What It’s Like To Watch Your Kid Fail: 3 Lessons For New Parents

What Its Like To Watch Your Kid Fail

My daughter just failed Backfloat Baby 1, a swim class for one-year-olds where doing the Hokey Pokey is 90% of the curriculum.

In fact, at no point during the 12 weekly lessons did I consider there were actual passing requirements. They were never discussed. There wasn’t a final test. And since the girl was the most experienced and comfortable swimmer in the class, I assumed she would doggy paddle right into Backfloat Baby 2.

We didn’t even realize she had failed until we had left the pool, as demonstrated here in my wife’s premature celebratory Snap.


As parents, this was new territory, marking the first time anyone had ever suggested our perfect little sweetheart was in any way not perfect. But for something as trivial as a baby swim class, I was surprisingly pissed off over it.

What do we do? Do we go back and demand an explanation? Is that crazy? Will that make us ‘those’ parents? Maybe I should call the program director. Or maybe I should wait until nightfall and toss a burning bag of shit on the steps of the main entrance.

We decided to call and were told that the girl failed because “she didn’t show enough independence on her backfloat.”

Now, this can mean one of two things, either A) the girl swims fine, and this gibberish about independence and backfloats is just a sham to squeeze us for an additional enrollment fee. Or B) the girl really DOES need to show more independence on her backfloat and, as a proud father, I refuse to accept that this is true. Because it’s not. The girl swims like a goddamn mermaid.

We were also told that in some cases, they will permit a child to enroll in Backfloat Baby 2 without first passing Backfloat Baby 1. All we’d have to do is come in for an assessment, pass the assessment, and get sign-off from a swim manager, which is a hilarious overestimation of what I’m willing to endure just to hemorrhage another $300 to this stupid swim school.

Anyway, it’s been a week and I’m basically over the girl flunking. For now, she can learn to swim in the community pool, and we’ll throw the $200 we save into her college fund.

But what terrifies me is entering the phase of fatherhood where I can’t protect the girl from disappointment and failures brought about by the outside world. Because this is just the beginning.

Today it’s some swim class she neither knows she failed nor participated in. But what happens when she gets cut from the softball team? Or when she doesn’t get invited to little Susie’s 6th Birthday Bash? What happens when her little heart is broken and there is nothing I can do to piece it back together?

It’s not something you think about when your kid is in diapers, and it’s not something I thought about, until now. Here are 3 lessons I learned from watching my kid fail.

1. Don’t Let it Turn You Into a Monster

It sucks watching your kid fail. This is expected and obvious, but it doesn’t make it any easier. But I think the hardest part is not taking it personally.

I’m a reasonable guy, and the instructor seemed like a nice enough gal. But I found myself immediately wishing hateful shit upon her, as if she were some cold-hearted swim fascist whose sole purpose was to make life miserable for the Palma family.

When someone criticizes your child, it’s only natural to want to throw that someone into a poisonous snake pit (that is a natural instinct shared by all of us, right?). But you can’t be going all Momma Grizzly anytime anyone points out an imperfection. You gotta keep your head and be calm, but at the same time…

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Up for Your Kid

I played hockey growing up, and youth hockey in Minnesota is about as political as a GOP convention. This entire state is filled with batshit parents willing to kiss the ass of every hockey coach in a 50 mile radius if it means more ice time for little Jeffrey.

And as kids, we knew it too. Kids are smart. We were well aware of all the hobnobbing and brown nosing, and I remember thinking I’m never gonna be like that.

But now that I’m a parent, I sorta, kinda get it. Not the ass-kissing so much, but the acting like a crazy person for the sake of your child.

You know your kid like no one else. You see the work they put in and know how bad they want something — not that the girl put any work in for her swim class, but hypothetically speaking — others just see another snot-nosed kid. You should stand up for your child. Because if you won’t, why should anyone else?

3. Preach Effort Over Outcome

Not to get all philosophical, but what is failure? Like, at what point have you officially failed? Steve Jobs released dozens of unsuccessful products and was even fired from his own company. But were those failures? Or just steps to success?

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Failure is scary. It prevents great people from doing great things. But studies show that failure is an ingredient of success. A lot of times, what we consider failure is a necessary part of the process.

So teach your kids not to fear failure. Preach effort over outcome, and remember you only fail when you quit. So if you want something, don’t ever quit.

Unless that something is an unfair and overpriced swim school. Then you should definitely quit and find a cheaper option.


Related Reading

What Nobody Tells You About Fatherhood: 12 Confessions From A Brand New Dad


Happy11 Things Scientifically Proven to Make You Happier
The SandlotThe Sandlot: 10 Reasons Why It's The Greatest Of All Time