Book Review: The Gift of Failure

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve offered some lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. Visit our Resources page for suggestions of important books for college parents and their students.

The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey, is an important book, not only for parents of college-aged students, but to parents with younger children as well. This book highlights an essential, and often missing, element of today’s childhood — failure.  As the title suggests, allowing our children — whether they are toddlers or college students — to fail, as painful as that may be for us, can be one of the best gifts we can give them.

Lahey acknowledges that as students get older, the stakes get higher, and it becomes more difficult to watch them struggle and potentially fail at college essays, college courses, and job interviews.  The earlier the work can begin, the better.  But it is never too late.  It is difficult and sometimes frightening work for parents, but it is necessary.

According to Lahey, ”parents must begin to relinquish control and focus on three goals: embracing opportunities to fail, finding ways to learn from that failure, and creating positive relationships.”  Lahey uses much of her book to help parents learn how to accomplish these goals.

Lahey begins her book with a history of parenting approaches in the United States.  This provides an important context for understanding why we parent as we do.  We like that this book is so well researched and draws on the wisdom of experts in many different fields.

But far from being a dry, historical and research-based book, Lahey’s stories and personal observations make the book real, easy to read, and convincing.  Chapters help parents think practically about how to incorporate this new approach through household chores, sports, with friends, in elementary, middle and high school.  Part 3 of the book also discusses how to work with teachers and schools to help provide ”desirable difficulties” that will help students grow.

Read this book if you are a college parent.  Read this book if you have younger children.  Give this book to someone you know who has children.  Jessica Lahey identifies a major problem with this generation of children, discusses it at length in her book, and makes us feel more positive and optimistic at the end.  We recognize the problems, but we feel that we can make a difference and do something about it.  ”What we can do, is be patient, and trust in our kids.”

About the author:

Jessica Lahey is an educator, speaker, and writer.  She writes the biweekly ”Parent-Teacher Conference” column for the New York Times, is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, and appears as a commentator on Vermont Public Radio.  She teaches English and writing.  Jessica earned a J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a concentration in juvenile and education law.  She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two sons.

What the author has to say about the book:

”We have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success.  That’s certainly not what we meant to do, and we did it for all the best and well-intentioned reasons, But it’s what we have wrought nevertheless.  Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness.  Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood.  The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of this world.”

”We parents are going to have to step back, leave those scary obstacles lying in the road, and allow our children to face them head-on.  Given our support, love, and a lot of restraint, our kids can learn how to engineer their own solutions and pave their way toward success that is truly of their own making.”

”We protect our kids from all threats, whether real or imagined, and when we tuck our kids in bed at night, free of cuts, bruises, or emotional hurt, we have, for one more day, found tangible evidence of our parenting success.”

”In order to raise healthy, happy kids who can begin to build their own adulthood separate from us, we are going to have to extricate our egos from our children’s lives and allow them to feel the pride of their own accomplishments as well as the pain of their own failures.”

”It’s up to us.  Parents have the power to grant this freedom to fail.  Teachers have the ability to transform that failure into an education.  And together?  Together, we have the potential to nurture a generation of confident, competent adults.”

What others have to say about the book:

”Jessica Lahey, author of the new book The Gift of Failure, wants everyone to back off and let kids mess up.  Because without experiencing failure, mistakes, and imperfection, she believes, they will grow up to become adults incapable of dealing with adversity.  They may wind up being paralyzed by the fear of failure and will strive to experience less in their lives.”

Evan Grossman, Men’s Journal


”[Lahey gives] advice on how to let kids make their own mistakes, then turn their failures into future successes.  It might make you feel better about your own bumps in the road, too.”

Working Mother magazine


”Lahey’s book is surely a gift to parents, a wake-up call that reminds us that our job is not about making our children happy or successful today, but rather helping to nurture future adults who can do this for themselves.”

Lisa Heffernan, The Mid


”An important, thoughtfully balanced book aimed at shifting thinking and providing concrete steps toward encouraging positive — and realistic — self-image development.”

Kirkus Reviews


”Simply put, I think it’s one of the most important, thought-provoking, and helpful books about raising children that has been written in a long time.  And because much of it has to do with a family’s approach to how their child learn, I also consider it one of the most important books about education as well.”

Eric Messenger, New York Family magazine


”It’s hard to overstate the importance of this book . . . It’s the one book we all need to read if we want to instill the next generation with confidence and joy.”

Susan Cain, author of Quiet

Note: Some links in our post are for affiliate products. If you use our links, College Parent Central receives a small percentage of your purchase price. This does not change the cost to you.  We think it’s only fair to let you know that.

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