Failing forward in motherhood


You’ve probably heard the terms ‘failing fast’ and ‘failing forward’. These are popular in business circles, especially in regards to entrepreneurship.

The basic premise is: the faster you fail, the faster you move forward.

Hands up if you’ve ever uttered the words “I feel like I’m failing at motherhood” either to someone else or to yourself.

I’ve said those words more times than I care to count.

Sometimes I say them because I know my husband will rush in with soothing back rubs and kind words of affirmation.

“You’re doing a great job.”

“You’re a fantastic mother.”

“Zoey is so lucky to have you.”

“Parenthood is hard but you’re doing amazing.”

We all need to hear these words regularly. And these words are almost always true.

But even the most well-intentioned mothers fail sometimes. Motherhood without failure is impossible. Because life without failure is impossible.

As with failing forward in business, it’s what you do with these failures that count. Do you push them under the rug – or do you learn from the experience?

I fail at motherhood every day. I define ‘fail’ as when I act or speak in a way that’s not aligned with my values. Basically, when I feel like I could have done better. Maybe there’s a better word for this?

Situations like:

  • Snapping at Zoey when she’s full of energy before 6 am but I’m yet to have my first cuppa.

  • Letting her watch too much mind-numbing television (I’m not anti screen-time, but I also know in my gut when too much is too much and sometimes I cross that line).

  • Allowing her to snack on biscuits and crackers all day and then getting frustrated at her when she doesn’t want to eat dinner.

  • Scrolling Facebook or Instagram too often in her presence, ignoring her calls for me to be present, and then getting frustrated when she does something silly or dangerous to get my attention.

  • Not prioritising my own self-care, sleep or happiness so I have more energy for her (the old put your own safety mask on first analogy).

  • Playing the short-term game (quick, easy wins) over the long-term game (making a hard call and being prepared to see it through), even when the long-term option is much better for Zoey. Think: sugar, screen time, teeth brushing (or lack of), saying yes to something because I don’t have the energy to deal with a tantrum.

  • Forgetting that she’s only 23 months old (not two going on 12!).

I know what you’re thinking: these aren’t “failures”, this is just parenting in 2019!

None of these things are a huge deal – at least, not in the grand scheme of things. My kid is doing okay. I’m doing okay.

But the reason I call them ‘failures’ comes back to that point I made earlier about living in alignment with my values.

Yes, Zoey will probably be okay if she only eats crackers until she’s five and watches too much television.

But will I be okay with that? Will I enjoy motherhood if it unfolds that way? That’s the real question.

This isn’t about me striving for perfection and beating myself up over tiny transgressions.

This is about me listening to my gut and honouring my intuition, even when ignoring it seems easier (and everyone else tells me not to worry).

This is about me getting to the end of each day and celebrating what went well and where I’d like to do better – instead of numbing with Netflix and chocolate (no judgement here, because oh I know that place well).

This is about me getting really comfortable with failure and not seeing it as ‘bad’, rather a learning experience. Approaching it with curiosity: “That was interesting, I wonder why I felt so icky about snapping at Zoey today?”

This is about me acknowledging that I’m going to get things wrong every single day, and that’s perfectly okay.

This is about me forgiving myself, failing forward, and applying what I learn.

This is not a cry for reassurance – it’s a tentative conversation starter for anyone craving some #realtalk.

Zoey is my first kid, my guinea-pig kid, and most days I have no idea what I’m doing.

An element of failure is guaranteed, but how I respond to that is optional.

Pity parties are out – failing forward is in. The faster I fail, the quicker I learn, the better I can mother tomorrow.

You with me?