Confession: I don’t fail. At anything. Ever. If it looks like I’m going to fail (for instance, sports), I don’t do it. A classic overachiever, I was that annoying kid in class arguing with her teacher to get a 99% instead of a 98% on the test. Top of my class, first chair in band, winner of all sorts of teacher’s pet awards. College graduate, wife to an amazing renaissance man, master’s level professional. I crushed it all. Success was my jam.
And then I became a mother.
Now failure hits me in the face like a cold fish every day.
This was me last Friday morning; I had my agenda set: Greet the four little angels as they rise from their slumber, feed them a wholesome breakfast, prepare their bed-heads to be seen in public, pack their backpacks with a nutritious lunch, and shepherd them off to school all while leaving the house tidy in my wake. Now, this was not my first rodeo, so I knew in order to pull this off, I would have to get up early and prep. Which, of course, I did perfectly, down to the last detail. Everything was going according to plan.
And then the kids got up. Cue a fight over inappropriate school clothing, refereeing an MMA-esque fight between the littles, and a mom-zilla who had channeled her inner Batman voice in a vain attempt to control the chaos. And all four children were crying by breakfast. To top it off, my three-year-old speaks the piercing, unfiltered truth in a way only a toddler can: “Mama, you hurt my feelings.” Cold. Fish. Slap.
Unbeknownst to me, birthing my first child irrevocably committed me to a lifetime of experiencing continual shortcomings. In this mother role where perfection is more important than ever, I find myself stumbling like I never have before. I lose my cool when I should be patient, punish when I should teach, let it slide when I should crackdown, crackdown when I should let it slide, speak when I should keep silent, and keep silent when I should speak. The ways to fail are infinite. Countless times I find myself, head in my hands, crying once again over my inability to get this motherhood thing right. This was uncharted territory: an endeavor I would have abandoned in the past because I was not going to be successful. Motherhood is clearly not my jam. But here I am.
It took four kids and a few hours of therapy, but I finally began to make some important realizations and see my shortcomings in a new light. Not only is failure in motherhood inevitable (indeed for everyone, not just me), but it actually serves a beautiful purpose in this parenting journey. Yes, failure can be a good thing—talk about a paradigm shift!
Like many women of my generation, I grew up in a household where my parents did not make mistakes and were not to be questioned. Perhaps in an effort to establish themselves as trustworthy authority figures whom I could respect, they did not freely admit their mistakes or share their shortcomings. While this gave me the security of looking up to strong and moral parents, I never learned how to fail with grace and humility.
I don’t blame my parents for operating on this visceral parental instinct to save face, because that instinct also lives in me. I don’t want my kids to see me as the weak and cluelessly fumbling mother I am, so every fiber of my being calls for a massive cover-up scheme. The most important long-con of all time, I simply have to convince them I know what I am doing for the next 18 years. If I just stand by every decision, refuse to admit wrongdoing, and fake it until I make it, they will see me as the perfect parent I am desperately trying to be. And that’s a win. Right?
But this futile endeavor does them no favors. It only teaches that perfection is the expectation, and failure is to be avoided at all costs. Instead, I want my children to learn that it is in the failing that the best life lessons are learned. That to make mistakes and own them with honesty and grace is more admirable than feigning perfection. That it is okay to fail. In order to do this, I have to be willing to be vulnerable and humble with my children in admitting my own shortcomings.
So Friday morning, I had some little people to reconcile with. I apologized, admitted Mama needs to work on her mom-zilla control and dried the tears. Let me tell you; it takes a healthy helping of humility to look a five-year-old in the eye and ask for forgiveness for losing your cool. But I needed to be real about my failure. To own it. To model how to fall on my face and make it right. To show them mistakes happen, and we can grow through them. As I teach my children, I am re-teaching myself to embrace humility and learn from mistakes. No longer is the goal for them to see a perfect mom. It is now my hope that they see their mother as a beautiful failure.
Theresa Phillips is a mother, author, nurse, and mom-encourager. She runs a crazy household of 4 young kids and moonlights as a labor and delivery nurse, where she has the privilege of inaugurating women into this amazing society of motherhood. Before nursing, she was a therapist specializing in marriage and family therapy and had the honor of helping those in crisis. Now she marries all three areas of experience into a powerhouse of encouragement for moms. After discovering that motherhood is way harder and more profound than she had ever imagined. She has made it her mission to support women in this amazing role: to not only survive the chaos that is daily life but to thrive. She’s like your midwife, best friend, and therapist all rolled into one! For regular encouragement in this crazy mom life, follow The Gritty Mama on Facebook or Instagram.