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From High Heels to Stroller Wheels: Downshifting into Motherhood

May 25, 2012

Bethany, a good friend of mine, and new-ish mom, tweeted this week:

I have generally done well at everything I work hard at. This has not prepared me for how often I feel like a failure as a parent.

She and I were raised to be self-sufficient, hard-working, persistent people. We both have careers (ok, I HAD a career…once…and hope to again someday). As women in the workplace, we found certain truths to be self-evident:

  • Show up. You’ll get credit for just being on time.
  • Look well. You’ll get credit for looking the part.
  • Speak up. You’ll get credit for having an opinion.
  • Be kind. You’ll get credit for building relationships.
  • Be confident. Believe in yourself, and others will too.

The only problem is, none of these, not even one, apply to being a parent.

We don’t get credit for being on time or looking the part. Our kids don’t care if we think we believe we have all the answers. We can be endlessly kind to our children and, as any of you out there with toddlers or teens can attest, they don’t respond in kind.
It’s a whole new ball-game, this.

When my first child was born I was Vice President of a small but notable advertising agency. I was the top billing account executive at the firm and had held that title for several years. I managed a small team. My clients respected my opinion, the owners respected my opinion, and my colleagues respected my opinion. I had clout. I had an office, with a door AND a window, and I got to “do lunch” with cool people at cool places, and enjoy margarita parties every Friday in the art department.

I was somebody.

I managed to keep on being somebody at work while taking care of a much bigger somebody at home, but the slippery-slope to Mommy Failure had already begun. Four years later came Number Two. It was while on maternity leave with Number Two that I started throwing baby books in the garbage can. I didn’t even recycle them! When Gary Ezzo told me that IF I did X then my baby WOULD do Y, I started to got really hacked, and maybe even a teensy bit crazy. Liars! Liarrrrs! My baby did whatever the heck he wanted to and whenever he wanted to and there was no rhyme or reason for which he did. He didn’t fit any personality profile in print…he was scrappy – in personality, and yes, in looks = pimply and scrawny and angry all the time. I loved the little stinker, but oh, how I felt like such a loser. I couldn’t make him happy!

It’s just one small person. Why can’t I make him happy? Why can’t I meet his needs?

L-O-S-E-R

She was lookin’ kinda dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an L on her forehead…

Loser.
No credit for showing up. No credit for even having taken a shower (which I hadn’t). No credit for having clout, or bringing in several hundred thousand dollars last month. Nada. It meant nothing to this wee, scrawny tyrant.

Breastfeeding was just one of many areas of failure. With my first, I couldn’t produce enough. With my second, he refused to latch appropriately and so I pumped. And I pumped and I pumped and gosh darnit I filled my doggone freezer with so many little bottles I felt like a rock star.

I can’t make you stop crying, babe, but I can feed you. Oh, yes I can.

For every bottle I was able to store away, I salvaged a scrap of my wayward self-confidence.

From high heels, briefcases, and board room negotiations to the small victory of squirreling away an extra 14 ounces today…

It was a long way to fall.

In one sense, a bit like stepping off a speeding train. Or even just stepping off one of those people movers at the airport. You stumble those first couple steps, awkward gait until everything evens out.

Only kids, they keep changing. So the adjustments and the awkwardness? It just keeps going. I’ve finally realized that I am good enough. Mom enough, as Time magazine so graciously reminded me. I am Mom Enough. 

Over time, like any sailor can attest, you learn to roll with the waves. Do I still fail as a parent on a regular basis? Oh yes! But I guess I’m just used to it. You fall down, you get back up again.

I love the page in my Mary Engelbreit calendar that reads:” There is no way to be a perfect parent, but there a million ways to be a good one.” I’m ok with that, now.

I’ve been doing this for almost 9 years. I’m sorta used to being off balance. Bethany? She’s only had a year of practice. I know she’s a great mom, and she’ll continue to be a great mom. She just hasn’t got her sea-legs yet.

It’ll come. I promise, it’ll come.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Bethany Hall Fitelson permalink
    May 25, 2012 8:48 am

    This made me laugh and cry. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement. It helps to just acknowledge that success in the world and success in parenting are not at all the same thing! Once again, like dating, engagement, marriage and now parenting, you are one step ahead of me and I am a better person for following behind you!

    • May 25, 2012 8:59 am

      Oh, B. I’m just trying to show you that I don’t have it any more together than you do…I’ve just had more practice NOT having it all together! Love you – your comment made ME cry.

  2. Walter permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:18 am

    Adelle,
    Great post! I often ignored the comments people made about parenting being the hardest job you will ever have BEFORE I became a dad. Now I find myself screaming like a four year old at my kids wondering “What in the world happened to me? I am a professional and professionals do NOT act this way.” Thanks for the affirmation.

    However, do not underestimate that career(s) you now have as a mother and what you do for the families at Campbell. What you do there is VITAL and important and possesses significance that you may never fully understand or realize as it is not measured in balance sheets, slaes quotas, profit margins, etc.

    peace,
    Walter

  3. Walter permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:23 am

    Two more things from “Love Does” by Bob Goff that I think are relevant here and highly encouraging to me as a dad:

    “The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides people into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use a bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents, and each other. The whole thing is designed so we try again and again until we finally get it right. And the whole time He is endlessly patient.”

    and

    “Failure is just part of the process, and it’s not just okay; it’s better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so that we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.”

    Okay I lied…three things:

    “And for me, I’ve realized that I used to be afraid of failing at the things that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

    • May 25, 2012 10:08 am

      Walter – thank you for taking the time to post those. Excellent points, all! One of the mantras we maintain around our house is what Gabe calls “controlled failures” – just what Goff is saying: learning how to fail and keep going.

      Thanks for your insight (and for the kudos).

  4. May 25, 2012 1:01 pm

    Increasingly frustrated with those darn experts. Before having kids I was one of them so it stings even more!

  5. Danielle Humphreys permalink
    May 25, 2012 7:28 pm

    The part about missing having your opinion respected and getting credit for showing up, etc totally resonate with me. It’s already so easy to slip into that inner “you stink” cave everytime I fail with parenting, that the lack of feedback and metrics just accentuate the uncertainty of how I’m doing at this whole mommy job. And so, in my mommy guilt, I start to worry about how the kids are old enough now to remember the times I failed and how they’ll be talking about it to their therapist in 15 years.

    Nevertheless, I hang on to our gracious God who gives me hope and community to continue on. In his kindness, he dusts off the “you stink” and replaces it with “you’re mine, and so are your kids,” and “you’re not alone.”

  6. Kim permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:00 pm

    My favorite preschool teacher always says, as long as we’re doing it right 51% of the time, we’re not screwing them up:) (I’m paraphrasing liberally). Anyway, I get it. Totally. Had those feelings a million times over.

    • May 25, 2012 9:17 pm

      I like your paraphrase…will take and run with it! I was going on 9 times out of 10, but yours is better…

  7. May 26, 2012 7:09 am

    Awesome post … you always seem to put words to what I’m thinking and feeling. Before kids, I was a parenting magazine editor. I had read ALL the books on parenting. I KNEW it all–except when that first kid came, I discovered I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing in the books prepare you. I could run a magazine team, manage writers, deal with publicists, and totally multi-task to the millioneth degree. Now I can barely get out an intelligible sentence. I want to scream at my kids “I used to BE somebody!” But they don’t care … they just want mama. And for this moment in time, that’s all I want to be: mama.

  8. pastordt permalink
    May 26, 2012 9:52 pm

    LOVE this Adelle. There is no tougher job out there. Period. Or more rewarding, either.

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