. “You did it Mom!” became music to my ears. So was “try it again Mom”. He made me try harder.

A few days later I was back at the kayak park; the kids were home this time. As I was trying a new maneuver, I failed and flipped over as usual… only this time I also failed to roll up. It was the first time in about 8 years I had to take a swim. I was not happy. I actually ended up swimming twice that day and left feeling totally discouraged. And pretty mad.

I was in such a bad mood when I got home.

Ari overheard me telling Joe about what had happened, then witnessed me sulking around the house.  Eventually he got up the nerve to come talk to me about it.  Shyly, he sidled up next to me.  “Mom, it’s okay that you came out of your boat, you can just try harder next time.”

What? Ari was telling ME to try harder next time?  The very phrase I use to inspire my son to hike a little farther?  Bike a little longer?  Read a little better? Wow. Maybe he does listen to me…

I was suddenly struck by the thought that involving your kids in your outdoor hobbies is a really good thing.  Not just so they themselves could get outside (which was my original motivation for bringing them), but because I’d also given them a chance to see me do something that was really challenging for me. I’d given them opportunities to see me both succeed and fail. Then see me get back up again.

It’s good for kids to know that even parents have to keep trying.  It’s good for parents to remember what it feels like to fail. If kids learn by example, what better example is there than to watch their own parents “try harder next time?”


This post is part of a series based on “life lessons learned from/in the outdoors.” See more posts in this series.

17 Comments so far

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  1. What a good point! That’s awesome that you take your kids to the park with you while you go boating!

    • Bring the Kids – Thanks for the comment. I’d bring them more if I could just find a place to tie them up while I boat… Ok, I’m kidding… sort of ;). Can’t wait until they’re older and need less supervision. It will be a wonderful freedom.

  2. Laura

    Showing yourself to your kids seems very important and i don’t think many kids get those types of experiences. Your outdoor life lessons are paying off ;)

    • Why thank you Laura, and I agree. Kids should know that parents struggle with the same things they do, that way they can see it’s a life long process and not to expect it to end anytime soon. ;)

      PS Hello!!

  3. Bonnie

    I really love this post!

  4. Great post and sweet boy! Another way getting outside is such a great learning tool. Great job, mama!

    • Thanks Melissa-
      The outdoors really is the perfect learning tool! It’s fabulous. And, he really is a sweet boy, thanks of course to his father…. :)

  5. Great words of advice. If they don’t see our failures they have no way of knowing it’s part of everyone’s life… and that we have to heed our own advice, try, try again and giving up isn’t a good way to deal with failure.

    • Suzi –

      Very well said! Kids think they’re the only ones that have to keep trying, good for them to know that it’s a life long process. So get use to it ;)!

  6. Wonderful advice. Having models of “failure” but not being devastated is so important.

    • JoAnn – Yes! I very much enjoyed how you put that. My sons reaction made me wish I hadn’t been so disappointed in myself… But maybe that was a good lesson too? I know it was at least a good lesson for me :)

  7. Becky

    Also one of my favorite posts of all time… I was just thinking of your old blog post from way back when listing all your new years aspirations – which turned out to be inspirations for the rest of us. Same feeling here.

  8. I loved this post. You presented powerful ideas! I think it is very important for our kids to see how human we are. And that we follow our own advice!

  9. […] praising the winner an art form all its own, and praise the loser for honoring the winner well. • Let them see you fail from time to time, and watch how you handle it: laughing, joking, and getting up to try […]

  10. […] just like we would try to be tot hem if the tables were turned.  It made me remember something my friend Lindsey wrote about letting your kids see you […]


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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