The word has always made me cringe. I’m not good at it. Never have been. But despite many failures –- both big and small – it is only since becoming a mother that I’ve learned to understand why I have run, hidden and avoided failure so much over the years.
I watch my two-year old son try to throw a mini-basketball into a pint-sized net over and over again without frustration, and I can see the benefits of the mantra “try and try and try again.” There is no deep thought behind it. He just continues in his attempts over and over until he either gets the ball in the net or becomes distracted by his new toy digger. I also watch my four-year-old daughter -- who used to play and immerse herself in tasks the same way -- now get frustrated when she can’t do things well.
One day she got really upset when she couldn’t complete a simple task and while I tried to calm her down, I had a huge realization: I realized that I never learned to differentiate between failing at a task and failing as a person. Instead of seeing the failure as something outside of myself – either as a result of my actions or other circumstances that I could analyze and learn from – I saw it as a failure of my personality on deep level. I couldn’t see that failing at a task didn’t change the core of me, who I am deep down, and it didn’t make me any less of a human being. It just meant I failed at something. End of story. Learn and move on. But no. Failure to me meant failure in myself. My self-confidence and ability to succeed were so closely intertwined that success and failure dictated how I perceived myself.
Since becoming a mom, I have had a couple of healthy failures and am happy to say that they didn’t define me. On the contrary, these failures have in fact taught me great lessons about myself and helped me become clearer about my life and the path I’m on.
I think that learning to fail is a healthy and important lesson for our kids. And ironically, my kids are the ones who taught me that lesson.
When we have kids, we mark the passing of time by referring to certain milestones or “firsts”: The first time the kids sit upright on their own, their first foods, their first attempts at crawling, their first steps. As parents we watch these moments with a mixture of excitement and sadness - the joy of discovering a new stage in our child’s development, and the quiet lament for the stage left behind. Time moves forward. And keeps moving.
This week I marked another milestone - not for my kids, for me. It was my last week as the co-leader of my mom’s group. Five years ago, when my first child arrived, I had difficulty adjusting to my new reality (who doesn't?). The women I met at my moms' group were my lifeline. I am not exaggerating when I say that I don’t think I would have gotten through those first few months without the support of this group.
Once I found my feet and came out of “the fog”, I vowed to do everything I could to help and support other new moms. So when I was asked to take over the leadership of our moms' group - right around the time when my second child arrived - I jumped at the chance.
For the past two years my dear friend Jenn and I have lead our neighbourhood chapter of Mumnet. As co-leaders, we were responsible for the weekly programming, for organizing guest speakers on topics such as post-partum depression to post-natal fitness. But most importantly, we were there to create a safe place for new moms to hang out. A place to cultivate friendships with other moms in the community, a place to share knowledge and experiences, a place to celebrate milestones (“Oh my God I actually got 5 hours straight sleep!” to “She’s-standing-all-on-her-own!”), and a place to find support in difficult times. Jenn and I sought to create a place for moms without judgment and where there was no lack of love and hugs.
When I started as co-leader, my daughter was 2 ½ and my son was a newborn. But time moves on. Our moms' group grew and changed and welcomed new bundles. All the while, my children were growing. Now my daughter is almost finished Junior Kindergarten and my son is almost 2 ½.
As Jenn and I hand over the reins to the next leaders of our moms' group, I’m acutely aware that I am no longer the mother of two small babies. And although I am excited to be at this milestone (and out of the baby years!), my heart aches as I give away boxes of baby clothes. But something else is also very clear: regardless of the passing of time, regardless of the fact that I’m no longer leading a moms' group, I will always remain passionate about helping new mothers and will do all I can to support moms in this incredible journey of motherhood.
I’m in the midst of giving myself a performance review. A mom review. With Mother’s Day having come and gone, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, my mother-in-law, my friends who are moms, and the role they play in my life as a mother. There are qualities I admire in each of them and many qualities that I aspire to bring to my own family. And I am reminded of how important it is to regularly take a look at my own parenting style.
As moms, we don’t get report cards. We can only gauge how we’re doing by looking at our kids and how they’re turning out, by looking at ourselves and how we feel deep down about our choices in motherhood. I’ve written before about how I believe that we’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have. I also believe that like any role we play – be it wife, friend, daughter, sister – as a mom, our responsibilities are constantly shifting according to our circumstances, our current situation, our life experiences.
In the four and half years since becoming a mom, I’ve learned that motherhood can teach us deep personal lessons. That our children offer us endless opportunities for self-growth and development, and the chance to be the best person that we can be. (The flip side is also true in that we also have the opportunity to fall into our negative habits and show the worst of ourselves, but I’m trying to focus on the positive...).
Performance reviews usually cover past accomplishments, they recognize successes and failures, and look to where there’s room for improvement. They forecast goals for the coming year and explore areas where we need to develop certain skills. I’m trying to recognize how I’ve been as a mom during the past year. What has worked and what hasn’t, and the changes that I can make to help things run more smoothly in our lives. I’m acknowledging some behaviours that aren’t contributing positively to our household, and celebrating the good things I bring to the family. I’m taking stock of our family goals, my personal goals, and where I can… ahem… “develop” my skills.
It’s an interesting exercise to do as a mom. Give yourself a performance review. There are some parts of my review that I would rather shove in the shredder and not face head on but I know that that won’t help anybody. There are other parts that make me feel proud of the choices I’ve made and the way these choices have affected our household. And when I look at the fabulous moms I’m surrounded by, it’s hard not to be inspired to embody some of their amazing qualities as a mother.
One of the things I’m doing as part of this process is defining tasks or areas I can act upon. In business speak, defining my “action items". One of my action items is: “say yes more.” So far it has lead to some fun, new adventures so I’m already sensing it’s a good thing. There is lots to come for our family this year, so it'll be interesting to see what areas of my review I breeze through and which ones I struggle with. One thing's for sure, I've got one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. And there's really no option of quitting or getting fired, is there??? Now, about that raise....