I have been thinking lately that I should make a point of modeling failure to my kids. Because failure is the best thing you can allow to happen to your kids.

The academic treadmill is particularly dangerous because there is not a lot of room to fail when you are a smart student who does what you are told. Those kids—always told they are succeeding—are the ones most ruined by the treadmill system.

I want them to see I make mistakes. So I laid out the two rugs I bought, and I called the kids downstairs.

“Look at my new rugs,” I said.

“Don’t put those in our room,” my oldest said.

“Yeah” chimed the other kid. “They’re ugly.”

“I actually really love them. Look closely. The blue one is made out of neck ties. Someone cut and resewed them to make a rug.  And look at the brown one. It’s t-shirts. They are sort of cut and folded into squares.”

The boys look.

I don’t bother telling them about how the rugs deconstruct the doldrums of the office to create art. Instead I say, “The rugs don’t match. They don’t actually match anything in the house. And they’re not returnable.”

My younger son says, “Can we go now?”

Okay. So it wasn’t a great lesson. And then I think, I am not going to be able to model failure. Because it’s my failure. It’s what I care about. Kids have to do their own failure and then see my response to their failure.

Of course my response is to try to solve their problem, because watching them fail is so painful to me.

I spend a lot of time crafting compliments that praise effort rather than talent: “You are such a hard worker,” or “I like how diligent you have been with that.” But now I see I need new language to encourage failure. Like, “It’s too bad you didn’t win. Sometimes that happens.” Or, “It’s hard to spend so much time working on a project that ends up not working.”

No more fixing stuff for the kids. I’m realizing that the great thing about self-directed learning is that it’s failure that matters.

The kids don’t care when my new rugs don’t match. And they care as much about my rugs as about some teacher’s math project. Failing at something someone else chooses for you is so different than failing at your own project.

Which is how I decided to paint my rooms to match my rugs.