I Let My Son Fall and Fail


A playground encounter forces a dad to assert his right to parent.

Will loves the playground. And not just because it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but also because it’s challenging.

The one by our house has a cool plastic climbing structure that really makes Will work. It starts off vertical with holes throughout for hands and feet, before it twists down horizontally and then back up again before reaching the platform on the other side. It not only forces Will to think about where his hands and feet go, but also whether he wants to traverse the top portion or go underneath.

The result is many attempts that fail spectacularly.

As you can see in the picture, slips and falls are guaranteed as he learns the best ways to make his way along the structure. When we went yesterday, he fell off close to a dozen times before he finally made it. As you can see, the highest distance he can fall from is roughly 4 feet, and the entire ground is soft mulch that makes for a cushioned landing. So while I offer him plenty of cheerleading and advice when he asks for it, that’s the extent of my involvement. Because as long as you make sure they’re safe (which Will was), I think it’s important for parents to let kids find their own way without babying them.

Today there were a bunch of kids there with their parents. One mother of a boy who looked to be about 2 years old caught my eye, mainly because she couldn’t take her eyes off Will. Each time he fell she winced and looked disapprovingly in my direction. I’m used to that, as overprotective “playground moms” are unfortunately pretty common. But I did not expect what happened next.

Will tried to go on the left side to climb, got halfway there, and thought twice about his decision. So he attempted to go back to the platform to start over, then slipped but caught himself. The end result was him hanging from the top with one tippy-toe on the platform as he struggled to make it back to where he started. He whimpered a little bit and called out for me, but I told him he was doing great and he could figure out on his own if he stayed calm.

And that’s when “Playground Mom” decided she had enough because she walked briskly over to him and said “You need help sweetie? Give me your hand.”

I was furious but not exactly shocked since I had seen it building to that point for the previous 10 minutes. But I still wasn’t about to let it go without addressing it.

“Excuse me, but he doesn’t need your help and he’s fine. I’m his dad and I’m right here.”

“Well clearly he does need help because he’s about to fall,” she said in full condescending mommy tone.

“Maybe, maybe not. But either way he’ll be fine. I can parent my own kid.”

Then, just as she looked like she would blow her top, my boy came through big time and shut her up in the best way possible. Still hanging there, he politely said “No thanks, I can do it myself!” and proceeded to climb his way back to the platform without help from anyone.

“Imagine that,” I muttered with a victorious smirk as Mrs. Know-it-all Mommy McMommerson huffed away, no doubt to get more bubble wrap to insulate her poor son from every bump and bruise on the horizon.

Look, you can parent however you want but I have multiple problems with what happened. First of all, it’s just another in a long list of examples that show some moms think they know everything — especially compared to dads. To openly step in and insert herself with me — the kid’s actual parent — right there? Maybe she would’ve done the same to another mom, but I doubt it. It’s a shitty attitude and I’m unbelievably sick of it.

Second, we are raising a generation of kids who know nothing about taking risks. Even on the monkey bars and playgrounds of America, the minute they hit some turbulence and adversity mommy and daddy are there to rescue them — and give them a trophy in the process. It makes me ill. My son won’t be great at everything, but he’s going to try his damndest. Because every attempt ends in failure until it doesn’t. Every fall builds determination to finish. Every setback is a lesson learned that gets you one step closer to your goal.

I let my son fall — and fail — so his future accomplishments will be that much sweeter and well-deserved.
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—first appeared at Daddy Files

About Aaron Gouveia

Aaron is husband to a woman far too beautiful to have married him, and father of two sons far too perfect to be his. After nearly a decade as a Boston-area journalist, he decided to actually get paid and became a content manager. When he's not griping about his beloved Boston sports teams, he's detailing life as a dad at The Daddy Files. You can follow him on Twitter (@DaddyFiles) and Facebook.


  1. Jessica says:

    I got the same thing from other women, my mom, especially! I’m not a helicopter parent. Hovering over kids doesn’t teach them anything. I let my kids do their thing, I let them choose to ask for help should they think that they need it, and I encourage them to try again should things not work out for them. From Art to Zumba dancing, they need to explore their limits and boundaries. They need to fail, and learn from that failure.

    While there might be some gender bias in that particular woman’s reasons for approaching you, I’d say that it’s probably just the same jockeying-for-top-parent-position-on-the-playground routine that lots of people pull.

    You’re doing parenting your way, and your child is thriving. So, rock on.

  2. That is pretty much how I parented. My playground rule is “if you get up, you can figure out how to get down”. I will rescue you once. Otherwise, figure it out. I got many horrified looks from moms and dads. The one time (he’s 7 now) my son fell, I was standing within 6 inches of him. Proximity is not going to help. (and I too have visions of all the horrible things that could happen to my kids, and I try really hard not to let my fear infect them.)

  3. I hate these types of comments from “helicopter” parents.
    “Don’t touch that. Don’t do that. Don’t do this. Don’t do etc… Sit down… Stop… Stop…. Stop…….” and the parents just talk and talk and talk and never take junior by the shoulders and make them sit…. or time out or whatever, so the kid keeps on and never stops whatever annoying thing they’re doing.

    Here’s how it goes for me (just an example):
    “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.” – only warning. Kid touches it anyway. Kid cries. “I told you that was hot.” Kid found out for themselves that the parent wasn’t lying and they learned a valuable lesson to listen to what is said. Kids aren’t dumb – sometimes they just need to figure out for themselves what’s right and wrong.

    I hate the stupid “helicopter parenting” crap. And yes, I’m a father of (I think) a very well-adjusted 5 year old (well, she’s almost 5) that knows how to behave properly!

  4. Gotta learn to fall before you can learn to walk…

  5. I applaud you for letting your son learn to be his own person, figure his own way, and learn to make decisions. However, not all moms are like that. I am one of those Moms that strongly believe in the same principle you assert with your son. I have a son with cerebral palsy. I can’t tell you how many stares I get on the playground, restaurants, or anywhere I allow my son to try things for himself. Sure my son has a muscle disease. in some ways he will need help, but my biggest fear is him being totally dependent on others. He will never know what he can do until he try. My biggest motto with him, “If you can’t do it one way son, try another.” Now he’s at the point where he doesn’t want any interference. It makes him feel so accomplished. Again, I applaud you Dad.

  6. I am a mom and I agree with you about letting children fail and stretch themselves- to try risky things. One of my pet hates is the parent who warns “don’t run. You will fall” . Yep the kid might but they will not die and they will learn about their own limitations. Saying it also puts it in the child’s mind and it often happens just because the parent says it. My sons’ have taken risks, learned to assess the risks and make better decisions because of us stepping back and trusting them to learn and to run their own lives. My youngest in particular has a great sense of the value of failure and is not scared at all to try new things because failure is part of learning not an end. If I had daughters I would do the same; support them in stretching and taking risks. I do it with my granddaughter and grandson. That is how kids learn to trust themselves, and to have confidence.

  7. FWIW, even as a mom who appears traditionally “mom-like” in every way, I still have had the occasional interference from another mom or grandma. Starting from a young age (2 1/2ish) I’ve let my kids make their own decisions about jumping, climbing, running (in the right environments of course). No ER trips or sprained ligaments yet.

  8. Hear, hear! I applaud this approach. As long as you are watching your kid and sensing his risks and not scolding him for fallen down when he falls. Good stuff. I was baby sitting two girls, I was a pretty active kid. I climbed trees and was running around being fearless. So I want to show them this side of me. The 7 year old girl is typically ‘girlies’ and into the girlieness. the older one is 14 and a tom boy, but guess who had the issue with climbing the tree? (ok so maybe it was because she was 14…lol) but I wasn’t bothered about made when I was her age. Anyways, they have a molly coddling parents and when I took them to park when the younger was 5 she fell down and bit her lip. I obviously help her but I didn’t scowl her and now she says ‘whenever I’m with you Natty I like trying new things and I don’t mind if I fall down’. This was said when we went ice skating. I felt quite surprised at that! I hope its a good influence for her.

  9. GREAT dad, lucky boy!!
    And just in case anyone isn’t convinced of the value of this kind of parenting.
    I had encounters just like these in playgrounds across America with my physically precocious and very tiny eldest daughter. When she was in 2nd grade, her teacher wanted her to have a tutor every day after school and I refused saying that what she needed after sitting in school all day was the playground and not more school! That teacher tried to intimidate me by saying my seven year old was undisciplined and would never amount to anything! Well, my daughter went on to graduate from college with highest honors and has just received early acceptance to Law School!! Protect their rights to be children and to learn at their own pace and they will thrive!!

  10. When my kids were playground age I let them fall, tumble and fail. My wife, always the safety conscious of us two, was upset the first few times we playground parented. I assured her that falling was part play and if we sheltered them from everything that could potentially hurt them we would be nervous wrecks and they would never venture farther than the couch. My kids fell and got back up and tried again and usually made it. It taught them a few life lessons such as; failure is okay just pick yourself back up and that there are things you need to be cautious with. My kids are grown and have their own kids and I don’t see any lasting trauma from our playground parenting.

  11. As a strongly feminist mom of a 3-year-old boy, with a low tolerance for “manly-man” type role-modelling, I fail to see any machismo in this article. I hope and believe this dad would treat a daughter in the exact same way – let her climb, and fall, and fail until she succeeds. When I was a kid we went to the playground by ourselves, or climbed trees at my grandparents’ farm out of sight of the adults. I find today’s bubble-wrapped parenting ludicrous. Kudos to this guy who encourages his kid to take reasonable risks. His choice is supported by a body of research that suggests that kids who are insulated and discouraged from healthy risk-taking will either become anxious and risk-averse teens, or rebel and take unhealthy risks, depending on their peronality type.

  12. She would have done the same if you were a mom. People like that don’t care.

  13. John R Huff Jr says:

    I believe you are much too focused on manliness and completion or something else. I find your article to be promoting your own outlook rather than your son’s. Taking risks is good sometimes and sometimes not so good. Focus on something more important to write about next time.

    • Akelous River says:

      Well it is a post on being a man and being a parent so I’m not sure why you think the emphasis on manliness is a problem. In this modern era it can be hard to claim our own manliness and to know what to show our sons. It can be very hard to deal with women intruding on our relationships and it can be hard to sort out an intruder’s hostility to masculinity and manhood from our own feelings. It is precious to raise a son and I’m glad he wrote this piece. It has provoked a lot of thoughtful response. I wonder, as a thought exercise, what about teaching daughters about risk, striving, and persistence? How is is different than with sons? For one, I think that with a son, part of the effort is to protect his budding masculinity. With a daughter I would want to teach her to evaluate and take risk just as I would a son but I’m not sure I’d feel as protective of her right to do so.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s no different, really. I didn’t raise my daughter different from my boys and I’m pretty much the same. Let them do it on their own if possible. Just be close enough to help if it’s truly needed. She can do everything they can do. All three learned all the domestic chores and how to climb a tree the quickest.

    • I applaud your talking about the need for failure. When I was an O&M Specialist I was constantly having to work with clients that were overly concerned with being a failure. At times when I would start with a blind rehabilitation client they wouldn’t be able to find a bathroom without hurting themselves. When I finished they would be able to live independently and hold a job of some type.

      What is often ignored by pampering parents is that the struggle is an important to having a healthy self-image. It’s not the falling down that’s important it’s the getting back up! As a part of the teachers at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind I often had to deal with smothering parents. These parents think that they are protecting their children but often they can be the worst problem that these young adults face. You see because of a backlog of cases most of my clients were twenty years old. The cutoff for attending the school was 21. So I was trying to get their skills up to speed before their twenty-first birthday!

      One of the real tragedies is that the parents talk about their “good” kids. Sure they are docile and not at all rebellious because they feel so helpless. So I was often confronted by angery parents that wanted my head because I had turned their “good” kid into a normal rebelious young adult. Because they had been delayed in their personality maturation they are more like rebelious teenagers.

      I was always pround of their struggles.

      In normal kids the struggle is a hallmark of the truly creative. Once I was atttacked by another rehab worker that wanted to have me fired. He claimed I was incompetant because I was crazy. So in my defence my boss sent me to a couselor that didn’t a personality test to find out if I had any mental disorders. I was found to be extremely normal with one exception I have a very strong rebelious streak. It’s the reason that I am an artist and blacksmith also. Blazing new paths takes a determination and resolve that overcoming failures strengthens. My design instructor loved my spectacular failures.I didn’t finish the Production Crafts Metal program because it was for jewelers and I have no need for learning to cut stones which was a graduation requirement. The art galleries that sell my stuff don’t care if I don’t have the paper and neither do I.

      Encouraging our children is what can cause them to be another Tesla!

    • while this article may have some themes of mashismo, the article was mainly about letting the child figure out how to get out of a problem that the child creates or encounters. I think it’s a great lesson for the child, I’m sure he can call his dad if he feels he needs to. Even if he did get hurt, that’s another lesson for that child about avoiding dangerous stunts.

    • This is a very important subject to write about. I can’t tell you how often a damn “helicopter parent” has given myself or my husband dirty looks or made rude and obnoxious comments because we let our children experience both success and failure. Well, the last laugh is ours – both kids in college, doing extremely well, and both very thankful they know what to expect in real life.

  14. Derrick L. Benson says:

    My dad wasn’t there, and when he showed up we really didn’t know each other. If he would have just been there…I liked the article, and please look at infant swimming and sef rescue. I believe watching him swim you and your wife being there will build evrything your trying to do. Me, I can’t wait to be the dad mine wasn’t.

  15. Bobby Jean Simkins says:

    While a single parent to a 12 year old son and 6 year old daughter, I received orders to NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. Both children were accomplished swimmers with lifeguard training, and Waimea Falls became a favorite destination. One visit coincided with a busload of tourists that lost their minds seeing children dive from the cliffs. I overhead threatening comments on what should happen to (insert colorful language here) parents that allowed kids to swim and dive at the falls. Threats became embarrassed silence when I spoke up, gently reminding them of my right to parent as I saw fit and the obvious fact my children were well prepared for their sport.

  16. Wirbelwind says:

    Helicopter parenting is hurting your kids. Kids that aren’t allowed to run, fail, fall or figure something out on their own become crippled adults, incapable of living by themselves.

  17. Caitlin says:

    A woman would absolutely do it to another mother. Women are the worst for mummy-judging. If anything they tend to cut the dads more slack.

  18. Tom Termini says:

    There can be many lessons from a single event — I might have told my son, “what a kind person, offering to help. That’s why strangers are friends we just haven’t made yet.”

    • Akelous River says:

      Isn’t that is one of the underling issues here? People offer help for their own reasons and they may or may not actually relate to what you are trying to do. That’s great knowledge for a boy. Those who offer help have their own motivations, in this case by a need to reduce their own personal anxiety.

      The boy should be free to refuse help and AAron should not be reproached. Some parents value self confidence, some value safety. I still support AAron’s goals and strategies. I wouldn’t have said a single thing.

      • I guess my perspective can be summed up as, how can I make this a teachable event? I’m less concerned with judgements passed, superior/inferior views promulgated, etc., over the concept that we should be open to the doors of perception.

  19. Loved this article and the comments are provacative.

    Here’s my take as the mom who probably would be watching your kids on the playground. Unfortunately, I’ve had to save many a kid from tragedy because their parents [albeit present] simply had no intention of parenting at the time. I’ve seen babies fall and kids nearly drown because their parents preferred to sit back and watch from afar. Even if they had seen the impending incident, they were so far removed from the vicinity and situation, they wouldn’t have arrived on time to prevent tragedy or to love on their child after the fact.

    Obviously, you were engaged with your child and had your eye out for him and his safety however, let’s be fair that many parents aren’t watching appropriately and things do go terribly wrong. I would have noticed your son’s Dad sitting there faithfully and stayed out of it. But the mom in the story may not have, and her natural instincts took over to assist.

    I no longer have little ones but I would rather be safe than sorry and revel in the fact that other parents could “care” for my child if they felt it was needed. There is a reason for our hovering; it’s often necessary. Thanks for listening!

  20. Missy: My actions were rude?? I was watching my son and encouraging him. Meanwhile a stranger took it upon herself to offer her “help” even though she knew full well I was his dad and I was right there. If you think my actions were rude, I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word.

    • This is exactly my point Aaron. Modern parents, as a group, are awful. Hovering, coddling, and co-dependent. Blech. This lady needs to learn to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

  21. This is crazy escalation. If someone (anyone) calls out for help in my general vicinity, I’m going to help. I would not think less of the dad for letting his kid play on, and I certainly wouldn’t be giving him ocular lazerdarts, but his rebuff of help offered to his child seems rude and uncalled for to me.

  22. Firstly let me say I love this article (which somebody very kindly left a link to on my own blog).

    Secondly, did you know that more children are admitted to hospital each year for falling out of bed than trees?!!! I’m with you, let them learn to do things rather than have their hand held all the time – that said I am extremely neurotic so have to fight the urge to be on the playground equipment with safety harnesses and hard hats.

    your son obviously learns the way you teach him and is becoming independent so keep up the good work.

  23. Dear Sir, I respect your rational. I do. But I am afraid of heights. If my two boys are higher than my shoulders (ages now 5 and 7) I panic. Absolutely panic to the point I need to look away. Maybe the mom feels the same way. I see teeth knocked out by playground equipment, I see necks broken in a fall, I see many things. I might be the mom who offers to help a kid up or down but I wouldn’t do it because I think their parents aren’t present or accounted for, I’d do it because I’m absolutely petrified of watching a kid fall. You probably don’t want me at your playground and I think I’d love for you to take my kids to one so I’m not the mom always saying, “Ok, careful, be careful…” But maybe that mom isnt looking at you with evil eyes, she might just be wishing she could be more like you. I wish I could.

  24. Great article Aaron. I admire what you’re doing… and I think your son will too.

  25. Love this post! Before I enjoyed my role as a parent educator and author on discipline, I was an adjunct instructor at a large city college. It was clear that I was beginning to get more moms in my office than the students themselves, demanding that I change an assignment or marking period grade for her young adult child. The effect of too much “bubble wrap” parenting can be seen in the long lines at the court houses, filing law suits to blame someone else for their hardship or misfortune. We need to be building a generation of capable and resilient kids!

  26. Diana Russo says:

    Hey I hear ya on all of your points except one it’s not because your a Man “play groung MOM” (love the term) do this to sinle Moms working MOMs and anyone that has a different situation or deals with things on a different level with a different back ground then them. I know i’ve been both. now i’m a single/married Mom…. you should try that on for size at the PTO meeting!!! P>S i’ve seen playground Dads too!!!! keep doin what your doin us “different style” parents need to keep our heads up!!! Where did the 70″s go when you need them most ; >

  27. So you wanted your kid to have a positive experience, and the other mom wanted your kid to have a positive experience. And you were both huffy.

    My kids are 19, 14 and 11. Letting your kids fail is absolutely essential, but fight the fights worth fighting. There will always be people asserting what they think is best for your kids, in the playground, at school and at the doctor’s office. Rather than getting snarky, just smile and acknowledge the person’s effort, and go ahead with what you wanted to do anyway. It shows your kid it’s possible to address conflict positively and gives the complainer nowhere to go – plus it brings your blood pressure down a notch or two.

    • Jane,

      In this case, as written, the “smile and acknowledge” method wasn’t going to work since she was actively intervening and then argued with him when he attempted to politely wave her off.

    • Jane: This was a fight worth fighting. And really it wasn’t a fight. I was curt to her at worst. Teachers are education professionals and doctors are medical professionals. I will listen to advice from them because they are educated, trained, and paid to deal with these specific situations in which they and my son are involved. A random and rude playground mom does not fall into that category. Clearly my son already knows how to handle conflict as he politely declined her help, but I don’t mind him seeing me perturbed when it’s clearly deserved. That’s not a bad thing.

      And my blood pressure is a lost cause. As a former journalist I gave up on healthy blood pressure a decade ago, and I’m pretty sure my Boston sports allegiances will take care of the rest.

  28. Great parenting!!!! I agree that sometimes we need to let them fail and or flounder to help them fly. As long as they know we are there for them if they truly need us, they will pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and try until they succeed. If we had less kids bubble wrapped and more kids who know what its like to succeed after a few failed attempts then perhaps we would be a better place? Just my opinion of course 🙂

  29. Kaeldra says:

    I love this. Really, I do. I’ve noticed for far too long that my child (a 5-year-old that’s already a stunning little pixie) has NEVER noticed minor boo-boos or claimed illness for a sniffle UNTIL SHE’S SPENT EXTENDED TIMES WITHOUT US (Mommy and Daddy) IN THE COMPANY OF OTHER, MORE CODDLING DUNDERHEADS! I refuse to feed into it when she whines about a tiny, reddened speck on her arm that I noticed two whole days ago and begs for a band-aid. Or when she uses, “I’m sick” as an excuse to get out of cleaning her room when she’s been running around all day, simply because she sneezed once (while outside in our garden, mind you). However, I’m proud to say that, despite all this, she’s still the girl that will pick up toy swords and give you a rousing game of pirates vs. ninjas while wearing a princess dress. Or take off running into the woods (and tripping and falling – a lot) only to beckon us to chase the fairies with her. She has never met a playground structure she can’t conquer, and she gives much bigger kids a run for their money. I will never clip the wings of my little fey wildling (I only hope to keep up), and I resent anyone who tries to coerce me into doing so! CHEERS!

  30. Laurie Snow says:

    I’m a mommy and I’m with you Aaron! I get those crazy looks all the time as I’m sitting a little ways out from the slide and the climbing structures as my 3 year old does his thing!

  31. Good Morning Aaron! I really loved reading your article this morning. I am the same way with my 3 year old and 20 month old. Of course what’s best for my eldest might not always be best for the youngest but I’m sure you get that. You also handled that mom in a really calm collected way versus what would have came out of my mouth. Top commenter, his kid in a way already let Aaron know it was the right thing for him, when he announced to the Playground Mom “No thanks! I can do it by myself.” To me that is a clear sign that his child was being parented the right way in that situation =)

  32. “More importantly, ask your child if s/he believes you did the right thing”

    And if you end up raising someone who is overly entitled or spoiled? Do you really think they’ll look back on their upbringing and be a valid judge of a parent who coddled them or gave them whatever they wanted?

    I agree with the blogger. Later in life, you won’t be there when they’re falling and failing… they need to understand how to deal with it. It’s far too easy to raise kids with no clue how to live as adults.

  33. I am a mom, and I think like you do, Aaron. I have 2 young kids, my oldest is 3 years old and she fell many times, even the first time she walked outside she fell, her knees bled a little, but she didn’t cry, she got back up, and continued walking with us. My mom was almost crying, but I told her, as I was cleaning the knees, “look, she’s fine, she’s happy, she got back up, and continued moving forward as if nothing happened. Thats the attitude I want her to have later in her life.”

  34. Thomas says:

    All is theoretical talk. Wait until the child is an adult to find out if you did the right think. More importantly, ask your child if s/he believes you did the right thing.

    • cheryl kelly says:

      I am a parent of grown children and everyone of them, all girls would agree with and be offended for the dad. We are also tired of the bias against men in our society and also as dads in general. There is an absolute shortage of men in our society and much of it stems from this attitude. Dad was quietly and gently assuring his son, ready to save from disaster. Good job dad and women, let them parent! Cruelty is not tolerated in a man or a woman but quiet assurance in the face of difficulty is agreat quality.

  35. Akelous River says:

    Parenting is an emotional process and we all need respect — and help too. I agree that it’s not our job to teach other parents. It’s important to keep in mind that good enough is good enough. Children have been growing up for a long time. I think there is good reason to have faith that there are many ways to do a good job. At the same time I think it is hugely important to be available to other children at the playground and in general. You don’t need to be teaching other parents but all kids really need attention and care from adults who are not their parents. Sometimes a simple smile is enough. When they get older sometimes they will pull up a chair and start talking about things. (Their parents would never believe it.) It doesn’t take a lot to listen and let them know a bit about what you think.

  36. Aubrey says:

    Raising your son to problem solve like that really pays off if you have more than one kid. Mine are 2 and 3, exactly a year apart, and they must be able to get themselves out of a pickle on the playground, because there’s only one of me. I am constantly on guard, both to keep them safe and to keep them playing nice, but they still fall and get out of hand sometimes. And that’s okay. Being a helicopter parent doesn’t work when you have Irish twins!

  37. I found this article interesting. Before I had a child I would have agreed with you 100% and I still do regarding the fact that as your son was in no more danger of a bruise and the woman knew you were watching him, then she had no right to step in. However, I have a 15 month old and find it very difficult not to protect him from every bump and fall. He nearly died (from an illness) at 5 days old and that has made me more anxious than I would like to be about his safety in general. I agree it’s important to let them take risks and to figure things out for themselves and I’m working on it. I guess my point is, sometimes these ‘helicopter parents’ have reasons you may not know about. It’s admirable to parent the way you do but it’s also very difficult. On a side note, this morning at a play gym I stopped a three year old, who had climbed to the top of a 5 foot fence. His mum was very grateful as she had not noticed.

  38. Agree, that is a lose-lose environment for all of us. Good enough is good enough, for all of us and it’s our own style and that is ok. Now if someone came over and put their hands on my child to try and “fix” something, there would definitely need to be some ‘teaching’ going on, it certainly is not ok to do that!

    There are just so many negative mommy conotations out there (mom jeans, mommy haircut, soccer mom, helicopter mom, etc) but know that there are other educated, well-meaning (stranger) moms out there who feel like they’ll respectfully have your back if it ever comes down to it.. like me.

  39. That is so interesting. When my husband takes the girls out, I feel like people judge him less, as the dad, then they would me the mom. For example one time he took our daughter to Disneyland wearing just a t-shirt and tights (not pants, but TIGHTS!). And I think, oh well, he’s the dad, people just see it as cute and he’s a good dad for spending time with the girls. Now if mom tried that, forget it, lol!

    I agree with what you said about how you (and he) stood up for yourself in a polite manner. But reading the article, the bitterness might be coming out in ways you aren’t aware of when he’s around. I love what Akelous said above about the forgiving, tolerating and the teachable moment. That could be good for your son too. I guess if you are going to go against the ‘helicopter parent’ norm, it’s a good chance to teach others. I can tell you I learned some things from this blog/article (see comments about wanting to “help” above…maybe that is not always wanted by others. People can learn if they are self aware.

    • Cindy: I’m glad you mentioned that because I think what you described is very real, and a very real problem. There are such low societal expectations of fathers combined with the overwhelming need for mothers to be perfect. It’s such a lose-lose for all parents. None of us has an instruction manual, yet mothers are expected to know everything right away. Meanwhile if dads cook mac & cheese for our kids we’re looked at as some sort of novelty like “OMG! That dad is taking care of his kid!!”

      The difference I’ve seen is moms won’t directly and publicly call out other moms. It’ll be more subtle and snarky like “Oh look, she’s wearing tights with no pants. That’s…different.” Whereas women will just come right over to a dad and tell us we didn’t do it “right.” And by “right” they mean their way. To the point where some women (and usually it’s much older women for some reason) have put hands on my kids to “fix” something they perceived to be wrong, without even asking me. And many of the 300 or so dads in my fathers’ group have reported similar happenings.

      Personally I don’t think it’s my place to “teach” anything there, except that it’s not OK to do that. Everyone has their own parenting style so I don’t want to come off as if mine is better than hers. She’s free to raise her kid however she sees fit, as long as she doesn’t interfere with how I bring up my son.

  40. If it looks like another child is in need, or in trouble, I’m guilty of trying to help now, ask questions later. If I saw a kid hanging upside down screaming help, I’d probably run over there too (Granted, once I saw that the parent was watching and ok with it, then it’s time to back off). Many times the parents are on the phone, watching another sibling, or whatever. In my opinion it has nothing to do with whether it’s a mom or a dad, or grandparent, whomever. If someone appears to need help, help them! I’ve been on the receiving end of unsolicited stranger mommy help a time or two myself.. I guess the extreme example is if a child is about to step in front of on-coming traffic, you’d want that mom to have your back, right? At least I would..

    That said, totally agree with letting the kids try, and fail. Now adays we tell them good job for anything they do, and they don’t find their own self confidence from attempting, failing, attempting again until they have the victory of doing it themselves.

    It seems by the way this was written there’s some bitterness towards these playground type moms. Maybe I don’t hang out there to really understand that, being a working mom. But, that bitterness might come off in how you choose to communicate back with the moms, your son might pick up on that tone too.. just food for thought.

    • Cindy: There is bitterness, no question about it. I’m a working dad so I’m not there all day either, but as a dad I can personally attest to the fact that we are on the receiving end of “help” from random mothers constantly. Whether they make a remark about how cute it is that I’m “babysitting” my son, to this stranger who feels the need to basically call me out despite knowing nothing about me, it seems many women think they have every right to openly correct dads at every turn. It’s not an isolated incident, and I definitely have bitterness.

      But despite that, I was polite (but firm) in my dealings with her. And if my son sensed that I stood up for myself in a non-hostile manner when someone was being rude, I’m all for that.

  41. I do applaud your confidence and parenting ability. I do also want to point out that there may be reasons that some moms are overly protective, Me, for one. My daughter is built for play- she is tough, fast, very coordinated, and basically would do well in any sport she tried. My daughter also suffered a broken arm after just turning 4 after falling from some rings. I wasn’t there, she was being taken care of at a “daycare.” Now, I follow her wherever she goes. I have slowly let her exert more independence since her surgery. But let me tell you how horrible it is to watch your child being wheeled away for surgery- with pins drilled into her bones, and the possibility of permanent growth retardation in that arm for life. Sometimes it pays to be a little extra protective. You can’t imagine how horrible the experience is til you go through it yourself.

    • Hi Kelly: I’m sorry about your daughter. That sounds awful. And it certainly gives you a reason to be wary. Indeed, if something like that happened to this woman’s child it would give her cause to be protective with her own kid, which is fine by me. But it’s a moot point as soon as she decides to overstep her bounds and parent my kid.

    • KatieK says:

      Kelly: Due to the nature of the internet, this may sound like criticism, but I promise you that it isn’t (how could I criticize!? I don’t have children!). Even if you had been on the playground with your daughter when she hurt herself, would it have changed the outcome? Sometimes things happen so fast, and only circumstance (and gravity) are to blame. I say this because I experienced a similar, though less detrimental, experience when I was 5.
      I was a very shy, timid child; my mother referred to me as a “skirt-clinger” and likes to tell people a particular story where I hid behind her at a party with a room full of people that I knew. I confused her, because she grew up playing every sport imaginable, and being very outgoing. I was afraid of the monkey bars, but had decided to practice on my friend’s set by going up one step at a time, and jumping down. When I had successfully made it to the top step and jumped safely down a few times, I asked my mom to come watch (I wanted her to be proud!) when I finally swung from the monkey bars. I also asked her if she would catch me, to which she agreed. The day came, and I was swinging from the monkey bars! I said “you’re going to catch me, right, mom?” “yes!” she replied. I hadn’t specified right then, but felt that I had, and let go.

      I fell at my mother’s feet, and broke my right arm.

      I know that she felt horrible, as she has told me so, but I never blamed her. It just kind of happened. I got a cast, and then my arm healed. At 10 I broke my right arm falling from my bike. That healed, too. At 12 I was involved in a minor accident with a car (my fault – approaching the crosswalk in between cars and the sidewalk, and someone was turning right and never saw me), and got a partial concussion and whiplash. The middle school principle chastised my mom for letting me ride my bike to school after that, but I continued to do so (without incident) through high school, college, and beyond (I bought my first, and only, car at 23).

      I tend to get verbose, so I’ll stop there. I guess all I meant is that there’s only so much you can prevent. My mom could have driven me to school, and someone could have hit us in the car. I thank my mom for everything she ever did, and for the space she gave (even though I was reluctant about it, being so timid!). She fought for me and protected me whenever I needed it, but she also taught me how to fall, and how to fight for myself. She was thrilled when I decided to move to Wisconsin for college (I’m from AZ). I have since lived in Indiana, California, North Carolina, and Montana. My life is beautiful, and I can only thank my mother for helping me to grow up to be a strong, independent woman.

      Obviously, there is no right way to parent. I hope that didn’t come out as a “this is how to do your momjob” as I kind of just meant to provide a different view, from a separate experience. Your daughter sounds like one-in-a-million anyway! I hope her arm is alright. Either way, it sounds like she can power through just about any obstacle, especially with mom by her side!

  42. Akelous River says:

    My boy is 15 now and I’m a proud dad. I agree with your approach to letting your son fail. I have always made it a point to not stand between by son and his lessons. I don’t want him maimed, mentally or physically. I do my job by patrolling the edges of the envelope for his safety, not by keeping him unhurt. I always warned him when he was about to do something that would result in getting hurt and I still do. I never scolded him when he didn’t listen to me. I did comfort him when he needed it and encourage him to try again. Today he’s as tough as nails and adventurous. He doesn’t look for pain but he doesn’t fear it. I trust him to take responsibility for his own safety. (And he’s only 15! Did I mention I’m a proud dad?)

    He learned to pay attention to me. He knows in his bones that when I speak, I’ve been watching and I am trying to add to his life experience and am not acting out of my own fear. Parenting is one of the most freighting things that a person could ever do. One cares so much and you have so little control. It doesn’t surprise me that so many parents live in their fear and try to control and limit their children’s experiences. But, in the end:

    1) good enough is good enough. You can’t make your kid a champion by not limiting him or her. On the other hand, controlling parents can’t keep their kid safe by limiting them. Kids grow up and become their own person. They come to life through us but they are not ours to make and mold as we choose. Just love’m like crazy and give them the best you’ve got to give.

    2) I can see why you are offended but I suggest you forgive and tolerate the fearful mom’s intrusion. She’s judgmental and insulting but she didn’t hurt you or your kid. All is really pretty well so let it go if you can. If you can speak with out judgements of your own, share your tactics with her, maybe it’s a teachable moment for her.

    Congratulations on your son. He sounds pretty self possessed!

    • I love everything you said here… Your point about forgiveness and tolerating others, and teaching her, is key to this message and blog.

  43. It’s funny to say it like this, but I have lots of scars because of how good my parents were.

  44. Great piece Aaron. I have had this same experience far too often as well, including having a grandmother start to take my son off a tall slide — thanks, but that’ll be my job, right? And this is why I ever started developing “Laid Back Dad” as a parenting philosophy.

    I don’t say this to just everyone: I think our kids would play well together.

  45. McDume says:

    Good for you, Aaron. You may not know it, but you’re a perfect RIE dad. As we protect our kids from failure, we also rob them of their successes. Even little ones, like figuring out how to get the ball out from under the couch. These infant/toddler successes build confidence, physical and emotional. You’re going to end up with a confident, authentic child.

    I will now pitch a RIE guru, who happens to be my wife: http://www.janetlansbury.com. I know she will be pointing to your article on FB and Twitter.

  46. This is why I don’t have children. Too many people, including husbands and wives, cannot agree on which parenting approach is likely to produce capable and confident children.

    I believe that a little adversity now and then is key to raising a thoughtful, compassionate child who can paddle their own canoe. These hovering types are raising a generation of selfish, “special needs” couch potatoes.

    This makes me sad, because I would really enjoy parenting, but I don’t care to be a single parent nor to I care to be at war with my spouse 24/7.

    • John: I’m a little confused by your comment. So by your logic, in order to have kids you would have to find a spouse who agrees to agree on everything related to raising a child before you even get married. Not only is that impossible, it’s also terribly boring.

      My wife and I are about as different as you can imagine. Different religions, beliefs, philosophies, etc. We don’t always agree and sometimes we disagree vehemently. But we love each other and we love our son, so we find a way to work it out. And in the end, I believe our differences make our son better, not worse. But marriage and parenthood isn’t supposed to be easy and we’re not always supposed to agree.

      • Aaron: I’m glad you have a strong marriage. I’ve seen many couple break over differences far less significant than those you mention.

        My logic is sound. My generation is not a committed generation and I do not wish to “co-parent.” I am glad to not be 50% responsible for raising a child 50% of the time. Divorce culture does not suit me, and having a child is not so important that I’m willing to spend 20+ years arguing about how to do it.

        Maybe my comment is motivated in part by not having found a partner as committed and amenable as yours. Maybe I’m just too choosy. Maybe I just take the care and feeding of another person too seriously. Either way, I’m glad my anguish is my own.

  47. I’m with you, Aaron. I’m a mom of two, a boy and a girl, and I let my kids try everything that I consider it’s not dangerous and yes, I have seen those mothers, their child can’t even walk away from them because they immediately think they are in the greatest danger. Give me a break! Kids need some space to explore, to play, to learn and if a mother or a father is overprotective they aren’t doing their kids any favors. Good for you and great that your kid has learned to solve stuff on his own.

  48. Holier Than Thou says:

    Per another post above, neither you or Playground Nazi Mom are in the right. If your mindset is to teach your kid to fail and what not, it’s a noble notion, but a playground full of kids might not be the best place to do it. Lots of kids of different ages are playing and because of that needs constant monitoring and attention.

    If you choose to let your son work though a specific battle, good on you as it can build character. But hopefully you have a full grasp on his limitations and he’s not going over the top at times to please some macho dad that he adores. It’s a fine line.

    I do agree that the mother was insanely out of line … but so are parents who let their kids run roughshod over a playground set, either to teach them toughness / life lessons, or because their fat faces are buried in their iPhones and the park trip wasn’t as much for the kid to have some fun, as much as it was for said parents to get a break or to wear a kid out pre-nap.

    I am not a fan of the pussification of American in any sense. Kids need to learn toughness — but they also need compassion, respect and tolerance, as do most parents. As much as that mom was in the wrong to jump in to ‘help’ your kid, you have an air of arrogance in your piece here — some notion that you’re right and that she’s wrong, as if you’re better, you “get it” and she doesn’t and as if your kid will grow up to be “better” than hers, because you don’t over-parent.

    For all you know, you’re completely missing the boat on a ton of things with your son, or you will later in life. Taking some liberties with this next statement as I know nothing about you, but since you put it out there with this post, you’re fair game, in a sense.

    Safe bet a lot of meathead sports dads have this same attitude you’re displaying here. Pushing toughness, determination and a bunch of other gibberish they read on “Successories” motivation poster with rock climbers and eagles. Sports dad with inflated egos regarding their on the field success, pushing their broken dreams on their kids, with tall tales about their actual accomplishments.

    Parenting is hard work and we all do the best we can. I’m a father with a young daughter and know that there will be a slew of challenges coming down the pike, so I try to employ logic, love and compassion – especially towards other parents who are all doing the best they can.

    You’re one-sided version of this story, the “I was right, she was wrong” stance and this whole, “can you believe this crazy psycho” way of recapping the story – seems you’re seeking validation and a pat on the back, while others pile on and say the woman was off-base.

    Personally, from what you’ve written, seems you both were on some level. Just saying.

    • Well you’re right about one thing — you assume a lot and take plenty of liberties.

      First of all, why is a playground any less of a place for life lessons? Sure there were other kids there, but he was being monitored. I was right there the entire time and watching him. And I also know his limitations, which is why I made sure he was in a safe place (just a few feet off the ground above soft mulch) and there was no real danger involved. It’s right there in the picture, that’s actually him dangling.

      I think you’re mistaking “air of arrogance” for confidence in my parenting abilities and my utter incredulity at that woman’s insistence that she, a stranger, can jump in and parent my son better than I can. Do I think my way is right? Of course I do. If not, I wouldn’t be doing it. The difference here is that I’m not attempting to influence that mom with my views on parenting, whereas she is. My way might not be right for her kid, but I do believe 100% it’s right for my son specifically. You might think that’s arrogance, but I don’t.

      Earlier you said you lament the pussification of American kids, but a few paragraphs later you call me a “sports meathead” and then seem to criticize teaching kids about toughness and determination. Well which is it? I think it’s great to teach kids about toughness and determination, and I think it’s easy to do that without being a sports meathead. My jv-level athletic career was fun, but I never entertained any notion of being a professional (or even college) athlete. I want my son involved in team sports because I think they teach you invaluable lessons regarding teamwork, hard work, and perseverance — lessons that extend far beyond the playing field.

      It’s ironic that you accuse me of arrogance, when clearly you’ve got the market cornered.

  49. Marvela says:

    Great post! Nice to hear one dad’s playground perspective. I am a Montessori teacher and I remember being taught in my training that we shouldn’t help kids climb something – if they are ready to climb it they’ll try til they get it; if they’re not ready they shouldn’t be up there. Usually they can figure out how to get down, too, though I admit getting down can sometimes be harder than getting up.

  50. jen: I’m the reason you stay away from parks?? I was quietly watching my kid play on the playground when that woman came over and felt the need to butt in for no reason. Please explain how my behavior was abhorrent enough to keep you away from parks. And to each his/her own is fine, but we’ll see how the overprotective kids turn out compared to the ones who are allowed and encouraged to take moderate risks.

    Carol Ann: The parent you described is just awful. What adult taunts a 3-year-old?? I would’ve flattened her as well.

    I’m not sure if you meant it this way, but you seemed to be saying I’m not an attentive parent because I let him take a few diggers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extremely attentive and I was watching him the whole time, and if he was in serious trouble I’d protect him at all costs. But there is something definitely wrong with chronic over-protectiveness, which is something I see all the time. Sure my kid might have a few more bumps and bruises, but I’m always watching him and in the end he’ll be better for it because he won’t be afraid to take on new challenges on his own.

    • Carol Ann says:

      Oh goodness, no I did not mean it that way. Sorry, I was nursing a wiggly baby at the time I typed my last post so I was trying to keep it short 😉 I meant I would rather be the way I am than some of the people I encounter. Last week I watched a group of Moms come together and basically drop their kids off and then go lay out and chit chat while barely glancing to see if their children were OK. Of course that group of kids ended up being kind of rough and ‘bullying.’ I hate that the term bullying gets used too much, so I almost hate to use it. I kept my little guy away from them. I am on top of him like white on rice, but I know when to step back and give him a little space. I want him to try new things and I never want him to feel like there is something he cannot do. I just want him to be as safe as humanly possible. If that makes sense. I am currently sleep deprived – LOL!

  51. Couldn’t agree more! Do you read the blog “Free Range Kids”? I think you’d love it.

  52. Carol Ann says:

    I will admit that I am a helicopter Mom. I let my son try things on his own, but I am only a few steps away if he needs help and I do not force him to try things that scare him. What I do is allow him to play with the kids (as long as they are not being too rough) and he always ends up trying new things every single playground visit because he sees the other kids doing them. That being said I wanted to flatten some broad at the playground last week. She had the nerve to follow my son around calling him a ‘wimp,’ ‘chicken’ and ‘wuss.’ She went as far as making chicken sounds and told him the girls on the playground were braver than he was because he was being timid about going down the big boy slide (he just turned three and this slide is about as high as my front porch roof). I do not tell people how to parent, but I see nothing wrong with being protective and attentive, I wish more parents were.

  53. I have to say you and the “playground mom” are the reason I stay away from parks. lol I’m sure your son will turn out fine just as playground moms child will as well. Letting your son fall doesn’t make you a better parent anymore than playground moms overprotectiveness does. To each their own. Do what you feel is right and what you feel is best and your child will most likely turn out fine.

  54. Alyssa Royse says:

    Right there with ya. I’m the “let them fail, let them fall” mom, and I get judged for it all the time. My favorite was when she was learning to ski. We were on a hill that was well within her capabilities to ski. But she just chose to freak out, for whatever reason. So, after far too many minutes of her screaming, we sat down and talked through the whole hill. Through everything that she could do, and everything that could possibly go wrong, until she finally realized that, no matter what, life would go on and she’d be fine. (Even if she broke both arms and both legs and had to stay in bed watching TV for a month. Which would never happen, it was a totally doable hill.) After doing this, I skied to the bottom of the hill, which was not that far, kept my eyes on her the whole time and waited for her. She freaked out again. Screamed for what seemed like forever. Other parents berated me. (She was fine, she was just freaking out.)

    Eventually, she took her skis off and slid down on her butt. An awesome solution that she came up with on her own, in a state of panic. Got herself down safely without help. Later that season, I did mess up, and accidentally got us on a double black diamond run. That was a bad mommy moment. My kid, however, got to the top, took her skis off and walked down, without freaking out.

    They MUST learn to get themselves out of situations safely when they are scared and freaked out. Life is full of that, and if we don’t let them practice it, they’re going to have no way to handle it when we aren’t nearby watching, just in case.

    (My teenage daughter is now the most poised, confident self-sufficient teenager that I know, for what it’s worth.)

  55. I have to admit that playground moms get on my nerves. I usually take all three of my daughters tot eh playground without my wife regularly. It’s a time when my girls and I can just “be” and have a great time together as they play, show off for dad and make new friends. My girls are 6, 3 and 9 months. So I ALWAYS get the disconcerted looks of “why is this man alone with a BABY? By himself? Like I somehow haven’t earned the right to be anywhere without mom with a baby… having already had two kids before her. Then I get the “Can I help you with her?” question as I take her out of the sling and put her in her the baby swing. I politely say, “No thank you. I have this.” Then I get the evil eye disapproval like I’m suddenly going to punt her across the playground or not be as nurturing if she cries for some reason. God forbid that one of my girl’s scrape their knee, start to cry and I tell them to stop crying, it’ll be okay, shake it off and go back to playing. THE HORROR!!!! Of course, my girls stop crying, wipe away the dirt and tab away the blood, smile and go back to playing like it never happened. If looks could kill, just about every playground mom would burn me with their heat vision.

    I’m teaching my girl’s subtle lessons about life, and I don’t need any other woman outside of the women that I approve to be in their lives to tell me how to parent them. If my wife doesn’t have a problem with it – move along.


  1. […] is an awesome article on the Good Men Project called “I Let My Son Fall and Fail“.   The author, Aaron Gouveia, talked about his experience at the playground with his son […]

  2. […] of my Facebook peeps posted this last night, and I thought it was great. It gives the first-person accounting of a playground […]

  3. […] I Let My Son Fall and Fail – “A playground encounter forces a dad to assert his right to parent.” […]

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