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The Bravery of Failure, Part 2

A foster mother comes to terms with her inability to succeed, in the second part of a two-part story

by Allison Conant

While I was on my way home from a family wedding in Massachusetts, my fourteen-year-old foster daughter, R, had run out of the house, jumped the fence, and gotten into a stranger’s car. When she finally arrived home that night (thankfully safe and sound) I tried to have a conversation with her. I told her that I cared so much for her. I wanted to see her have a happy life. I told her I would be there for her every step of the way, but I needed to know that she was willing to take a step or two down that road herself. The tiniest of steps would do. She was like stone. Her sister L, sensing something in the air, was equally intractable, though infinitely more vocal about it. All of us were miserable. The social workers, despite their best efforts, could offer no help, and they counseled us to find a new placement for the girls.

My husband Noah and I had so wanted to create a safe place for these two girls, a place in which we could all live happily together. We had seemed to be on our way. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, they had begun having unmonitored conversations with their mother. She had been telling girls she was going to get them back. According to the social workers, given the mother’s history, it simply wasn’t a stable enough situation to allow the children to live with her, and it probably wouldn’t ever be. The social workers knew it, we knew it, perhaps even their mom knew it – but the girls didn’t. They wanted to be with their mom. She’d made an offer to them that no kid could walk away from. Noah and I had become an obstacle to the girls’ happiness. They were determined to sabotage the situation.

Many tears, therapy sessions, and long talks later, Noah and I accepted the truth of  the situation. It was over. I called and asked for a new placement for the girls. And I was left with the feeling that I’d failed. I’d failed at the single most important thing I’d ever tried to do.

Left alone with my failure, I wondered: how do I survive this? How do I live with myself? There was so much blame and judgment. It seemed utterly unworkable.

I reached out to members of my meditation community. I posted on our Google group. Told the whole sad, shameful story. I felt selfish, stupid, naïve. Within minutes, I received words of comfort and encouragement. My Shambhala family spoke to me about my bravery, my courage. They spoke of the dignity of karma. They told me to take it easy on myself. They gave me and Noah their love and encouragement.

I thought it was crazy. Take it easy on myself? Failure at this level – it’s just not a “take it easy on yourself” kind of thing. But I was beaten up. Badly. I needed their kindness and their wisdom. They put my pain and my failure “in the cradle of loving kindness,” and there it has remained.

The girls have been gone for months now, and it is still hard. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a girl who looks like R, and my heart seizes. I miss her so much. I miss having the girls at the table, laughing at my horrible Spanish accent. I miss them laughing at the weird “white people” food we eat (parmesan cheese, eggplant, arugula). I miss watching kid movies, signing L’s reading logs, and having the kitchen table overrun with spontaneous art projects.

There are times when I still feel the weight of my failure – heavily. Times when my fervent desire to have things other than they are runs away with me, and I feel the full measure of that suffering. But when I keep my “failure” in the cradle of loving kindness, I’m not judging whose fault it was, I’m not keeping a count of the red flags I missed, or agonizing over the what-ifs or the should-have-beens.

Acharya Chodron encourages us in her book to Fail, Fail Again, and Fail Better. In allowing myself to experience failure without judgment, I am able to feel the pain, the sadness, the immensity of the loss. I stop rationalizing and intellectualizing. I become a become softer, more compassionate person.

I know I will fail again. I hope that next time I do, I am again wiling to place my failure in the cradle of loving kindness. One thing is certain:  I have a Shambhala family to share my failures with, a family that will accept me and encourage me to trust in my own goodness.

The last thing I said to R was “You are a good person, R. You deserve goodness in your life. You are basically kind, basically good, basically wise, and basically strong and no matter what happens, that will always be true.” The intelligence of the lineage has a way of manifesting when I need it.

This is not failure.


For part one of this story, go to https://shambhalatimes.org/2017/08/11/the-bravery-of-failure/. A version of this posting appeared first on the website of Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles.


Allison Conant has been teaching public high school in Los Angeles for seventeen years. She is a writer and a lover of pitbulls. She has been a member of the Los Angeles Shambhala Center for over ten years.

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2 responses to “ The Bravery of Failure, Part 2 ”
  1. Sherab Gyatso
    Aug 15, 2017
    Reply

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Deb Gilliss
    Aug 18, 2017
    Reply

    While in the short term it may seem like you failed, it is way too soon to know the effect you may have had on these children. You may well have planted seeds that will bear fruit at a future time when the children have matured. I don’t want to go into personal details, but have experienced a family disruption with an adopted child that years later resolved into a loving relationship. I honor your bravery in sharing this story and in taking on these troubled children and hope at some point they will be able to accept love and heal their deep wounds.


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