Years ago, when my husband and I had our yoga center, we sold t-shirts with some original aphorisms—things like “there’s no I in yoga”, “no peaks without valleys” and, by far the most popular one, “failure is my friend”. Jonathan could wear that one proudly but me, not so much. It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment. When we can befriend failure, we can learn from it and we’re not so afraid of it. But since I’ve become a parent, this feeling of failure looms large. And I’m really not friends with it at all.
Failure as a learning opportunity makes sense—I’m open to exploring what led to failure, what things I could have done differently, and what other choices I had. I get that making mistakes happens all the time and that I’m not actually perfect. But on some level I still think I should be a perfect mom. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
At my self-care workshop for moms last summer failure came up a lot. Pretty much every woman shared the experience that they had so many responsibilities, so many balls in the air—kids, partnerships, work, home, friendships, creative pursuits, etc—but that they put so much pressure on themselves that they felt like they were failing at all of them.
These were moms who I know are loving, attentive, responsive parents who feel like failures. Because they messed up, because they lost their temper and yelled, because they forgot about their kid’s school event, because they struggle with feeling angry or resentful of their kid or their partner, because they aren’t living up to the perfect image they have of the kind of mom they want to be.
I spent most of yesterday morning feeling like a huge failure as a mom (and as a person) because I lost my temper and yelled at my daughter to get her socks on since we were late for school. My fear of failure keeps me from writing this blog and from growing my business. It feels safer on some level to stay small and invisible. But really, small and invisible isn’t how I want my kids to see me either. I want them to see me as imperfect and loving myself anyway.
When I fail as a parent I do sometimes wallow in it for a while. I can carry around a pretty sick, guilty feeling for hours. But then I try to use it as an opportunity to teach my kids about failure—that if we befriend failure we’ll grow and learn and move on without getting stuck in feeling like we’re not allowed to fail.
I’m working on my relationship with failure. I don’t want to marry it. I’m frankly much more interested in cultivating my relationship with my finances. But if I truly believe that failure is my friend I can learn from those moments—not in a “I hate myself and I better not ever do that again because I’m such a terrible mom and my kids are going to be ruined by my terrible behavior” way, but rather by actually owning it, apologizing for it, and moving on without guilt. That’s what I want my kids to see—not my self-flagellation but my self-acceptance even when I fail. So failure will never by my best friend, but I can accept that it’ll come around once in a while. And I’ll do my best to say hello and see what it has to teach me rather than run away or avoid it.
That takes practice—and I’m sure I fail at that a lot of the time! Here are some tips for working through that feeling of failure as a parent:
1. Awareness—actually noticing the feeling of failure and the thoughts that go along with it. What are you saying to yourself about yourself?
2. Acknowledge/own it to yourself and your kids if necessary.
3. Apologize and admit to making a mistake—shows your kid you don’t need to be perfect in their eyes, thus encouraging them to be unafraid to fail.
4. Allow your kid to have feelings around it and share them with you—they might have a good reason for feeling angry or disappointed. You listening to them shows them it’s ok to have the feelings.
5. Release the guilty feelings and move on—this might be the hardest part but it might happen just from doing the first 4 steps. Maybe it takes some journaling, prayer, exercise, therapy or a warm bath!
6. Practice self-forgiveness—the key word here is practice. The more we practice, the more we can ultimately feel and live it.
How do you handle failure?