Fail Better

I am writing this two days before her four month birthday. She is strapped to my chest in a stretchy wrap I made for us. I am trying to type quietly, so she can sleep. Every so often, she rubs her face against my chest, and burrows deeper into sleep. I love moments like this, when her head is close to my heart and we breathe in unison.

This is the month where I returned to work fully. It was (and is) a big transition for me. Sometimes, I think I’m doing it well, but most of the time I feel like I’m failing spectacularly. This week, felt like mostly failing.

I had a week where my work schedule changed daily. I started as early as 8 PM and ended as late as 4 PM on some days. On others, I started as late as 11 AM and ended as late as 8 PM. At work, I feel like I accomplish a fraction of what I used to acomplish. I can blame this on the almost eighty minutes of pumping or cleaning my pump parts that I do throughout the work day. But I also just feel like my output is less, as if I am constantly playing catch up during my day.

At home, I only get to see Nora for a few hours each day. And those hours are filled with eating dinner, feeding her, bathing her, and getting her to a nap or to bed. It’s transactional – these are the tasks we need to do, so that she is happy and healthy. Gone are the leisure days of my maternity leave, where I could read her books, play with her, and feel like a hands-on parent.

In general, I am tired. I am tired from physically providing all of the food for my daughter, every day. I am tired from waking up at 5 AM, or more likely 4:30, each morning. I am tired from missing quality time with her and quality time with my husband. And in those moments of sheer exhaustion, I feel like I’m failing.

It’s hard to explain now that I’m two days in to a three day weekend. But I woke up at 4:45 on Thursday with an overwhelming sense that I am doing it all wrong. Aaron and Nora were up and playing in her bedroom and I thought, “Babies shouldn’t be up at 4:45. She must not be getting enough sleep. I’m doing it wrong.” This sense led to a full-scale meltdown. Never mind the fact that Nora is a natural morning person (so far). Never mind that she wakes up to be fed around this time every day and doesn’t settle down again until a 6 AM nap. Never mind that she naps every two hours during her day. At that moment, I was terrified that I was breaking her ability to sleep through the night, a skill she has yet to develop.

Thinking about this perceived failure, I started to catalog all of my other failures as a wife, new mother, and worker. I am not working as I hard as I used to at work. FAILURE. I barely have time to see my husband during the week. FAILURE. I don’t pitch in with the chores around the house, as much as I should. FAILURE. My two cats are utterly neglected. FAILURE. I don’t know if I spend enough time, or the right type of time, with my daughter. FAILURE. I have nightmares about missing meetings at work and not being able to call in, and nightmares about dropping the baby, often in the same night. FAILURE.

Like most perfectionists, I have a debilitating fear of failure. It’s not that I’m unaccustomed to it. I’ve failed (or almost failed) plenty throughout my life. I almost failed out of high school, much to the shock of most people who know me as an adult. I need to be good at everything I do, or everyone might find out that I am not as smart/capable/resourceful/functioning as I seem (or as I think I seem).

Knowing this about myself, I have chosen to embark upon a path that is littered with failure. There is no way in the world that I will raise a child successfully without failing at something. We all fail at some part of parenting, because we are all human. I realized this weekend, after sleeping in until 6:30 on Saturday and recovering precious sleep, that I need to embrace failure.Β I picked this motherhood path, not because I would be a perfect mother. I wanted to share the love I have with my husband with another person. I wanted to work on something hard and meaningful with him. I wanted to contribute someone awesome to the world. In order to do all those things, I have to fail and fail often. I now just have to learn how to accept my failures and failings.

In the midst of my panic about my parenting and personal failures, I thought that I need to figure this out before Nora can remember me failing. Now I know this is wrong. I need to teach her how to fail well, to fail better. Every time that she learns something new, she will fail first. I want to show her and teach her that she can pick herself up and try again, try more passionately, try with more skill and experience. Not because she will one day be perfect, but because one day she will do better than the day before. This is what we are going to work towards, together.


4 thoughts on “Fail Better

  1. Laurel

    Oh, sigh. What is it about sleep (other than being the Big Issue of year 1) that has this magical potency? I have told Adam on more than one occasion that I was convinced I was doing something wrong because my baby could not yet put himself to sleep–he needs to be fed, rocked, bounced, swung, or worn. And he’s not always good at staying asleep. BUT…he’s getting better. I think parental sleep deprivation makes you obsessed with your child’s sleep. You simply can’t fathom why s/he would not be sleeping at any given moment, since that’s what YOU would most like to do. But what our kids most want to do is to be safe and loved. They’ll sleep when they have to, but most of them will fight it to the last minute for a little extra time with you.

    Teaching your child to fail well is a great goal. BUT.

    “I am not working as I hard as I used to at work. FAILURE.” I bet you are still performing the very best that you currently can in these circumstances, and that you are pushing yourself beyond what you feel 100% ready for. SUCCESS!!

    “I barely have time to see my husband during the week. FAILURE.” Unfair to beat yourself up for things out of your control. Nurture, lady. Being there for your husband and nurturing him is still a priority for you, even with as stretched as you currently feel. Love wins! SUCCESS!

    “I don’t pitch in with the chores around the house, as much as I should. FAILURE.” This is part of the ebb and flow of a relationship. Right now, you are more responsible for out-of-the-home work for your family. You are ensuring your family has a steady income and good health care. SUCCESS!

    “My two cats are utterly neglected. FAILURE.” To be fair, they’re cats. How often do they neglect you? πŸ˜‰

    “I don’t know if I spend enough time, or the right type of time, with my daughter. FAILURE.” Does she seem like a happy kid? Trust that. SUCCESS!

    “I have nightmares about missing meetings at work and not being able to call in, and nightmares about dropping the baby, often in the same night. FAILURE.” This is paranoia about failure; it is not actually failure. Go gently, Jess. πŸ™‚

    From here, I very much understand how and why all this feels like failing, as I feel much the same way about myself. At the same time, however, it’s so clear from here that you aren’t failing–you’re just finding your rhythm in this transformed world. And it’s incredibly hard. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

    As far as trying to get over the learning curve before your daughter can remember or teaching her to fail better…for many, many years, mama, you are going to be magically perfect to her just as you are. She loves you. So. Much.



      Thanks, Laurel. As always, it’s helpful to have someone outside of the situation, yet intimately familiar with the territory, to give me perspective. Now that I’m passed that particular bout of sleep deprivation, I feel less like I’m failing all of the time.

      I think my failure list really stems from the things I wish I could do well, to do more of. I wish I could spend more time with Nora,and my husband, and the kitties (evil as they may be). I wish my house were cleaner and I wish that I didn’t dream about failure during the night, after running away from failure during the day. I know that these aren’t failures, but things that I’m trying to balance without much success.

      I know it’s a transition that I have to nurture myself through, but in these four little months, I’ve had so many transitions. Transition from being pregnant to being a mom. Transition into maternity leave. Transition out of maternity leave. Aaron has worked two different schedules since we had Nora, each of which was a transition for our schedules and our family. Transition to Aaron having daytime care. I was just ready to feel settled. Instead, I felt more unsettled as my work took up so much of my time. I keep thinking that this is a problem I can solve or work through, which is my way of coping with things. I don’t think working harder/trying harder is the problem as I’m trying pretty damn hard right now.

      But you’re right. The proof of my lack of failure is in Nora. She is really thriving and gaining weight and is generally a happy baby all day long. Aaron and I are doing a lot right, I know that. I’m *so* lucky that I was blessed with a calm, resilient, zen little soul for a baby

      At any rate, it’s better after this weekend. I had three full days of husband/baby time. I got to get some chores done. The cats were still neglected, but they’ll live. They’re cats. And now I get to take a big breath and do five days in a row again.

      Thanks for your support both here and in email form. πŸ™‚

    2. Jessica

      BTW, in agreement with your sleep issues with Samwise. Nora can only be held, worn, or nursed to sleep. She tolerates the swing for about 10 minutes at the most. We have never been able to just set her down on a surface (bed, floor or crib) for a nap. In fact, we have yet to use the crib for its intended purpose yet. At least we got it off of Craigslist for cheap. πŸ™‚

      1. Laurel

        Ha. We sidecarred the crib. I love it, btw. He stays there until sometime between 3-5 a.m., then comes in bed. While he’s in the crib, I can still reach him to let him hold my thumb or to pat his tummy if he starts getting roused, which often puts him back down. However, he’s got his own space for a good chunk of the night, so I sleep better.

        I do understand about all the wishing. There’s a lot of it. A recent discussion in my mama’s FB group was about what we missed from our pre-baby days. I miss immersive passion–the ability to become utterly absorbed in something I love: a book, writing, a spontaneous hike, my husband. My attention and energies are now forever split–as they should be–but I miss that. And you know what? As the sprout gets bigger and more independent, that time will come back in small moments, eventually growing. Some of those passions we’ll even share, which is one of the things I’m most looking forward to. πŸ™‚

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