Prescription: Failure

One of the benefits of working as a therapist is you sometimes get to see things a bit more objectively, and then give some advice that might actually be hard advice to follow if you were emotionally attached to the situation.

Yesterday I was in a team meeting with a 20 year old client and his parents. All the therapists present were experienced therapists, yet we are also all mothers of children of various ages.

We first met alone as therapists and discussed all the challenges we were facing when dealing with this client. It was apparent that one of the big issues ( typical of head injury) was lack of insight and awareness. Another big problem, was the way he was treated by his parents- especially his mother.

She is a lovely person. Kind, compassionate, caring. She is very maternal and clearly loves her son.

Yet, she is getting in the way of his treatment and development. She is always jumping in to rescue him. Always bailing him out, doing things for him, compensating for things. And I’m not talking about big things, or things that one would think as being over the top for a Mom to do! She’s clearly doing things for him to help him out, make his load easier, give him a break. She’s clearly doing it out of love.

Yet, what this kid needs we decided as a team? Failure.

I don’t think his safety net from his parents has ever been low enough that he has ever noticed when he fell! I think he has fallen – and somehow ends up doing better than before – due to his parents catching the fall and placing him back higher!

Of course, as a therapist, it’s easy for me to “prescribe: failure”.

The goal of “failure” therapeutically (and I must say it is not the typical prescribed route with my clients – but sometimes it becomes the only option) is for the person to really see how they are coping independently, and if they fall apart, then help and support them pick up the pieces independently. The goal is for them to be stronger and “better”. You never abandon them. But you don’t save them from the fall or the consequences either. You support them as they struggle through. I guess it’s a little bit of tough love.

This is sometimes counter to my instinct when parenting my own kids. I want to protect them so much, to warn them, to guide them and save them in many respects from the big bad world out there.

As I said in my post back here, I want to be that parent on the watchtower guiding them from the perspective I have on higher ground. I want to arm them with knowledge and information so that they can make good choices – on all the little things that added up together, really count. That is how I want to parent.

But, as I sat in the meeting yesterday with my client, I saw what a grave mistake it is when we jump down from the watchtower into their field and guide them down the path we think is right for them. We need to stay up on our watchtowers and let them make their own way. Guidance, advice, consultation: good. Bailing them out, enabling them, doing it for them (or too much for them): bad.

They need to make mistakes. They need to fall. They need to fail.

They need to learn how to figure things out for themselves. They need to live with consequences of their own choices. They need to learn how to problem solve independently. They need to live within their means, work for their rewards, sacrifice their own time.

From failure, trials, mistakes and sorrow,  we grow the most. We can learn that we can handle anything! We learn to rely on ourselves and gain confidence and independence. Most importantly, we learn that even when we face things “alone”, we never really are alone. We learn how to rely on our Heavenly Father – or whatever power we feel gives us strength. We learn to turn to those things that build our spirit and bring us peace.

If we don’t allow our children to have these kind of experiences, then they may never learn to develop the independent relationship with their Maker, or even feel the need to ask themselves what they actually believe in, or give them the chance to develop spiritually and in all the other ways they need to grow.

So, it ‘s a fine line I guess. We need to arm our children with values, character, love and support. But, we need to make sure they have a healthy dose of failure, real consequences and opportunities for growth.

No wonder parenting is the hardest job on earth!


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