Believing In Yourself When Your Children Fail
Dear Mama: You need to stop thinking you are responsible when your children “ fail ”.
I still remember the first time it happened to me: right after I received and read through my oldest son’s first school report card. Or as they call it here in Western Australia: “Student Achievement Report”. You might have seen this format yourself, where your child gets scored in various categories to be either excellent or not so excellent. Well, I suppose I am fortunate in that my child has never had a bad score, no fail grade; he thankfully is deemed “satisfactory” on all levels. But as I read that the first time, I took it personally. I felt that I could have done better. Could have done more. That my child’s satisfactory results meant I was just a satisfactory mother, not an excellent one. I realised that I would’ve felt better about myself if he had achieved better scores. With eyes wide open, I walked into the trap of attaching my worth as a mother to the achievements of my child. Something I had vowed never to do.
Digging a bit deeper through this, I realised though that I have been doing it for a long time, maybe not continuously, but through moments here and there. And I think we all do. And we need to stop.
I did it when my second child was still not crawling at 11 months. I went to the OT and expected her to tell me what I must have done wrong to cause this. I had already been telling myself it was definitely because I was working and he was the second child and I wasn’t stimulating him enough. I did it every time I got the “fine motor skill” talk about my oldest. I was sure that if I were a better mother, his pencil grip would’ve been better too. I did it the time I got called to school because he accidentally gave his friend a bloody nose. Surely it must be my fault that he decided to play games involving swinging fists. Every day my youngest takes a soft toy to school, just to help him cope with his environment, it’s my fault too. Maybe if I were more nurturing and soft and kind, he wouldn’t need soft toys as companions.
When they fail, we fail (at least that’s how it feels). Don’t confuse this with mother’s guilt. This is something completely different but equally damaging. I think it happens because all of us start on this motherhood journey falsely believing that if you do your very best, your child will always be a testimony of your effort. And we so badly want to do our best. We get judged so quickly and easily, that we long for situations where someone will actually tell us that we are good mothers. But this seldomly happens. So we look for affirmation of our mothering abilities in our children’s accomplishments and if that is lacking, if the milestones aren’t reached, if they “fail” along the way, it becomes proof to us that we are, in fact, not doing a great job. You know what is even more sad? If they do happen to make us proud, we rarely think it’s because of us. It’s luck or chance or great grandma Edna on their dad’s side that’s responsible for this skill or talent. We take the “failures” personally and we shrug off the accomplishments.
Let me tell you what I have learnt: Very few people will ever tell you how good you are at mothering. So you need to tell it to yourself. No matter what the world says. No matter how many things your child does “wrong”, no matter how many mistakes you make. You are a good mother. Your children will do things (good and bad) BECAUSE of you and they will do other things (good and bad) DESPITE you. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Don’t attach value to not-so-great school report cards or funny personality traits or even burps and farts in public (mum of boys 101…)
“Your children do not define your worth. Their successes do not elevate you to super-parent status and their failures do not sentence you to shame and reproach” – Christi Gee
Magda is a mother, budding entrepreneur and a dabbler in words. She is originally from South Africa, but Perth became home in 2015. Her happy place is spending time with her husband and two boys, all 3 of them redheads! Most of her spare time goes into washing underpants and putting down toilet seats, but if there’s any left, you will find her with her nose in a book. Other passions include coffee and chocolate and sometimes she runs too. She loves encouraging women to be authentic, ignore the opinions of others and to become the best possible version of themselves.