The Upside of Failure
"Imperfections are not inadequacies;
they are reminders that we’re all in this together."
Once upon a time, I was determined to be an all-natural parenting warrior who was happy all of the time.
Then motherhood came along and knocked the wind out of my perfection sails.
The photo above taken on February 26, 2009 captures one of my first moments as a mom. Nine years later, I still remember the intense feelings of failure that stifled my early motherhood bliss.
So ensued the most difficult yet rewarding journey of my life, where I ultimately found an abundance of joy (in the most unexpected places). Now I look back with a compassionate nostalgia and think,
My "failure" was a good thing.
WHOLE in Motherhood: Humble
Admitting I failed to meet my supermom goals is not easy. However, I’ve been speaking my shame long enough to trust that vulnerability is my birthplace of growth.
Leaning into vulnerability has brought great reward:
At the end of a long journey to find and claim my most authentic self, I’ve replaced my pursuit of perfection with the goal of being Well-nourished, Humble, Optimistic, Loving, and Engaged.
WHOLE is my holistic approach to resilience, the outcome of a decade-long experiment in applying the tools and theories of well-being to motherhood.
My humble “H” was discovered through the vulnerability motherhood forced upon me, and it remains an essential ingredient of my well-being.
"Me Too" Moments in Motherhood
Over the years, I have learned there are two little words that never fail to support me on my hardest days in the trenches of motherhood:
Yes, these words are currently leading an important revolution for women, but I first heard “Me too” from my doula moments before I became a mom.
She was there to support my “natural childbirth plan” that flopped at nearly 42 weeks, after 3 days of prodromal labor, a 15 hour induction, and 2 hours of pushing. As I was lying on the stretcher in defeat, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “My baby was breach. I wasn’t even allowed to labor and push before my section.” Her confession took the sting out of my failure and made my unexpected surgical delivery much less daunting.
Then, at my 8 week checkup, my typically stoic OBGYN asked how I was really doing. When I replied, "I feel like I am falling apart,” she put down her chart and told me frankly that motherhood was the hardest thing she had ever done. Her rare vulnerability lifted my shame and gave me the courage I needed to call a therapist and get the help I needed.
When I was in a grocery store feeling humiliated by my first public tantrum, another mom in passing said, "I’ve been there too. Hang in there.”
After my first pregnancy loss, a nurse told me, “I lost twice. You must grieve this as the real loss it is.”
In the burn unit with my injured toddler son, my dearest friends countered my I am a bad mom rumination with, “It could have been us. We almost had a million accidents with our kids. You are still an amazing mom."
More recently, my daughter’s diagnosis of ADHD has welcomed countless confessions from mothers who intimately understand my struggle.
The interesting thing about these "me too" scenarios is they required another mom braving the risks of vulnerability to offer support. I am grateful for the authentic connections that planted seeds of strength and fostered hope in my heart.
Now that I am a flourishing mom of four, it's time to pay their brave generosity forward by remaining humble and willing to share my truth.
Authentic Moms Matter
If a million authentic exchanges are my best kept secret in surviving nearly a decade of motherhood, then the authentic friendships I foster and cherish are my lifeline.
If you don’t have women you can be your truest self with, my advice to you is start fostering authentic mom relationships immediately, by reaching out and saying simply, “Me too."
You might be willing to take my word on this, but I’ll still substantiate my recommendation with the research of Suniya Luthar and Lucia Ciciolla who asked more than 2,000 mothers what makes them happy.
Their research, "Who Mothers Mommy? Factors that contribute to mothers’ well-being" discovered four factors that contribute to Mom’s happiness:
feeling comforted when needed
authenticity in relationships
Indeed, we need those stolen conversations at school drop-off, and our mom nights out with authentic girlfriends who admit the struggle is real.
Yes, this is a seemingly simple solution to our stress, which makes me think of words I once heard the late positive psychologist, Christopher Peterson say:
If I pair Peterson’s prolific statement with the findings of Luthar & Ciciolla, and my experience as a mom of four, I conclude,
Authentic moms matter, period.
We need each other not only to survive, but to thrive.
I am NOT an Expert
I write away with the quiet hope of defining my voice as an expert in the area of resilience and motherhood. But then again, I cannot claim the word expert, because humility gets in the way:
Yes, I’m well-studied and have a lot of experience.
Indeed, I know what I am doing now (most of the time).
However, on my best day in motherhood, I am imperfect.
In a gig where there is no clear way to define success and a million ways to fail, I'm just used to picking myself up and soldiering on....
No, I didn't want to stumble, but my failures made me into a more compassionate human being.
Yes, I still get uneasy revealing my flaws to you, but I bare my soul hoping I might pass along the strength I received from moms who dared to share their truth before me.
We're all in this together, and a small reminder that we are not alone can be a lifesaver in motherhood.
Know that you can always find a few words of authenticity here, where l'm willing to admit:
I have failed, but I have grown.
I am imperfect, but I am good enough.
I am NOT an expert, but I am willing to share my truth.