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Facing Failure as a Parent

  • Hal Runkel, LMFT ScreamFree Parenting
  • 2007 1 Oct
Facing Failure as a Parent

Ever feel like you’ve blown it? You’ve faced a critical test (with your kids this morning, for instance), you had every desire to respond in the right way, do the right thing, and you do the very thing you swore you’d never do again. You blew up at your kids, or caved in, or just checked out, and now you feel like you’ve blown another opportunity to make some progress in those relationships. You just blew it.

Please forgive the sports metaphor, but Brad Lidge knows how you feel. Lidge is the “closer” for the Houston Astros, my favorite baseball team. As closer, he is called upon to finish the game. His team has the lead with one inning to go, and it’s his job to get the last three outs and claim victory. In dramatic wording, this feat is called “saving” the game.

So what happens if he doesn’t get the save? What’s that called? You guessed it: a “blown” save. What a job, huh? Out there on the world’s stage, out there for the world to see and judge, Lidge and other closers like him can “save” the game. Or they can “blow” it.

Well, one particular game, Lidge got his chance. Thanks to a late-inning homerun, the Astros came to the ninth inning with a two-run lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Astros simply needed three outs to win the game, win the series, and move on to the World Series for the first time in their existence. He got the first two outs easily, and he quickly rang up two strikes on the last batter. The crowd began to lather up with 45 years of pent-up frustration and hope. The First Couple of Astros fans, George and Barbara Bush, stood up with eager anticipation just behind home plate. This was a chance to ease all the pain and make up for past mistakes, and set in motion a new pattern, and new standard of excellence.

A base hit, a walk, and a towering three-run homer later, however, and the Cardinals had a miraculous comeback to bring the series back to St. Louis. And Brad Lidge had nothing but the worst blown save of his career. Ask him and he’ll tell you: he absolutely blew it. In front of God and everybody, he blew it.

Maybe you can feel his pain. You probably know what it’s like to blow it. Like this morning. With your kids. And it hurts. It hurts knowing you could have done better. It hurts knowing how many people were depending on you to do it better. It hurts knowing you’ve blown a moment that you can never re-create, never get back.

Now your teenaged daughter doesn’t want to talk to you. Now your school-aged son is feeling more insecure than before. Now your toddler knows your breaking point, knows just how to push you there, and doesn’t realize that knowledge isn’t good for her. Now your spouse is moving a little closer to your kids, and a little farther away from you.

Worst of all, now you begin to resent them all. And begin to lose a little more confidence in yourself and your own self-control. You’ve blown it.

But Here’s The Good News

After the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking experience of that game, Lidge was mobbed by reporters. And understandably so. Can you imagine being surrounded by the press after your screaming fest through the door of your daughter’s bedroom? Or your “just stop the whining!” battle in Wal-Mart?

“Well, Hal, how does it feel to have blown it this time? How does this embarrassing scene of losing it with your son compare to your famous Waffle House incident?”

But that’s what Lidge signed up for by becoming a professional athlete. And his answers can teach us a lot.

Yes, I blew it, and in many ways I can’t believe it. I’m going to be up all night wrestling with this. And it hurts beyond belief.

But tomorrow morning I’m going to wake up and get ready to do it again. And I’ll be ready.

As a lifelong Astros fan, I have a hard time hearing this. I was emotionally hungover from the night’s binge of unbelievable high and devastating low. It was difficult to sleep. This one really hurt. I didn’t want to even read about it the next day. But I gave in to the temptation and got online first thing in the morning. And then I read Lidge’s words, that amazing balance of heartfelt sorrow and yet confident resolve to get back on the horse, do it better next time.

And that’s when I thought about parenting.

One thing I preach is that whenever you feel you’re being tested by your kids, you are. Our kids are constantly testing us for our own good. It’s their tests that challenge their growing individuality and our own. It’s their tests that ask us to keep growing toward our own mature, calm, integrity. Think about it, who else continually asks you, by their actions and words, to say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow through on both? Who else challenges you to be more patient than your kids?

And it’s during those tests, whether it’s at the grocery store, the principal’s office, or late at night past curfew, that we so often feel like we’ve blown it.

But what Lidge’s experience teaches us is that there is always tomorrow. Yes, there is tonight and all the pain that comes with self-awareness of our mistakes. And yes, there is a definite time to wrestle with the meaning, the consequences of it all. But tomorrow is not only a new day—tomorrow will bring a new test. Probably several. And our team still needs us to shake it off, grow a little, and get ready to do even better next time.

The more I can have that perspective after I’ve blown it, the less chance I have of blowing it the next time. That’s what growth is all about.  

Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the groundbreaking book ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Waterbrook Press. Visit for more information.