Learning from my failures
as a mom
Last year Marc and I were able to hear John Maxwell, known for his leadership content, live at a local event. One of his sessions was “How to Receive a Return on Failure” and with so much focus on success in our society, it was a surprising breath of fresh air. He explained that focusing only on the successes without the failures was not healthy. At one point he said, “Encourage others with your failures,” so here I am. Marc and I have spoken openly about how foster care has shifted our perspective on parenting, and made us sober to our own mistakes. As I think about my motherhood journey, my shortcomings as a parent have been more obvious to me in the last few years. Mother’s Days have especially been a sore spot. Between familial estrangement, foster care, aging parents and a range of emotions it’s been painful. Facing the past and embracing healing has felt more like a refining fire. What I can perceive is that God has been more concerned about what He wanted to cultivate in me, than whatever polished images I could present on social media at the time.
The picture I chose for this post has made me stop and reflect many times over the years. Through the filter of recent trauma training, it’s a moment I wish I could get a “do-over” on. At the time of this photo, Marc and I were newly dating and we had taken Ricky, my son, to the park. He was upset because he asked us to do something while Marc and I were talking and we weren’t ready to stop. Ricky, who was four then, was so hungry for our attention and we brushed him off, “Go play,” I imagine I would’ve said. If I had a do-over I would’ve physically gotten down on his level, held his hands, made loving eye contact and said with gentleness “Ricky, I would love to play with you. Let me finish what I’m saying and we will play.” Now I know that seems like a lot of work because “I’m the adult and he’s the child,” but that’s what he needed. With our family dynamics at the time, he was already starting from a deficit. By this point, Ricky had not had a father present for most of his life. I was going to school, working and involved in church to make things better for us in the long run, which meant our time together lacked. I was hustling and juggling all the things, but he didn’t know that. How could he? All he knew was at that moment, he had the two people who he wanted to be with the most and we were sending him away. That memory hurts my heart deeply. I wish I knew better because he deserved so much better. Between all the foster care training in the last few years and the recent Healing the Heart materials I’m going through from our retreat my heart feels raw at times. I’m learning to embrace the pain so I can embrace the healing. Condemning my 22 year-old self is not what is needed, rather I grieve the memory, ask God for forgiveness and when given the opportunity I ask my son for forgiveness.
In her book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, Dr. Caroline Leaf talks about how pain can be neutralized when we embrace and process it properly. Here are some of the memories and mistakes I’ve had to revisit. With it, I also want to share what I would have done instead based on what I’ve learned along the way:
- Leaving and not saying goodbye on my way to work/school when my son was a toddler to avoid tantrums. I was choosing easy instead of choosing healthy, leaving my mom to diffuse the explosion. He needed validation and to understand that I would come back.
- Forcing my child to do something he was terrified of, like the time I took him through a Dinosaur exhibit. He was very clear that this was a “No” for him and yet I didn’t honor his boundaries. What was the big deal when there were plenty of other exhibits to explore and enjoy?
- Not giving my child permission to feel big emotions (anger, sadness, loneliness) because I was taking it personally. He needed help to work through those temporary emotions in a safe place that I was responsible to create for him.
- Making a big out of state family move and having our excitement as adults to overshadow all the adjustments he would have to make. He needed us to recognize his anxious feelings and be more intentional about working through the changes.
- Not allowing my child to question their faith. We all have big questions that only God can handle, even as adults. I needed to let him know that sometimes we need to wrestle with truth. This was a teachable moment to show him that God is not offended by our curiosity and questions, in fact, I believe He welcomes them.
- Expecting my child to know what I want, without walking him through a learning process, and then taking it personally when he didn’t know how to read my mind. As the parent, I am responsible to invest in the time consuming activity of training and explaining.
- Freaking out when he spilled something, rather than just calmly grabbing some paper towels and having us clean it up together.
I’m sure you can understand that I could keep going.
In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day last month, I was in church and toward the end of our time of worship when my pastor said he heard God say, “I’m going to crush the spirit of regret,” and called people up for prayer. I knew that was for me! While I was up there I felt God was doing a deep work in my heart and then I received something personally. Like a splash of refreshing water, I heard these words drop in my spirit, “You can’t have a do-over but it’s going to be so much better.” Woah. I appreciate that the Father used language I’m familiar with from my training as a foster parent. Trauma causes children’s brains to process information differently. They’re more impulsive and reactionary. When their responses are not ok, it’s common to offer a do-over, (check out Karyn Purvis and TBRI). Like muscle memory, we need to help children create a new pathway in their brain with a more appropriate response. IT. TAKES. WORK. In the process we are all creating more appropriate responses, not just our kiddos.
This year Mother’s Day was a sweet change from years past and I’m grateful. I feel like my son and I are finding our words. It’s a process, and it’s one step at a time.
So I guess the question here is, how did I receive a return on my failures as a mom? I learned to be more patient and compassionate, including with myself. I learned that God does not allow anything to go to waste when we hand it over to Him. Dear friend, it may be too late for a do-over but you have today and right now. I hope that you have taken away something valuable from my failures and I’m asking that God would crush the spirit of regret in your life too!
Blog entry No. 5