Born to Fail at Motherhood

Tears were welling up in tender eyes and I looked up from my phone surprised as he said, “Mom when you’re on your phone, it feels like you don’t care about me.” His words seemed to hit me like a hammer. I wanted to justify myself. I had only been on my phone for a few minutes. I was going to check grades, but took a little detour to social media……I’m not a bad mom! But here was my son and his feelings were real and they were the rational result of his experience. Mom screwed up and hurt her little boy. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

I turned my phone off. I pulled that big child into my lap and told him I was sorry he felt I didn’t care about him.  I reassured him that I loved him very much even if my choices sometimes make him think I don’t. “What can I do to show you I love you right now?”

Why did I react the way I did? Why didn’t I explain to Wesley why he shouldn’t feel that way because Mom is busy and sometimes I have to do stuff on my phone. Because I know I was born to fail at motherhood, and I’ve gotten used to saying I’m sorry, dusting myself off, and trying again. I know when my kids give me a feeling statement, they’ve done some work and I need to respect that.

There is an awesome saying that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. There is another great saying that we need to fail early and fail often. There is another great saying that the first child is like the first pancake. And some of us are just bad at making pancakes in which case, the whole stack might look a little rough. These are all great sayings because they remind me that what I’m doing as a mom is HARD! I’m gonna make mistakes. Lots of them. It’s okay to make mistakes because mistakes help me to learn.

If I justify my mistakes and pretend I’m never wrong, that means my kids think THEY are always wrong. They are wrong sometimes and they need instruction and consequences and all that, but they need to know that mistakes are a part of life and that’s why we need the Savior. Even Mom. Especially Mom.

One of the things I learned in training to be a teacher was the concept of invented spelling. I was skeptical. Why would you teach kids to spell words however they want to? What kind of nonsense was that! Then I saw a master teacher teach a class of first graders in a writer’s workshop. When I was a kid, we did endless pages of handwriting practice where we copied three and four letter words on specially lined paper. Sometimes they were creative and engaging sentences like, “Pat sat on a mat.” I hated first grade….

In the writers workshop there were stacks of paper different paper, some with lines, some without, crayons, pencils, etc. Sometimes a child would only write a few letters. That was okay. They could draw pictures. The teacher and I would circulate the room and ask the children to tell us about their “writing.” The energy and creativity was palpable as excited little voices described Disneyland, trips to the zoo, angry drawings of cleaning up messes and doing chores, sad drawings of missing a friend who moved away. These little ones weren’t working three and four letter word, they were getting to spell words like “caterpillar” and “water slide” they were sounding them out and spelling the best they could. We would clap and cheer for their efforts and sometimes write the translation above their “invented spellings.”  It didn’t take long for me to become a believer in writer’s workshop and the new way to teach kids to write by allowing them to try hard things and fail and have it be okay.  Eventually their spellings improved along with their vocabulary and most importantly, their ability to connect their experiences with written language.  If we would have had them do handwriting practice with perfectly spelled words in perfect penmanship, they probably would have been successful.  Successful at doing something easy and useless.  Instead they failed every day at doing something hard and valuable, and they were better off because of it.  Failing is underrated.  Own the failure!  

Motherhood is hard like writer’s workshop.  It’s hard and you’re going to mess up.  Your heart walks around outside of your body in a dangerous world!  You don’t have control, you can’t protect, you learn to love even when loving hurts.  You learn what it feels to be God when you know the answers, but your child insists on learning the hard way instead of listening to you and taking a safe path.  You have to learn to stand back and let your child make their mistakes and find their own way, because they will.  Sooner or later,  they will become themselves and 999 times out of a thousand, they won’t become who you wanted them to be.  Then you learn that the person you wanted them to be was a vain ambition, and that the beautiful broken person that is real is much better than what you imagined.

And then there is being the adult child of a parent you love.  A parent that screwed up and hurt you.  There is tremendous empathy.  I’m that parent too!  I screw up.  I hurt my kids.  It’s hard, it’s real, and it’s messy and ugly and incredibly painful.  I can’t minimize it.  I can’t lie to  myself about it.  It is what it is and like Wesley, I cry out with tears in my eyes and say, “When you did this, it hurt me!”  All I want them to do is just say, “I’m sorry.  What can I do today to show you that I love you?”  And yet that is so hard to do.  And I know it.  It’s never too late for you to be that kind of parent that says, “I’m so sorry.  What can I do today to show you that I love you?”  It can heal.  It can mend the broken hearts.  Hopefully when my adult children tell me the hard things, I’m not rusty at using those two magic words.  “I’m sorry.”  I’m sure I’ll need them then, just like I do today.

If you see yourself in my pain, I hope you know that there is a Savior who loves you.  He knows your pain.  He knows the broken hurts.  It hurts and there is no easy fix.  There is no path forward that doesn’t involve hard things.  He suffered more than anyone that ever lived on the Earth, even eternal suffering!  He beckons to you and me. 

  • “Come  unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.  For I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

His burden is light!  The world is full of impossible requirements for mothers.  He only requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  He only asks that we learn of Him and take his yoke.  From a weary Mom who has taken his yoke, let me tell you, it is a relief!  He is Mighty to Save!  My children are in his loving hands, and he will make me enough for them.  I was born to fail at this, and He knew it.  That is why he came and gave himself a ransom for me and I will love him forever.

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