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Lucy Ferriss
Lucy Ferriss
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Okay to Fail

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Got to know another single sports mom, Kim, at a conference in New York City last week. There is a sense of worlds crashing into each other when this happens – we were striking up a conversation about our mutual profession (teaching writing at college level) and ended up sharing anecdotes about kids’ elite sports.

Chasing Blue Ribbons

Kim’s daughter, 15, rides horses. In splitting up with her husband and moving away from Albany, NY, Kim made sure to choose a locale where her daughter could get good training and a school that would be sympathetic to long absences. I get the sense that money is not an issue for Kim (as usual with elite sports banter, that question is taboo), but she’s torn about whether the riding is still a good thing for her daughter.

The girl has the usual adolescent attachment to horses, but she has also started using riding as a way to get out of social interactions that make her nervous. She is also focused on winning prizes at shows for what seems to be the sake of the string of blue ribbons – she doesn’t talk about loving the world of horseback riding, doesn’t seem interested in school, hasn’t found a way to integrate her competitive riding with the rest of her life. And yet Kim feels she must support her daughter in every way she can, because the riding may be the way her daughter is working out issues about the divorce.

Like Mother, Like Child

One other aspect, besides money, that Kim and I did not discuss is our own competitiveness and how that may rub off on our kids. We are both award-winning authors. When we were younger, reading and writing were a handy way to escape the social challenges of adolescence. But we soon discovered that there are far more hopeful writers than there are publishers, so we strived to do our best and also to negotiate the shoals of the elite literary world.

We may not be pushy parents, but our children detect that focus and drive in us and try to emulate it. Single mothers, especially, may be leery of showing our kids that it’s “okay to fail,” because we are trying so hard to succeed as a family without a father in it that we don’t let our kids know when a short story was rejected or someone else got the prize. When you have children who see the world in terms of winning and losing, it’s easy to fear their pegging you as a “loser.”

But we need to admit to it, Kim and I. We need to remember that mantra: “Try once. Fail. Try again. Fail better.”