Mental Gymnastics: Dumping the Failure Baggage

By Melissa Stefanec

My kids are good at a lot of things. They invoke joy and laughter. They keep my life lively and my heart full. They are amazing. However, my kids are also inadvertently good at making me feel like a mild failure.

Mind you, I’m a big girl who owns her emotions, so I know only I can make me feel like a failure. But motherhood has a way of conjuring up feelings of inadequacy and guilt, even when I’m trying really hard. As a parent, there are many moments where my best intentions go awry.

Throughout the day, in moments of business, anger or weakness, I feel like I’m failing my kids or have failed to properly parent them. Sometimes the wins are too few and the failures are too many.

I want to coin the term “failure baggage.” It’s something that weighs a lot of parents down. However, we owe it to ourselves to unpack that baggage, rearrange it, and see if for what it is — not as a set of failures, but a combination of mundane occurrences and beautiful moments.

That’s no easy task, so I’m going to practice right now. Here are some examples of parenting fails that I will reshape into parenting wins. Afterall, being capable of such mental gymnastics may prove to be the secret to dumping my failure baggage (and the secret to parental happiness).

• Parenting fail No. 1 — We didn’t practice box division this weekend

As each weekend approaches, I plan to do all of things we didn’t get to during the week — the extra box division, the spelling words, the subtraction flashcards. Then, the weekend comes around, and life happens. All of a sudden, it’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday and I’m too spent to school my 9-year-old on box division.

— Mental gymnastics: The hidden win

We didn’t do box division, but we did a STEAM activity. We also baked cookies and talked about measurements and fractions. We went for a hike and marveled at the blue sky peeking through bare trees. We drove to get cupcakes and played the kids’ favorite songs a little too loud. I listened in on pretend games of epic proportions. We laughed while we played Pictionary. We lived.

• Parenting fail No. 2 — The kindness BINGO board

Our kids’ school sent home kindness BINGO boards. The boards had simple acts of kindness on each square. My kids could do these acts at home or school and check them off their boards. It was supposed to be a wholesome activity. That didn’t last long.

The next day, before school, I asked them to review the boards and plot out their acts of kindness for the day. I walked away to get ready for work and a lengthy argument ensued. My son, who is 6, started checking off items he knew he had done in the past. My daughter, who was not in the retroactive-acts-of-kindness camp, didn’t like how many boxes he had illegally checked off.

All. out. war. Over a kindness BINGO board.

— Mental gymnastics: The hidden win

Sure, my children took an activity that was intended to perpetuate kindness to instead perpetuate their sibling rivalry. However, if there was a retroactive window for the BINGO board, my kids would have filled their boards in short order. They are very kind to others. That kindness board was an extension of their everyday lives.

• Parenting fail No. 3: Skier’s thumb

This winter, to escape our solitary confinement, I signed the family up for downhill skiing lessons. Downhill skiing doesn’t mesh with my risk-adverse personality. Something about plummeting down an icy mountain and potentially tumbling to a painful death just doesn’t lure me. However, I wanted to face my fears.

At the first lesson, I fell, as most beginners do. However, I also managed to really mess up my thumb. One lesson led to many doctor’s appointments. This is what happens when you face your fears, kids!

— Mental gymnastics: The hidden win

After our first family lesson, I felt like a failure, but then my daughter came home from school one day with an update. She said, “Mommy, I faced a fear today. I hate talking in front of the class, but, today, I led yoga. I did it.”

The takeaway

That yoga win wasn’t so hidden. In fact, it inspired me to write this column. Failures are lessons and opportunities, if only we have the courage to accept them as such. This failure taught me a valuable parenting lesson: my kids need to see me try and (sometimes) fail.

The only way I can really fail my kids is to tote my failure baggage around. Keeping a positive perspective and seeing the lessons in minor setbacks will make me a better parent. It might just also inspire my kids to dump their own failure baggage and start moving past their mistakes.

So whatever failure you’re beating yourself up for this week, challenge yourself to see the win in it. Do the mental gymnastics. Drop your failure baggage and don’t look back. Your kids are watching.