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

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. 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.

  2. 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!

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

  4. 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.

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

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Beautiful! You just helped so many women.

  10. 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 🙂