Jessica Lahey


Jessica Lahey is a teacher, speaker, and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She writes the bi-weekly column The Parent-Teacher Conference at The New York Times and is a contributing writer at the Atlantic. You can find out more about her work at

In 1964, a fifteen-year-old boy named Gerald Gault was arrested after he and a friend made a lewd phone call to their neighbor. Over the next few weeks, Gault was repeatedly interrogated by police, adjudicated before a judge twice in chambers, and was subsequently committed to an Arizona juvenile detention facility until his twenty-first birthday.

My father has cultivated some wonderful friendships in his adopted hometown of Rockport, Massachusetts, but one group of friends stands out for their devotion, constancy and punctuality.

When the Chocolate Shop in Hanover, New Hampshire, closed this year, we lost more than a source for our favorite treats. We lost a family landmark. Where other children find caramels, mint meltaways and Pop Rocks, my son Finn found his courage. 

By age 29, Albert Schweitzer had constructed a life of comfort and respectability. He’d earned a Ph.D., worked as principal of a theological seminary, authored three books, and was recognized as Europe’s most celebrated organist and interpreter of Bach. In his thirtieth year, however, he learned that Africans were dying in vast numbers due to a lack of basic medical care.

Jessica Lahey

On summer mornings, I slip on my tall boots and head out my back door, plastic bowl in hand, hungry for my breakfast. As I walk across the lawn toward the raspberry patch, I temper my enthusiasm. Dessert and breakfast are perilously proximate in summer, and I’ve usually picked the patch bare the night before during my post-dinner stroll.

Lahey: Laundry 2.0

Apr 1, 2015
Jessica Lahey / VPR

This morning, my younger son woke me up by shouting his usual complaint,


My reply is always the same.

"Do you mean 'I have no pants' in the sense that you have no pants, or in the sense that you have pants, but don't know where they are?"

Lahey: Maker Space

Dec 19, 2014
Jessica Lahey

For the past couple of Christmases, we’ve tried to orient our giving toward the acquisition of experiences over things. Either we go away somewhere interesting for a few days as a family, or we give our boys lessons in a skill they’d like to try out. Some experiences bomb, others take hold, but every one is part of our family’s story.

Jessica Lahey

In his book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, child psychologist Michael Thompson describes a question he poses at his talks. He asks the audience to recall a significant childhood memory, and then instructs them to raise their hands if their parents played a featured role. Very few hands go up.

Mine certainly wouldn’t. My formative memories take place in the woods, at camp, in a barn, or on a bicycle, and while I love spending time with my parents, they don’t even rate a cameo appearance.

Kira DelMar

A couple of years ago, I faced a teacher milestone. One of my students died, someone I'd visited and emailed and laughed with in the weeks and days before his death, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with the odd, not quite parental, not quite friend-shaped hole. In the days after his death, I wrote, "When I had children, I understood that I was opening myself up for a world of pain; that's part of the deal we make with the universe when we become parents.

Lahey: Green Wood

Mar 7, 2014

We are at that point in the winter where our best-laid plans of last fall have become untidy. Orderly rows of seasoned wood, have become jumbled chaos, strewn with weather-beaten tarps and tumbling, unruly, onto the snow. In contrast, the orderly, square stacks of green wood stand tall, and because of poor planning on my part, tantalizingly close to our mudroom door.

Those stacks only hold the promise of heat however, because once inside, the joke’s on us. That green wood barely smolders, mocking our impatience and haste, as water bubbles and steams out the cut ends.

Lahey: The Coat

Jan 24, 2014

New Hampshire is known for many things, but high fashion is generally not one of them. When I head out to the post office or to pick my son up at school, my priorities regarding coat selection center on its appropriateness to the outside temperature and whether there are eggs in the pockets left over from chicken chores the day before. If I’m feeling fancy, I might figure the coat’s color into my calculations, but I’m not usually feeling very fancy.

The phone doesn’t usually ring before six o’clock in the morning, so I knew before I answered it that my grandmother had died. She was in her nineties, and had been in a slow decline for months. Family had gathered by her bedside, and to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, she’d willed away what portions of her were assignable, and our eyes were long since wrung dry

We moved to the woods in search of a home, a place where our sons have space for solitude. I wanted them to know the sudden upwelling of frigid spring water in an otherwise warm lake. The silver underside of leaves revealed by winds before a rainstorm. The ozone whiff of an impending January snowstorm mixed with the comfort of wood smoke.

Lahey: Seen By Saddle

Oct 18, 2013

The trails around my home are so familiar to me that I avoid roots, adjust to slopes, and leap over fallen trees without breaking stride. I know the seasons of my territory; where some paths will be too muddy, when to avoid a mother bear’s favorite scratching tree, and which trails are best left untraveled during hunting season. I’ve been exploring the woods around my home in Lyme Center for years, and I thought I knew everything about them.

A teacher’s year is quantified by the same measures as a layman’s year; it divides up by the same three hundred and sixty five - give or take a leap - then the smaller twenty-four, and more minute sixty, but these measures are where the similarity ends.

Teacher’s lives are cyclic; fall is for new beginnings, winter is for maintaining momentum, and spring is for closure.

Lahey: Camp Rules

Jun 25, 2013

Three years ago, when he was eleven, my son Ben set down a very specific parental code of conduct we’d be expected to follow at summer camp drop-off. We could say our goodbyes at home, but once we arrived at camp, any displays of affection, attempts to make his bed, arrange his things, or force premature familiarity with his cabin mates would be strictly prohibited.

Lahey: Mother Mallard

May 31, 2013

In late April, some students at Crossroads Academy noticed a Mallard duck hanging out on the perimeter of our playground. She was oddly persistent, pacing back in forth near the basketball court, and that afternoon we discovered why. Over the past two weeks she’d been surreptitiously laying a clutch of eleven eggs in a nest made of her own downy feathers.

Lahey: Spilt Milk

May 21, 2013

The day before my first date with the Robie Farm dairy herd, Lee Robie gave me some last words of wisdom. “Don’t wear your best underwear,” he said.

Thus ended my romantic vision of farm life wherein the farmer walks on to his porch, clutching his coffee in the gentle dawn light, smiling as he gazes down on his herd, ambling home from verdant summer pastures.

But here’s what I learned: there is no gentle dawn light at four AM, and the cows do not amble home of their own accord. They amble home when the farmer speaks loudly and carries a big stick.