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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. Loved this!

  2. 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!

  3. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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… ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. 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.

  8. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. 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.

  10. 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!