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Snowflake Lake: How I Set My Kids Up For Failure

Ever since my kids were old enough to play board games, I have been the ruler of King Candy’s Castle. Through hundreds of games of Candy Land, I have been first to Peppermint Forest, breezed over Gumdrop Pass and skipped my way through Peanut Acres. I have persevered through the sticky turns of Lollipop Woods and my kids know that Queen Frostine will always grant me safe passage through Snowflake Lake while they fall victim to the perils of Lord Licorice. 

And you know what? I will beat them happily every.single.time. 

Time and time again I have watched my children lose. From Chutes + Ladders to Monopoly, they have succumbed to the success of their game-loving parents. And time and time again we have congratulated them on a hard-fought battle. We have humbly relished in our winnings.

Yet, we have never “let” them win. 

Though it may seem harsh that we play our hardest (and fairest) in simple childhood games, from a very early age it taught our children valuable lessons.

Always try your best. Never cheat. Stay positive even when down on your luck. Persevere until the very end.

And most importantly … win or lose, do it with dignity. 

As they grow older and are becoming wiser in game-play strategy, they are coming up victorious more and more. My Princess Peach has fallen to Baby Peach in more Mario Kart battles than I care to admit. My battleships have been sunk, my King most-assuredly will suffer Checkmate, and my 8-year-old is the most ruthless Uno player I’ve ever met. 

All is fair in love + war

Simple, childhood game-play has modeled for our children fair and unfair game-play in life. It has taught them the pitfalls of being fragile, dependent, and risk avoidant. It has strengthened their resolve and encouraged their calculated risk-taking. It is my hope that it has also helped them understand why they should never feel ashamed to come to us with their failures. 

Because I want my children to embrace failure wholeheartedly. 

The most important lessons that I learned in my life have always been the product of struggle, risk, and failure. In college, I experienced trials of uncertainty studying abroad in a strange country where I didn’t speak the language. Yet that discomfort led to a career that I love and cherish. In grad school, excusing myself from my thesis defense to nurse my 9-month-old was a calculated risk. However, my professors were happy to oblige and that led me to exercise a much more assertive defense. And a few years ago, as I raised and buried a child with health complications, I learned my most valued lesson, that failure is no more than a mindset.

Though I could not save him, I did not fail him. 

For years I have been setting my children up to fail so that they could learn that not winning is different than failing. They have learned the old adage, “you may have lost the battle, but you haven’t lost the war.” 

They have learned that failure is sometimes our greatest reward.

Because when we fail we win so much. We achieve the wisdom of how to lose with grace. We gain the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes with compassion and empathy. We win the knowledge of who our truest friends are in our greatest times of need. We learn to stay humble and kind, regardless of circumstance. 

As my children have learned through game-play,  sometimes the difference between success and failure comes down to dumb luck. Hard work can only take us so far. Times of struggle, failure, and misfortune will, at some point, send some us back to the start. In Candy Land, if I draw Queen Frostine, arguably the best card in the deck, that card is out of play for the rest of the game provided there is not a reshuffle. No one else will get that advantage. The most successful of players in life realize that part of their success is due to luck of circumstance and the grace of God.

We must cut the cord and embrace failure.

When our babies are born, many health-care providers offer parents the experience of cutting the umbilical cord. It is a precious moment in many birth stories. However, even if the cord is not cut, after a few days, it will dry up and sever itself. Our children, by design, are born for independence.

They need to learn fortitude, perseverance, and resilience. Doing things to protect our children from failure does not equate to good parenting. In fact, it may get our children caught up in “Snowflake Lake.” Likewise, when our children fail, it should not equate to bad parenting. We are all fallible people. We make mistakes. We learn and grow. We, hopefully, have the resolve to pick ourselves up when we fall. The more our children see us fail with grace, the faster they will learn to fail with grace. And it is with that failure, that they will learn to succeed and grow into healthy, independent, confident young adults.

So I will continue to watch my children fail, knowing that failure may be their greatest reward.

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