Dad's Reaction to Kid's Failure

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Dad's Reaction to Kid's Failure

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“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin, I am writing with the unfortunate task of informing you that Nick is currently earning a D in biology…”

“Seriously… a D!  He can do so much better.”

I love my son.  I love who he is becoming.  As a dad, I want my son to be successful in his pursuits but I realize that success will also be defined by his failures. 

How do you define success for your son or daughter? 

What does that look like? 

How are you setting them up for success? 

How are you handling their failures?

Now, what I am about to say is not popular in our culture, but getting my son into the “right” school and having all the “right” extra-curricular activities and sports is NOT what is most important to me.  It’s not about the “right” youth group or the “right” church along with the occasional “community service project” - this will NOT lead to success for my child. 


It’s not about what the world can provide for our kids, but what we as the parents provide.  I am not talking about the “helicopter” parent who does everything for their child to be successful, to the extent of doing the work for them.  I am talking about the parent who is concerned about the moral and character fiber of the children they are raising. 


I am not so concerned about creating all the “right” experiences for my child.  I am more concerned about the kind of man he will be when he is 25, 30, 35.  I am concerned about the kind of husband and father he will be some day. 

 Why is this important and have to do with my son getting a bad grade or experiencing failure?  Because my response has everything to do with the kind of man I want my son to be. 


As I read the email, I sent my son a quick text to call me when he had a minute.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment because we just spoke about how school was going the night before and he assured us everything was going well and that he was staying on top of things.  Mom made one thing very clear to him.  She said, “If you are struggling with school or you miss an assignment, I would rather hear from you instead of hearing from a teacher or an email.”  Well, the rubber was about to hit the road.

Nick calls me and I tell him I received an email from his Biology teacher.  The line was quiet.  I read the email to him.  He had nothing to say.  I asked him if he spoke with his mom yet who was with him at the time he called me.  He said no. 

I had a choice as a dad: “Son, put your mother on the phone” or “Nick, what do you want to do?”  I went with the latter.  Nick and I quickly talked through what was important and agreed that telling his mother was priority #1.  Priority #2 was that tonight we will come up with a plan for him to be successful in school and so we can prevent these kinds of emails in the future. 

I then prayed a simple prayer with him, “Lord, I pray that Mom doesn’t kill Nick.  Amen.”  A little humor can go a long way in deescalating a tough situation.  I gave him some pointers on talking with mom and we hung up.  I got a text a few minutes later, ”Well, mom didn’t kill me… She didn’t even sound angry.  She just said I’d better study tonight.”  My response, “Glad to know I will see you at dinner tonight and we will figure out a plan for you to be successful.”

My role as a dad is to guide my children into adulthood.  My greatest opportunities will come when they experience failures.  I can’t be lazy about those opportunities.  I have to be intentional.  The Bible tells us to be ready with an answer regardless of whether it is in season or out of season. What great advice for parents.  When you can define success for your children, it will prepare you for the right response regardless of what each day brings.  I would hope that our children are not defined by the “American Dream” of having the most stuff or the "right" stuff, but instead defined by their character.


Roy Baldwin
(@baldwin_roy) is a contributor for Dad Matters and the Director of Parenting & Youth at Focus on the Family.

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