I was sitting in the car with my husband a few years ago. The kids were at school. I can't recall what had gone wrong, but something had me on the edge of my seat. Literally. I sat at the edge of the passenger seat, restless and upset. I shook my head and looked at my lap.
With tears in my eyes, I said to my husband, "I am a failure as a mother."
My husband isn't an overly emotional man. During many of my diatribes on life, he might simply smile and shake his head. But this time, he reached over and put his hand on my leg.
He said, "You haven't failed until you stop trying."
I nodded. I felt a little better. His voice was kind, and his hand felt good.
I pulled myself together before we picked up the kids. The day went on, but as it did, I thought about those words again and again. There have been so many moments I have felt a sense of failure as a mother. I felt it when my daughter was newly born and colicky. I didn't even know what colic was until a pediatrician explained it to me. I didn't know there was a word for a baby who cried every day between 4 PM and 8 PM. All those evenings of rocking and soothing a crying baby weren't a result of my failure as a mother, which gave me the renewed spirit to keep up the hours of pacing it took to finally calm her each day.
I felt like a failure in so many other moments, when my kids misbehaved in public, when they refused to eat anything other than cheese and bread, when they wouldn't go to sleep. I felt like a failure when I couldn't manage to pull myself together at a mom's group meeting, sleep deprived and on the verge of collapse. I could go on. There were many such moments, interspersed amongst the lovely moments.
My husband's words stayed with me that entire day, and I felt myself coming back to life with the thought that if I simply kept trying, I could keep going. If I kept going, I hadn't failed. It was the most encouraging thought I'd had in years. All I had to do was try, and if I did that, if I really did that, I had a chance.
I think about this advice all the time. I think about it as a writer. I think about it as a teacher. I think about it as a friend and wife. Every time life gets overwhelming or I think I've missed that proverbial boat, I think about my husband's words. If I do nothing else, I remind myself, I can keep trying.
Life, motherhood, all of it....it's a marathon. I think American culture is set up for the sprint. More often than not, however, it's the long haul we must prepare for. Motherhood is the long haul, and for that I am grateful. I get, fingers crossed, a lifetime with these kiddos.
So, while I may make one mistake after another, I remind myself daily: I haven't failed until I quit trying.