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Permission to Fail. My Early Mother’s Day Present to You.

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While this post is written from the viewpoint of being a mom, permission to fail is trying a concept that can be applied to anyone and anything (job, home, etc.).

We have a new pastor at church.  He just started, and already I’m really digging him.  He is young, used sarcasm (in a very kind way) in his first sermon, and used a quote by Mitch Hedberg.  Given that I go to a Lutheran church, I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the room full of 80 year old Norwegians who understood who Mitch Hedberg is (was).

One of the things the new guy said was, as our church moves forward, we have to give ourselves permission to fail.  We have to build in the grace to say “whoops, we tried this, but it didn’t work.  Let’s regroup and think about something else”.

Wow.  That spoke to me.  Like really spoke to me.  Spoke to my heart.

All too often in the Christian faith, we feel like we have to be perfect example of the “good Christian”.  We can’t be flawed, and we can’t be wrong.  We can’t show ourselves to be vulnerable and we can’t try something new without fear of others pointing out our faults.

It’s the same with being a mom. Once you pee on that stick (and let’s be honest, we keep peeing on sticks for weeks after the initial one), you’re expected to have all the answers, and to know what to do.  I remember the day I found out I was pregnant, Troy came to have lunch with me at work.  He was so frazzled and scared, and I remember having to keep it together for him.  I wanted to be taken care of and protected, but there I was telling him “it’s not that scary honey, don’t worry”.  Already a mother I was.  Already lying through my teeth I was.  Talking like Yoda I was.

My pregnancy was rough with lots of puking and weight loss, but I still enjoyed it for the most part.  I knew I was growing a life, and had this huge responsibility that was so much bigger than me.

The week I went in to labor.

Labor was labor, fears, love, creepy things, poop.  You know the drill.  But holding that little nugget in my arms for the first time was pretty awesome.  Seeing Troy’s face and the face of our families was even more amazing.

But then, it got hard.  I wanted to put him back in.  He had a horrible painful latch and was never full.  Troy went back to work like three days after Jack was born, and I was on my own a lot of the time.  Sure, I could stare at his little face and talk to him, but it also made me feel alienated and there was no one around to let me know if what I was doing was right or wrong.

Thanks to Jack’s dairy allergy and GERD, what I ate impacted my child’s behavior.


I remember taking him to my in-laws when he was six weeks old and thrusting him at my mother-in-law saying “you take him” and just driving away.  I went to the mall and wandered around for a few hours (well, until my boobs starting leaking) and just relishing the time being alone.

At one point I heard another new mom talking to someone at Macy’s saying “I just miss her when we’re not together”.  I thought “how could someone miss their screaming and fussy kid”?  I was just so worn out and worn down, that I didn’t “get” it at that point.

One day at Costco, I was wearing Jack in a sling, and an older woman said “oh aren’t they just precious at this age”.  I just smiled because I felt I would be judged if I honestly said “well, he sleeps 90 minutes at a time, he makes my nipples bleed, I still can’t poop without crying, and he hurls most of the milk that I spend so much time making, that I smell like the floor of a Dairy Queen that was shut down”.

In hindsight, it doesn’t seem all that bad now.  My kid sleeps through the night, wipes his own ass, and can go get lost in a book when I’m busy doing something.  Momnesia has kicked in and it doesn’t seem “so hard”.  But it was.  It really was.

Had I given myself permission to fail, it might have been easier.  Had someone, just one person told me “this part is going to suck so much, but it will get better”, I might not have been so hard on myself.  I thought I was doing everything “right”, but I wasn’t.  I needed to know that I would trip and fall and make mistakes, and perhaps then I could have enjoyed that time so much more.  There is no perfect mother, but you are the perfect mother for your child.  Sometimes you don’t need to know how to swaddle, or that breastfeeding isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, or that there are days when you will do everything by the book, and still need to go outside and scream.

So now?  Now I am the “reality” mom.  I am the mom at showers who doesn’t give the cute onesies, sweaters, or soft blankets.  Nope, from me you get a paper bag full of pads the size of phone books, stool softeners, snacks you can eat with one hand, and a giant bottle of Motrin.

I am also the mom who when everyone is cooing over the new baby, will lock eyes with the new mom and whisper, “this part might suck so much, but it will get better.   Just love that child, do right by them, and it will be ok”.

Some day I will be nostaligic for those days, and just wish he was little enough to puke on me again.  But for right now, giving someone permission to fail, and be imperfect tops any gift you can buy at Babies R’ Us.  Allowing someone to know they can be imperfect, while still being perfect, is the grace that we all need.

Deep breaths. It does get better.

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44 comments on “Permission to Fail. My Early Mother’s Day Present to You.”

  1. I remember the days of texting one another, endlessly hoping that one of us would have an easy day. It is so, so hard. Looking back, I am thankful that we went through that stage together, I feel like it helped to have someone to cry with, even if you are too far away.

    I don’t feel like parenting is easier, it’s just different. Every stage presents it’s challenges, it’s just that we now have the perspective to know it will pass.

    Also, my kid won’t wipe her own ass. I need you to fly down and teach her, mkay?

    • It was such a blessing for us to have each other. If I had to stumble through the whole new being a mother thing, I’m glad to have had you by my side (1,100 miles away).

      Jack is not excellent at wiping his ass, so I often have to go in and do some quality control.

  2. I totally agree! life is so hard at that stage! I am in the midst of my chaos with my second child and living it one step at a time. My friend wrote a book exactly about this stage and feeling out of control. It is called Spirit-Led Parenting by Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. It is about freedom in that first year!

  3. I really love your honesty. I am also Swedish Lutheran. I wonder if we are in the same area of the country.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing! This couldn’t be more true.

  5. This is a great post. It is true, sometimes there is more fear about failing than there needs to be, and it just makes everything so many times more difficult. It’s like we do good more because of the judgment that follows than for goodness sake.

  6. I can relate so much to this post. Though my experience was in reverse. My first two kids were so easy. They slept early on. They ate well. Then I had my third and she sounds so much like Jack. Minus the dairy allergy. She had colic until 6 months, which is long past normal. She never slept. My husband traveled and the only time I got away from her was work, but I was so exhausted that even the job I loved was miserable. I felt like such a failure because I should have had it all figured out by number three. We all need a little time to fail. To video tape the screaming baby for 30 minutes just to prove to our traveling husbands and the doctor, that yes, she really is that way and I’m not just crazy. Thanks for sharing.

  7. So true. You know how much I obsessed with my first one over nursing. With the second and it didn’t work out I just moved on. I think a lot of it is pressures we put on ourself. But, then you smarten up and realize that it doesn’t matter… as long as you and your baby are happy that is what matters.

    motherhood is hard work. Everyone needs to give themselves a pat on the back for just keeping their kids alive! 🙂

    • I’ve had the privilege of being your friend through both Z and H’s births. I agree with you that your head was in a better place regarding nursing with Hannah. You did your best and it wasn’t working. I was so proud of you that you were able to walk away with your head held high. It doesn’t matter how your child eats, just that she eats.

      I love you ho.

  8. Oh I am that mum too! I feel it is important for new mums not to feel they are the only ones that feel disconnected or isolated! We had GERD with our first too. It is just depressing watching that river of milk come up faster than it went down! Great post!

  9. A friend of mine it’s writing her dissertation on failure. She’s looking at it from the prospective that in education we need to accept it and learn from it. Right now, failure is feared, regretted and ignored instead of embraced and examined. I know for a fact, most of my fellow grad students are terrified of being wrong to the point that they don’t want to try new things I’m school. I blame standardized tests for a lot of it.
    Good for you though. Accepting imperfection is tough, especially for someone as together as you.

  10. Yep, yep, yep. And I signed up to do this again? What was I thinking?!?!?! Just kidding. Total momnesia. It will be juuuuuust fiiiiiine. Also? You were so tiny when you were pregnant! (I think I was the first time around too.) I’m 27 weeks right now and bigger than you in that pic.

    • The trick to staying super petite while pregnant, is to throw up all the time, and to be 6 feet tall and have a long torso. LOL, it’s not for everyone, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

      I lost 18 pounds in a few weeks. It’s amazing Jack was so normal sized (8 lbs 4 oz) and healthy!

      All in all, when I finally gained weight, it was a total of 17 pounds. I left the hospital at my pre-pregnancy weight.

      If I had the option, I would have gained more weight and eaten normally!

  11. My hubby and I are getting ready to have kids and the thought still terrifies me lol A LOT! Reassuring to know being afraid to screw up is normal 🙂

  12. Beautiful! You just helped so many women.

  13. This is a perfect post. I will say that people constantly told me after I had my daughter “The first three months are the hardest. It get’s easier.” That really helped. Even the waitress at a restaurant told me that. I

    think we all need to give ourselves permission to fail. It is a very hard thing to do.
    I totally have momnesia now.

  14. Thanks for writing this. It’s amazing how something like this can help so many struggling moms (and dads)when they are going through a rough patch.

  15. Excellent post, from a fellow mother and Lutheran. I love both of those identities dearly. 🙂

  16. Perfect. =o) I absolutely loved your post.

  17. AMEN. I’m so tired of holding it together for everyone… when do *I* get to lose it? Oh wait… I’m a wife and mom, so… never. Keep strong, ladies!

    • Moms never get to lose it, or get sick. Have you ever had a household where everyone was sick at the same time? My guess is you’re still the one who is caring for everyone. Mommas never get a break or the chance to be imperfect.

  18. What an encouraging post for ALL of us!!

  19. I grew up in a German Lutheran congregation in Oklahoma! Do you listen to Garrison Keillor? (I think he’s still on.) He so gets Norwegian Lutherans–I used to roll in the floor laughing when I heard him because I knew those people. He was talking about the same ones I’d known all my life! (Germans, not Norwegians, but might as well be the same.) Many of the older generation of Lutherans are such serious people and don’t have much of a sense of humor at times, it seems. Or maybe I got mine from my Scots/Irish/Choctaw/Cherokee grandmother? Although, now that I come to think about it, my grandfather (the German Lutheran), was the one with the odd sense of humor in the family, and one of his brothers. I know how you feel about the first couple of months. My first was a colicky, barfy baby too, with milk allegies. Man, she would keep us up all night crying if we didn’t sit up with her. It was three months before we found out what was wrong. Had to put her on formula to go back to work early and she ruined more of my shirts than I can remember now! Thank God for my mother-in-law who took turns sitting up with her at night and an older pediatrician who reassured me it would get better! I would have gone crazy otherwise. Guess I didn’t learn because I had four kids!

  20. Thanks for writing this…I’m at a point in my pregnancy where I wish I could just sleep for the next three months until it’s time to go into labour. The morning sickness is still here, much of my body aches, I’m not sleeping well, and I just found out I have borderline gestational diabetes. But my doctor says I shouldn’t be restricting my diet because the baby’s small for her gestational age, and I need to eat more protein, so apparently the gestational diabetes thing doesn’t matter? I mostly feel like I’m crap at this whole making a human being thing. And everyone around me seems to be so positive about it that it makes me want to hit something. Plus Mother’s Day is coming which means I’m seriously considering skipping church (we are also Lutheran) just to avoid the obligatory sermon about how awesome being a mom is, because I don’t know if I can handle it. But this helped a bit. So thank you.

  21. Sarah, Thank you for this post. You don’t have to be a new mother to rerun the mom things. I have a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent son who took every bit of my energy growing up and then some. He’s about to turn 24 (that’s 287 months old in new mom talk) and works hard to be independent and a grown up. Yet, this post was just at the right time to catch me worrying over mom stuff. So, thanks.

    BTW, I grew up in a different denomination with other ethnicities and recognize your comments. Also, I LOVE(d) Mitch and still listen to his comedy on Pandora every once in awhile! Right on, Reverend!

  22. Great post!!!! Just wait until they are teenagers…. Now THAT’S scary. Been through one and the other is just starting – both girls. I miss the baby ages, now all they do is yell and hate you (secretly loving you). I need to remember this mantra.

  23. Great honest post as always! I know that when you are in the middle of it, it feels like you are the worst mom ever. I had to pump because my son never latched. I was bleeding and crying while pumpning and my husband begged me to stop pumping. I didn’t have a choice after awhile because I dried up. We just want the best for our kids and we put so much guilt on every decision. Mine is four and I still haven’t stopped with the guilt but here is hoping 🙂

  24. Well said……but remember this goes on and on…as does the feeling of failure – I should be a better Mom! My son (my youngest) is turning 40 this year – huh, he is the same age as me.
    You just do the best you can…when they are babies, when they are teens, when they are adults still needing (but not heeding) your advice.
    Mostly what they need is to be sure of your love.

  25. I was so lucky with Roland. All things considered, he was a really easy baby. He always wanted to eat more than my boobs could make, so I only breast fed for three months (that was pretty damn frustrating) and he never wanted to sleep alone (well, he still doesn’t want to…) but he was happy and healthy and never sick and strong and smart and sweet. Even having a pretty easy baby was HARD. Not sleeping and not eating and sitting on the floor and crying cause my nipples hurt and the baby was still hungry and my husband just didn’t GET it. Hard and oh so worth it…

    He’s 16 months now, and he’s a little spitfire. He runs everywhere. Now that the weather is nice, he wants to spend most of the day outside…next winter is going to suck. He is too smart for his own good, and is spoiled rotten. He’s also HUGE at 33lbs, which doesn’t make his tantrums any easier to handle. He’s SO much fun and SO much work…and my stupid ass keeps looking at little babies and going, ‘Awwwww…I want another one! Now!’ I’ve apparently forgotten how hard those first few months were… 🙂

  26. Thank you so much. I have 2 boys and feel like a big fat failure most of the time. I love your blog and honesty. Keep up the amazing work. Love M x

    • My friends and I have a saying that “sometimes, the best option is survival” when it comes to being a mom. It’s hard to not feel like you’re failing much of the time, but I bet you anything that you’re not!

  27. Thanks for the words of encouragement! I’m half way through my pregnancy and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this post some time this fall.

  28. Thank you for this. At 9 1/2 months in to being a mom, I’m just now realizing that we’re doing ok. Even with the imperfections. 🙂 This is a must read that I will share with all of my expecting friends. Thank you for the honesty. And for making me feel not so alone in my experience.

  29. Being a mom to a 9 month old these are the words I need to hear sometimes. Thank you for sharing and being so honest!

  30. Loved this!

  31. So true, and beautifully written!

  32. Love this post and so love your blog, Sarah! And oh so true… 🙂

  33. Well, that made me cry 🙂 I love that someone can finally be “honest” and say it like it is! Most of the time people are feeling the same way but hide it behind the ‘Oh it was an instant bond’ crap. We know that isnt always the case. but doesnt mean we love them any less!!
    Thank you for your candid-ness! (is that a word?lol)