The Hero’s Journey and Accountability

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Just last week, my 10 year-old son David participated in his school's science fair.

As I listened to him explain his “how salt affects water freezing” findings to the mother of one of his classmates, I had one of those moments that parents get every once in awhile, which was: “My child really IS going to know things and do things and be things that will amaze me.”

Imagine my surprise the next day when I learned that David had only gotten a 79 on his project.

He was surprised too.

So surprised, and angry, and hurt, that he had a really bad day. It didn't matter that he would have gotten a 92 had he included a bibliography, and finished various intermediate assignments on time; the headline number was 79.

David was so devastated that my husband and I had some decisions to make.

Validating his feelings (angry, sad, frustrated) was a no-brainer. But beyond that, what would the party line be? Were we going to say the teachers hadn't been fair because the strengths of the report mitigated the weaknesses? And what of going to school the next day? He wanted to stay home. Should we let him?

Or did we simply need to say — we know you're sad, we love you, we know it's hard, but “Johnson's don't give up”?

As we lived through what felt like a pivotal twenty-four hours in our son's life, or at least in our lives as parents, I wondered — are the children in our society not dreaming and doing because, even as we tell them how capable they are, we don't require accountability?

Meaning, because we don't require accountability, aren't we really saying they aren't capable? Because if we really believed they could pick themselves up when they are down, we wouldn't swoop in. And as we bail our children out, when they are alone, rather than telling themselves — I can succeed on my hero's journey, I have a contribution to make — are they instead saying — I can't succeed, because even my own parents don't think I can?

What's interesting about our family's science fair saga is that many would call me a pushover parent (my kids included), but that day, I wasn't. I was clear, absolutely, certainly clear that just as we couldn't take the accountability for his grade away from him, we couldn't let him stay home.

And so after pep talks from both my husband and I about getting back on the horse — and a small little bribe of — we can buy a donut on the way to school — he willingly went. Happily, during the course of the day, his sadness, and discouragement melted way.

I will confess that I am not one for whom parenting comes easily; it seems to for some. And yet I somehow felt that in requiring accountability of our son when he so desperately wanted to be let off the hook, we had parented well.

And, perhaps more importantly, it seemed that our son may now be just a little bit more capable of succeeding on his hero's journey — not because we said so — but because he knows so.

Have you recently required accountability of your children or of those over whom you had responsibility? Was it difficult? Why? Why not?

Do you agree with my hypothesis, that we can't really affirm unless we also require accountability?

Do you find that it's easier with some of your charges than others to hold them accountable? (I do — the more alike me my child is, the more difficult).

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