Before I became a parent, I had heard the cheeky hashtag #MomFail thrown around on social media, interpreting it as a sort of self-deprecating coping mechanism for parents under pressure. Now, I appreciate not only how needed that brand of humor is but also how empowering it can be.
The power of acknowledging and accepting my myriad failures as a parent hit me recently on a particularly challenging Saturday. It was especially tough because, as the first day of nursing clinicals for my wife, who’s just embarking on nursing school, I knew that this was going to set the tone for many weekend days to come when I would be caring for Jackson solo. I had a whole plan set: He and I would drop the dog at the groomer, do food shopping, grab the pup, head home for a nap and then go to my mom’s for a visit. Piece of cake!
I’d spent plenty of time on my own with Jackson in the past year, much of it challenging, but this day — with its heightened expectations for how I’d do solo parenting when Ashlee is in school — was quite different. Jackson screamed the whole way to the pet store, pausing only momentarily as I carried his 25-pound self (forgot his stroller) and the dog into the shop. He screamed from the second his butt was back in his car seat until we got out at the grocery store, where I realized I forgot his shopping cart cover. Back-up plan: I went to grab some disinfecting wipes at the door — and they were all out! Oh well, he won’t get too gross, I thought — as I watched him rub his rice cake snack along the handle and smile as he shoved it into his mouth.
Getting the dog, baby and armfuls of groceries in the house was a feat unto itself. And then came naptime — a dizzying dance of Jackson screaming and me trying haphazardly to soothe him, running up and down the steps with forgotten stuffed animals and eventually slipping halfway down the stairs as I ran to shush the dog, who had chosen to sing the song of her people just as Jackson had finally started to settle. Jackson was wailing, the dog was howling and all I could do was lay on the steps and bang my head against the wall.
Later that day, I was speeding from my house to my mom’s, as Jackson’s unpleasantness had yet to wear off, when I realized I left his swim clothes at home, so the plan to go for a dip in my mom’s pool was out of the question. As his octaves grew higher and higher, I tried to match his volume by singing along feverishly to “Five Little Ducks” — guzzling my can of sparkling water and wishing it was spiked.
I felt like I had failed on all fronts: I forgot to pack things, I couldn’t find a way to calm him down, I was getting frustrated with him and myself. These types of situations happen frequently, both to me and Ashlee. Today, she planned an afternoon of bonding time with Jackson. Things got off on the wrong foot when he had a diaper blowout and she didn’t have any diapers. They went to the nearby mall with plans for him to ride the carousel, an idea that went awry when she learned the operator only accepted cash and she had to pull Jackson away from the gate he had been excitedly banging on while waiting his turn. She went to Plan B, which was to take him to the kids’ area, only to learn that a play space exists at another mall, not this one.
But, ultimately, he had a ball: running into stores, playing at the fountain, taking in the sights and sounds of the crowded shopping center. Likewise, on my ultra-stressful day with him a few weeks ago, I was headed home and glanced in the rearview mirror to see him clapping along to the music and bobbing his head.
Sure, we #MomFail often — and miserably. But, we also #MomWin just as much. Yesterday, I was trying to get the baby and dog ready for a walk. With dog treats in my right hand, Jackson’s cookies in my left and him sitting on my lap, I successfully put on and tied two sneakers and attached the dog’s leash. I was pretty damn proud of myself. Every morning, Ashlee remembers to amass a pile of Jackson’s toys in the front seat before she takes him out to the car, and she passes them back one at a time as she drives him to daycare. As soon as he tosses a toy out of reach, she’s ready with the next one. #MomWin.
The times we fail make the times we win all the more exciting. I’m learning to embrace those failings, as they show me that perfection isn’t necessary. Yes, he screamed all day a few weeks ago, but a few hours later, he was dancing. Yes, Ashlee’s trip to the mall didn’t go exactly as planned, but she and Jackson had quality time doing something new and unexpected.
The expectation to be perfect is something that every parent faces, to some degree. We want to do the best and be the best for our kids, but the best doesn’t mean constant victory; failing is a natural part of life, and it’s definitely a natural part of parenthood. Each time I forget to pack something for Jackson, it makes me remember to be better prepared the next time. Each time I feel like I’m doing a poor job of helping Jackson manage his emotions, I ultimately find something new that seems to work. Each time I get frustrated or angry with him, I eventually force myself to pause and practice getting a better grip on my own emotions.
Embracing the #MomFail can be empowering, as it lifts just a tiny bit of the pressure that we as parents (and society, too) put on ourselves. Ashlee and I make mistakes constantly, every single day, but at the end of the day, he’s fine, we’re fine and we’ve all survived. We’ll keep failing and winning, and that carousel will just keep going around and around (and next time, we’ll know to bring cash).