Are We Overparenting? Why Our Kids Need to Experience Failure.

The boys are off to college and classes are beginning this week. I am re-grouping and getting a handle on my new life at home without kids. And then the texts start rolling in and I am feeling incredibly anxious. My boys’ problems are quickly becoming my own. One son has faced early rejection from a something he had his heart set on. He sounds awful. The other is sending pictures of possible foot infection he self-diagnosed and treated incorrectly which caused more of a problem. I am sucked in and my first reaction is to try to fix everything.



Ok, I am the worst at this. My job as a mother has always been to protect my children, teach them about life. Teach them how to approach problems and help solve them. I have made this my life’s work, really. The hard part is the balance part. Where to draw the line and stop helping so much. I want to fix it and make it all better even when they are grown, against my better judgment. “I will just show them the way and it will be a learning experience,” I tell myself.

I am a control freak and sometimes I go into overdrive. I want to do everything I can so my children do not experience pain or disappointment.

This is what modern parenting is all about, right???

It is about making sure our children are happy all the time. It is about becoming best friends with our kids and then they will love us even more. It is about protecting them from all the hurt and pain we have been through in our own struggles.  That’s our job, right?


We want to be more involved parents than maybe our parents were and in our quest for improvement, we may have gone a bit too far to the other side. Who is feeling more anxiety about the problem? Me or my kid? I think it might be me….

I think what parenting is truly about is equipping our children with a tool set to help them become resilient, strong adults. If we fix everything it is tough for children to learn these skills. Life is filled with stress these days and maybe we should be teaching stress management at earlier ages so our children have practice and experience before leaving the home.


When children are younger it seems easier to intervene and change outcomes that are not at first ideal. I watched people all around me constantly stepping in when a kid didn’t make the baseball team or didn’t get the teacher they wanted or a fair grade in a class. How about bringing forgotten homework to school? Guilty as charged.

Our generation is all about making our children feel special and able to accomplish anything.

On the one hand, it sounds like a healthy and good practice. On the other hand, it is not representative of life in general. Life is not fair and the best candidate doesn’t always get the job.

As our children turn into young adults and move into the college years we still seem to have influence that our parents didn’t really have. I still hear stories of parents intervening in college life and helicoptering over parts of the experience. Though I have let go of most the day-to-day, I still feel that pull sometimes to help set my children on the correct path and get more involved than I should.

I did grow up believing my parents could fix things for me. I thought they would always be there to make it all go away.


My first exposure to failure was in 10th grade. I was always a good student and my parents’ expected me to get good grades. I remember thinking I could never fail a class because if I did, I would have to run away. Seriously. I had a whole plan mapped out. I would head off in the woods with my backpack filled with supplies and hide out, at least for a while. So, when I started Geometry class and found it really difficult, I started to get worried that I may actually have to implement my plan.  And then my first quarter grade was assigned and it was a 63, an F. I looked at the grade with such disbelief and fear. All of a sudden I was not so prepared to run away.



To my surprise, my parents didn’t disown me and the world didn’t explode into flames.


I didn’t have to run away.

What I did do was follow my parents’ orders to stay after school every day with the teacher until the end of the year. It was torture, especially because the teacher wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type guy. After such a painful failure of sorts, in my small world, I learned how to pick up myself and move forward. I ended up surprising everyone when I got a B+ on the final exam, which was a standardized state exam.

That same year, I experienced a second painful failure. I applied for a summer program at a prep school in New England. I had fantasies of a summer away from home, living like a college student in a dorm, meeting my first real boyfriend and taking courses like anthropology and going on an archeological dig. I had never been rejected from anything in my life until I got the rejection letter for this program. I was in such disbelief and was convinced my parents would fix it and I would go off on my archeological dig. They couldn’t and they didn’t. It was because of my geometry grade 1st semester that I failed to qualify.

Ironically, failure often opens doors.

At the last-minute I applied for a Leadership program at the YMCA camp I had attended for many summers and was accepted. The best thing that ever happened to me. I can say that both my boys did have rejections and missteps in their teenage years, neither they nor I could fix and though it pained me to watch,  opened new and potential better opportunities for both of them. Each time, I believed those outcomes would somehow make them stronger.

So, why are we so afraid of failure? Why are we resistant to let our children fail in some way? Why do we beat ourselves up so much if we aren’t perfect?



It struck me when one of my sons was interviewing for a job and was asked to describe one of his biggest failures. What would young people say today?

Eventually, our children will be out on their own. For many, it is the first time they are not protected and experience the normal frustrations of life. They think something must be terribly wrong when things don’t go as planned.

It is not a surprise that anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students.  According to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, more than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern. Is it because we didn’t allow them to experience failure before leaving the nest? Did we protect them too much?



 If we want them to build character, confidence, strength and resilience, we need to let them face adversity and experience the pride that follows when they come out stronger on the other side.

It’s hard to see our children fall, but sometimes we have to. This is hard for me. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether getting involved  is in their best interest. Admittedly, I am working on this and find it difficult, very difficult not to get involved.

Failure helps us learn our way. It helps us readjust and often become better for it all. It helps us develop skills to get through life’s challenges. And there will be many.











About Shari

I am a two-time cancer survivor and patient advocate. Diagnosed as a young adult, at age 25 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had to quickly face the reality of life’s curveballs. My treatment offered a potential cure while at the same time, underestimated the long term side effects including a secondary cancer (breast cancer) nine years later. Shortly after my breast cancer treatment ended, my youthful, seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and passed a year later. I have lived the cancer experience as a patient and a family member/ caregiver and understand both sides. Life after treatment is often challenging emotionally and physically and there is a gap in providing needed support. I don’t consider cancer a gift as it is not something I would ever want to give to someone. Rather, I view cancer as an opportunity; one I received at an early point in my life to live intentionally, understanding how things can change at any moment. I live without regrets, fully understanding the gift and fragility of life.
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3 Responses to Are We Overparenting? Why Our Kids Need to Experience Failure.

  1. Linda Kane says:

    Absolutely brilliant.


  2. Shari says:

    I think you are my biggest fan! Thanks Linda.


  3. Pingback: Election Drama. Now What? | Life According to Somebody

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