Earlier this week, I published an older post from an earlier time in my motherhood career in which I talked about a day when I failed as a mother, reflecting that I knew I would fail again, but hoping that my kids will be okay anyway. Days later, Amy Morrison published a post on Huffington Post Parents that I loved entitled “Why You’re Never Failing As a Mother.”
I thought Amy’s post was true, clever, and encouraging. But here’s the thing: I still believe I have failed, at times, as a mother. I believe I will fail again. I believe, in fact, that I am always failing as a mother… and that is okay. Because I believe that part of being a good mother is failing sometimes.
Amy is right. We need to provide for our children — and sometimes I struggle with even that, truth be told — and yes, the rest is bonus. We don’t have to serve on PTA, or bake the kids’ birthday cakes ourselves, or even join Pinterest. We do beat ourselves up way too much and we do need to acknowledge that we are good parents.
I do believe that a lot of the time, I am doing a good job. Sometimes a great job, like today, when I delivered a special lunch to my kindergartner at his request and I actually made it to his lunch on time, or when I bake the kids cookies or a dinner they actually eat and maybe even like, or when I take them to Disney to see the holiday lights and I catch the oldest two boys holding hands. I see moments like those and I almost can’t breathe for fear they will go away.
But far more often, I find myself lying in bed in the dark, trying not to go into full ugly cry because today did not go well. Who am I kidding? I am often fighting back tears by 8:30 AM. Because I am a good mother, because I do try hard, because I am always trying to do better… I fail. Sometimes spectacularly, as I did that one morning several years ago with Mason. Sometimes just in little ways, like when I was supposed to actually take that special lunch treat to the kindergartner yesterday but didn’t realize his lunch started twenty minutes earlier than I thought. Like when it is crazy hat day and I totally forget and my child goes hat-less (yet still crazy). I fail when I lose my mind during the morning routine, or the afternoon crazies, or the bedtime nightmare that is four children, none of whom want to go to bed, like, at all. I’m the adult, the parent, and I have to keep it together because someone has to, and I’m the tallest. Or something like that. But sometimes I don’t.
I am choosing to believe in the Good Enough Mother theory: that by failing, I am actually teaching my children that it’s okay not to be perfect all the time. That I am a woman, a human being, with awesome strengths (like my ability to totally dominate in Just Dance) and sometimes crushing weaknesses (screaming my head off because throwing of toys down the stairs pushed me right over the line of sanity), and that is okay. When I send them off to school, I tell them that all I want is for them to do their best; grades are not the point. Sometimes I forget that the same standard can be applied to me, but that is because when I fail, I am failing the most precious things in the entire world to me. That sucks.
These four children are not my entire world, but they are the most important things in it to me. I feel so blessed to have them in my life. All I want is to do right by them. Of course I beat myself up. Of course I hold myself to a high standard. As one of my favorite people, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”
Amy’s point, and what I believe to be true, is that it is harder than we believe to bungle raising our children. We are not defined, as mothers, by our small failures — we are defined by our big not-failures. By the fact that my oldest two boys will hold hands sometimes. By the way my children behave politely in their classrooms with their teachers and their classmates, that makes me absolutely burst wide open with pride. By the moment my eight year old hugs my grandmother without prompting and tells her he loves her, or the “grace” he said at our Thanksgiving table this year in true Charlie Brown Special fashion, referencing the pilgrims and Native Americans and our blessings. I haven’t failed because my children still come hug and kiss me at bedtime of their own free will, and want to snuggle, and feel loved — every last stinking one of them, and even after I scream my head off for some inane reason.
I fail as a mother. I do. I’m always failing as a mother. But my children are a testament that even though I fail, I’m not a failure. I am doing a great job most of the time. And when I’m not doing a great job, I am still teaching them that good people fail, good people snap, good people make mistakes — but they get up again, they start over, and they do better the next day, when they actually do show up to kindergarten lunch on time.