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A Parent's Failures

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I have failed at a lot of mommy things.

sons about to go down a slide on a scooter

You probably don’t see it from the outside looking in; I’m pretty dang good at looking like I’ve got it all together. Lately I’ve heard a lot of “I don’t know how you do it” and “Wow, you’re super mom.” I don’t want to wear that cape or claim that compliment. The more moms I meet, the more I realize we are all alike. And so I’ve decided to give you what I see every morning in the mirror. I’m going to unpack my mommy failings because this load is heavy and I’m tired.

I’ve lost my temper, I’ve raised my voice, and I’ve made empty threats. (I mean really do you think I am following through with the “you’re grounded for life!”?) I’ve gone to bed ashamed at my poor parenting when I failed to understand and act in love. I’ve regretted words and parenting choices. I’ve been afraid I may be the reason my kid needs therapy as an adult.

I have missed an awards ceremony for my oldest son because I lost track of time. I have procrastinated school science projects until the night before. I’ve had days I’ve failed to remember to brush my kids’ teeth, read them a book, or check to see when they last had a bath. I sometimes choose to put them to bed half an hour early so I have a moment to myself. I’ve pretended to enjoy their singing and I may have taught them how to burp on command.

I’ve taken a laundry basket overflowing with unmatched socks, thrown it into the trash and bought new socks. I’ve lost hearing aids, doctor prescriptions and my cool more than a few times. I haven’t finished the full 10 days of antibiotics for my daughter’s ear infection. I’ve hidden chocolate in my closet and locked myself in the bathroom even when I didn’t need to go.

I’ve been selfish and taken the best piece of cake (you know the one in the center), and I’ve blamed a smelly fart on the baby… and the dog.

I’ve failed at remembering to be the tooth fairy (three nights in a row and I finally just gave them the money and said she got really busy in Australia). I’ve been exhausted and fed my kids mac n’ cheese for the second meal in a row and justified it by cutting up bananas and apple slices. I’ve thrown away drawings and school work only to have them found by a teary-eyed kindergartner, and then feigned ignorance and said Dad probably did it.

I’ve lied and told my children their dog went to live at a farm where he had free range to roam and play with other dogs. I’ve also described the farm in full detail, including the hay loft where he now sleeps.

I’ve carried the guilt of being a working mom because our large family can’t live on one income. I’ve been sad to hear my child ask me to stay home. And I’ve felt guilty when I’ve had a rough weekend with my kids and wished I was at work.

I’ve failed at finding the best services in a rural community for my children with special needs and turned down the best in feeding therapy and adoption trauma counseling because it was three hours of driving weekly and we couldn’t manage it with our schedules. I’ve felt guilty about the lack of therapies, interventions and services. And I’ve loaded this guilt onto my back and carried them as failures.

Over and over I have failed, and over and over I’ve increased the burden. In my eyes, we learn from our failures, and if I carry them, they will help me improve as a parent.

Today I listened to a father of a boy on the autism spectrum. His son now has a Master’s degree, speaks four foreign languages and is a special education teacher and speaker. His dad had tears in his eyes as he talked to the group of parents who came looking for help and hope for their young children. He spoke these words firmly to our group: “I have failed many times in my life, but I have never failed to love my son unconditionally.”

And then it hit me.

Our job as parents has never been to be perfect or to avoid failure. It is to love our children for who they are and where they are at. It doesn’t mean we have to always provide the latest therapies or the best interventions.

That is when I was reminded of this before and after picture of our youngest son. The first photo is from six months ago when we picked him up from an orphanage in Eastern Europe. The next picture is him now, six months home.  To date, he has had zero outside therapies or interventions, only a family and love, and this is the result. This is a profound image of unconditional love, a therapy moms across the world provide every day.

before and after shots of a boy who was adopted
I can imagine what this unconditional love looks like in your home. Maybe it’s reading “Go, Dog, Go” for the 8,865th time, or rocking a sick child at 1 in the morning. Maybe it’s learning to tie shoes after months of coaching, or maybe it’s coaxing eye contact from your nonverbal child. We often miss these small moments of love because we are too busy piling on the guilt of failure. “Special needs,” “neurotypical,” “normal,” “gifted,” “high functioning,” “low functioning,” “average”… all children need the same thing.

There is not a moment of the day my children focus on my failures. They have never wondered why they are eating mac n’ cheese again, or why the tooth fairy was busy dealing with extra dental work in Australia. My children haven’t questioned why I utilize our bathroom frequently nor harbor sadness over a missed awards ceremony or failed science project. No, they remember love. They hold close the nights I’ve tucked them in, the days I’ve wiped away tears when their best friend didn’t want to be best friends anymore, and the moments I’ve captured them in my arms and told them I loved them to the moon. These are what my children carry with them every day, a mother’s love that never fails.

As parents we may falter and fail, but love never fails. If I love my children, I cannot fail. So I am going to place pictures in my mind for me to carry instead of the failures. Because I will never parent without failings, but I can always love unfailingly.

I am encouraging you to drop your burden of failures and put a picture in your mind that displays your unconditional, unfailing love for your child and add this little note #unfailinglove.

black and white photo of mom and son looking at each other

Originally published: July 12, 2016
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