5 Ways You’re Not Failing as a Mom

December 3, 2016 at 8:47 am

Back in October, I celebrated my 36th birthday. Celebrated actually isn’t the best word. It was kind of an awful day ’cause I was in a horrible mood. As I got thinking about why I was so frustrated, I did a lot of pondering about failure. I feel like I’m failing at a lot of things lately. My husband and sister tell me I’m “not failing” in an effort to make me feel better, but the truth is that I am. We are all failing at something. Some of us are failing at multiple things. Some of us are failing at many things. Every single day of our lives we will fail at something. The question isn’t whether we will fail. Because we will. In ways both small and great we will fail. We simply cannot do it all AND do it all well.

What makes us feel miserable and frustrated isn’t the failures themselves, per se, but what we do with them. Do we retreat into shame and feel incapacitated? That’s pretty much what happened to me on my birthday. And I know it’s totally counter-productive and lame, but sometimes we even fail at failure. Ha! But a voice keeps tugging at the corners of my mind. It says, “Failure isn’t bad. Failure is a gift. Failure is feedback. Love your failures.” I’m intrigued. And I’m wondering what that would look like and what that would feel like. I’m still pondering that.

In the meantime, however, I’d like to offer you (and myself) 5 ways you are NOT failing as a mom. Even though failing is something we shouldn’t feel ashamed about, it’s still nice to remind ourselves sometimes that we’re doing better than we think we are.



1) Cleaning

If you’re a neat freak, well clearly you are totally winning at this one. But if you’re like me, as much as you would like your house to be clean and tidy, it’s usually not. I usually feel more calm and peaceful when my house is clean. I wish I could have it clean all the time. But I can’t. I’m here to tell you (and myself) why that is not a mom fail. In fact, it just might be a mom win.

  • The sharp rise in asthma and allergy cases over the past century may actually be a result of living too clean (Source).
  • Some forms of soil bacteria actually trigger the brain to release serotonin and can promote positive moods in addition to reducing inflammation in the body (Source).
  • Research indicates that exposure to pet dander throughout childhood reduces the incidence of pet allergy and asthma (Source).
  • My daughters like to remind me often of what the teacher of their “Gifted” class a few years ago told them: messiness has been linked to higher intelligence and creativity. More on that HERE.
  • “Messiness tends to increase sharply with increased education, salary and experience” (Source).

While I’m definitely not bringing in a six-figure salary as a full-time mom, it does make me feel better to know that lots of smart and successful people have a hard time staying tidy. Except they can afford housekeepers. Sigh. Here, I’ll share some photographic evidence of the level of genius we must be in possession of at our house…



2) Bedtime

Our kids stay up “late” by most families’ standards. One benefit of homeschooling is that we don’t have to get up early. If you’re like us and feel at times like you’re “failing” when you don’t get the kids to bed early enough, here are some things that might help you let go of that guilt.

  • “I can’t help noting that no cultures in the world that I have ever heard of make such a fuss about children’s bedtimes, and no cultures have so many adults who find it so hard either to go to sleep or wake up. Could these social facts be connected? I strongly suspect they are.” -John Holt
  • Adolescents’ internal sleep clocks actually have a 1-3 hour delay as compared to adults. This is inherent rather than a result of modern lifestyles (though smartphones and tablets can definitely exacerbate the delay), and this is true in many other mammals (Source).
  • Your kids’ preference for staying up late may actually be wired into their genes and have nothing to do with your parenting style (Source).
  • While the average bedtime for infants and toddlers in the U.S. is 8:30 p.m. it is actually 10:00 p.m. for much of the rest of the world (Source).
  • For infants and toddlers: “Moving the bedtime [later] results in a better day to night ratio of sleep. It allows for more day sleep, and longer naps. Shortening the night sleep also improves the quality of the sleep through the night. Allowing for longer stretches of sleep and fewer wakings” (Source).

When kids have to get up early for school, an early bedtime is definitely more important. But if your kids aren’t in school yet or are homeschooled, you can definitely let go of your bedtime guilt. Kids will sleep when they’re tired and wake up when they’re rested. We can help them develop good sleep habits by limiting exposure to light and screens in the evening and making sure they get plenty of sunlight in the morning, but consistency is more important than bedtime when it comes to sleep schedules.


3) Crafts and Activities

The Internet and Pinterest have made it easy for moms to find a plethora of crafts, STEM activities, kid-friendly recipes, games, projects, and other ways to spend time with their kids. And social media sites have made it easy for moms to see what all their friends and family are doing. All of this can also make it easy to feel like a “failure” in the “fun mom” department if you don’t have the time or energy to do all the things on your Pinterest boards.

In those moments, I like to remind myself to look back on my own childhood. My happiest memories from childhood take place at my grandma’s home, but not because she spent lots of time playing with us or giving us fun projects to work on. In fact, when we would get “bored,” she would say something like, “Go find something to do.” She did what she needed to do–sewing, cooking, cleaning, working in her garden, relaxing–and we had unstructured free time to explore and play. Occasionally we joined her in sewing, cooking, working in the garden, or relaxing. And occasionally she would read us books or play a board/card game with us. But mostly we played on our own. Being a successful caregiver does not depend upon how much you interact with your kids doing fun things together.

  • Studies suggest that children need twice as much free, unstructured (without adult-interference) play time as structured play time (Source).
  • Time spent playing freely without adult interference “fosters social competence, respect for rules, self-discipline, aggression control, problem solving skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, and playing by the rules” (Source).
  • “The less you do of it, the less your children will look to you to entertain them. Your kid might think they want you to play with them, but really they’re better off learning to amuse themselves” (Source).
  • “In other cultures, and in ours until recent decades, . . .  Parents didn’t feel the need to play with children, and children didn’t particularly want to play with adults. . . . We need to find ways to allow our kids to play freely with other kids, not try to fill that void ourselves.”  -Peter Gray (Source)

My siblings have told me that our mom used to kick them all outside and lock the door. When I first learned this, I gasped in shock. Why would she do such a thing? Now I think maybe she was onto something. Leah McLaren seems to think so: “If I sit very, very still in the kitchen reading my iPad, they seem to forget I’m there at all. And that, as I remember it, is the very definition of childhood fun: Forgetting that adults, and their boring adult concerns, even exist.” Boredom is a fantastic catalyst for creativity, but only if we let them be bored. If you aren’t constantly entertaining your kids with crafts, games, and scheduled activities, you’re really doing what’s best for your kids in the long run!


4) School and Homework

This is kind of an extention of #3, but I think it deserves its own section anyway. First of all, let me share a fun fact I learned recently: The word school comes from schole, the Greek word for “leisure, rest, free time.” Best. News. Ever.

As parents we prepare our children for life in so many ways beyond what happens in a classroom. Grades, especially in elementary school and middle school really do NOT matter. And even in high school they don’t matter as much as we sometimes tell ourselves they do. Your kids do not have to get straight A’s in order to be successful in life. Just yesterday, AZ Central reported:

Want a well-adjusted, high-achieving kid? Back off the pushy parenting when it comes to academics and extracurricular honors, new research suggests. Children who believe their parents value compassion and kindness as much as or more than academic success have higher grade-point averages and suffer less from anxiety and depression, an Arizona State University study found (Source).

Furthermore, homework is awful. Pretty much nobody likes it. Teachers don’t like grading it. Lastly, it’s not even helpful:

First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school. . . . If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says (Source).

As for high school, there is some debate about whether homework is helpful, but even the studies showing a benefit can be picked apart, if you consult the right experts. As someone who experiences the challenges of anxiety and depression, I am especially keen on helping my kids have healthy minds. So when I saw this in Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, I definitely took note: “A study published in 2002 found a direct relationship between how much time high school students spent on homework and the levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disturbances they experienced” (p. 11).

Research doesn’t support homework, but it does support family time and housework:

Chores are linked to long-term success. The evidence from two longitudinal studies indicates the 2 keys to having a happy and successful adulthood are industriousness in childhood and close relationships. George Valliant, an American Psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School . . . discovered that strong bonds (especially within the family and, in particular, siblings) are associated with successful aging. He also found that industriousness (as defined by things like chores, hard part-time jobs through teenage years, and involvement in school clubs and sports) was a predictor of adult mental health (Source).

So if you aren’t keen on enforcing unsupported-by-evidence policies of an antiquated school system, then you’re NOT failing as a mom. In my book, you’re actually a fantastic mom. Keep up the good work leisure. If your kids are too busy playing, relaxing, or doing chores to do their homework, it doesn’t mean your kids will be failures. On the contrary, it’s likely they’ll be happy and successful.

[P.S. Having your kids do chores doesn’t necessarily mean your house will be clean all the time, unfortunately, especially if you value creativity, play, and leisure just as much as you value chores. Hence: #1.]


5) Being Beautiful

This is one I definitely struggle with, especially lately. Something that helps me is to think about all the people I know. When I think about all the people I know, I realize that I think all of them are beautiful. They come in all shapes and sizes and body types and hair types and face shapes and nose shapes and fashion styles, but they are all beautiful to me. Some have scars, blemishes, and perceived inadequacies. And those are things I might actually miss if they were gone because they are a part of that person I adore. Beauty doesn’t depend upon any of these things. We all know this, so why is it so hard to apply that knowledge to ourselves?

Here’s something I need to do, maybe you do too… Let’s take a moment and think about what are the most beautiful things about you? Physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual. There are things about you that are breathtakingly beautiful. What are they? What are some ways you can radiate your unique beauty to the world? When you radiate joy and peace, that is absolutely beautiful. When you see beauty in others, that is beautiful. When you share your talents with the world, that is beautiful. When you sacrifice your time, blood, sweat, patience, and tears to grow, give birth to, feed, and nurture your children, that is one of the most beautiful things of all.

If you haven’t yet, you definitely need to watch The Stay at Home Chef’s viral video about her gray hairs. And if you have already seen it, go watch it again ’cause it’s a message we all need to hear more than once, I think.


You’re doing a great job, friend.