Tuesday, March 3

freedom from success is freedom from failure

Lisa at Mommy Mystic recently shared an article that got me thinking.

One sentence from this paragraph particularly struck me,

Parenthood is without question one of the hardest jobs in the world, made harder because we judge ourselves on the anticipated outcome of our efforts. We might believe our task is to create a better child, a smarter child, or a more successful child. This focus on the unknowable and unpredictable future blinds us to the marvel that already appears before us. Like all of us, children are creation itself: spontaneous, dynamic, and miraculous. When we liberate ourselves from the idea of success, we liberate our children from failure. This is true empathy, and where the fun begins.

"When we liberate ourselves from the idea of success, we liberate our children from failure."

Oh I so dig that.

One of my challenges as a mother, I have come to realise, is to let go of expectations and the pressure of hope for a 'great relationship' with my daughter.

I had such a bad relationship with my own mother, and I am schooled in psychology. So I am acutely aware of the impact parenting has on a child's psyche. I want to get it right. Fortunately I have come far enough to not worry about making it perfect. Thank the universe for that! But the pressure has remained strong.
I so want her to be a happy baby, a content toddler, a confident child, a strong and confident teenager and woman. I want to add to the decent human beings of the world. And I want that type of relationship where she will confide in me.
Not much pressure, ay? *sigh*

I had an insight into these things, but, I realise it's my personal Challenge, so it's an issue I will face again and again, I know it.

So that sentence was poignant.

"When we liberate ourselves from the idea of success, we liberate our children from failure."

What it tells me is that when I pressure myself to be a great mother I have an idea in my mind of what that looks like, albeit a subconscious one. If there is a picture of a successful mother in there, there must be also one of a (I won't say failed) not so successful mother.

So what happens if, in my measure of success, I begin to come up short of my target?

I might begin to be angry with myself and feel like a failure. Or, as this sentence suggests, I might begin to blame my child. I might do this subconsciously also. I might refuse to feel totally guilty about the lack of success and so begin to view my child as short of that target.

Can I imagine doing this to her? No, I can't, because right now I put the pressure on me alone. But I can't know how it'll effect me.

And if the possibility is there, I need to consider it.

If I see her as coming short, if I see her as the failure, or even both of us. What form will the inevitable resentment, anger, bitterness, take? How will it manifest?
Surely the possibilities are that I will frown at her, shout at her, spank her, turn my back on her, place her out of my sight, withhold my love.

Can I imagine doing this to her? No. I just have way too much love to give. perhaps with me it might turn into a resentment that seethes underneath contrived happiness.
Resentment and anger are powerful shadows that take on lives of their own. Because under the pressure of succeeding, and then coming up short, she would be a constant reminder of how I and/or her has failed. How do we live with that in our face?

I mean, every tantrum or contrary behaviour shouts out at us,
You have failed!
I am failing you!

We respond with unlove. How could we do anything else if this is what our mind's ear hears? We lash out outwardly to our beloveds or we do it internally to ourselves. Either way, nobody wins.

So how do I change this idea of success? What will it change into? How about not even having the idea in the first place? How about simply being. Moment to moment living leaves no room for success or failure, because the past and present are not relevant.

I was Present in our daily moments, but I forgot about Presence in my mind, with my ideas of success, of how things could be or how I hope they would be. All stuff of the future.

In jest, DIY Dad and I speak of what the wildflower might be when she grows up. An astronaut, a dancer, a drummer in an all-girl band.....
He once asked, 'what if she's the CEO of a pharmaceuticals company', (if I believed in evil, they would be evil on earth).
I laughed (a little nervously) but responded, 'As long as she was a happy and good person'.

I now realise that wanting her to be happy and a decent person is not as benign as it first appears. I see how I've placed all sorts of concepts onto those two simple hopes. I see how doing so has affected how I've felt about her irritability and frustrated behaviours.

And accepting her behaviours fooled me into believing it was a total acceptance. Because I loved her throughout it all, not becoming impatient and so on, I thought we were doing well. But somewhere inside I must be believing that we are falling short of success.

I mean, sure it's okay to want wonderful things for our children, but aren't most of these ideas part of our unconscious parenting?

We accept that we're supposed to Want The Best For My Child, but where do these roots sink into? What if it translates as pushing a child in academics or athletics when they would rather be doing something else? Or viewing their tantrums or need for attention as distasteful? What if they are demanding, difficult, disobediant, or uninteresting? And none of this fits into our ideas of what is 'best'?

There are so, so many things our children could be that might run contrary to our idea of success as a parent.

So I accept myself, great, I accept my child, great. I even accept our relationship, great. Now I can learn to accept her, in all her possibilities. I have the opportunity to let go of expectations and hopes. Success, really, is arbitrary. What does it really mean? How can I know what will be best for her soul's journey in this life?

And acceptance, to me, does not mean giving up. It means acceptance of the moment. When I did that before, I left a space open to discover the gift of tears. Likewise, I imagine that if I sit in the moment with nothing but Love, I unburden us both to achieve anything at all.

And I don't know about you, but man that sounds so much freer.


  1. I also had a difficult relationship with my mom and therefore always question my mothering. This was great to read, thank you.

  2. Oh gosh yes. I had a similar realisation about 6 months ago when I was going through a terrible time with my son; shouting, loosing my temper constantly and it did reach the point where I smacked him.

    I felt an utter failure, I so wanted to be a natural attached mother - the complete opposite of my own. I read a book called Non Violent Communication and in discussion with a friend I realised that I was putting a heck of a lot of pressure on myself and when things didn't go well I would loose my temper and become frustrated and miserable. I was trying to be so much that I'd forgotten about being me and learning from Rye.

    My mate said that the aim is to be "good enough".. not sure I quite agree; afterall who decideds what "good enough" is? I'll stick with continuing to learn to be present and repeating my mantra "age appropriate behaviour" lol.

    I have the choice, I can fight against Rye's natural growing process and make us both miserable or I can accept the behaviours he exhibits are part of his development and find creative apportunities for him to safely exercise those behaviours without it driving me batty :)


  3. Willo - it's amazing how it affects us isn't it?

    Joxy - I would agree with you about being suspect of the 'good enough' phrase.
    It seems to me to be a license for being a crap parent. Acceptance and removing high ideals seems to me to be entirely different.
    The latter seems to provide an opportunity to have happier lives.

  4. Wow. Just wow. I don't want to take up all your space commenting, so I will try to write up a blog post at my place to reflect my thoughts on this. Yesterday, my 27mo. old sweetie said to me as I wiped his face, "mama, get away from me." I was crushed once again (as I have been since his birth). Your words I will read over and again as I try to work through this seemingly endless since of failure, disappointment and fear. Thank you.

  5. So beautifully said! My parenting philosophy is less well put. Basically I expect to screw up. Not that I try to, I just can't imagine what kind of weirdo, Stepford mom I would look like if I never made a mistake... if I never lost my temper... if I never had the urge to run away to Mexico. Even if I could pretend to be perfect, it would be setting some sort of unattainable standard for my daughter. She would judge her own less than ideal behavior against the mom who never lost her sh*t. But, then again, I am in the 'good enough' camp. Because believe me, sometimes 'good enough' really *is* good enough.

    I wonder how much my parenting philosophy is shaped by the fact that I did have a wonderful relationship with my mom, even though we sometimes pissed each other off. Knowing that she was far from perfect, and that her kids all ended up as happy adults, reassures me that what I'm doing is just fine.

  6. That is a great article, huh? She is so good at highlighting this theme in all its manifestations. There was another article by her on Shambhala called 'The Dharma of Barbie' or something along those lines, that highlighted her internal struggle when her daughter fell in love with Barbie dolls...

    I think there is just so many levels to this issue. I mean we all want to develop our child's self-esteem, so naturally we express our admiration when they figure out a puzzle, or draw a picture. But where's the line on this - when are we actually pushing them to develop qualities that we ourselves value, as opposed to letting them 'discover' themselves? And can a child discover themselves? Or do we all have to 'lose' ourselves a bit in our parent's view of us, only to find ourselves on our own as adults? Is that just part of the process? I really don't know...

  7. I agree totally with what you have written :-)

    BUT..sometimes DESPITE ones best efforts at being the parent you wanted to have had, as a child, etc....

    your beloved child grows up and is defiant, opositional and dificult ...just because..thats the way they are

    Despite all you try to do and despite all the efforts of you, your husband, their teachers ( whom they love) your best friend ( whom they adore)..They. Just. Are. Defiant. And. Impossible. To. Live. With. :-(

    Sorry, but sometimers it IS like that, a child at 8 does have its own personality and sometimes that personality CAN be "difficult" to live with, despite anything and everything loving, caring, nay desparate parents can offer....

    Can you tell I have such a child ;-(

    I adore her, I would do anything to make her feel happy and better about herself BUT

    I can't. And I have come to the ( painful ) conclusion that she is, the way she is.

    And THAT is the saddest thing I have had to deal with as a parent, that I can't fix EVERYTHING and that there are some things I have little or no control over.

    I am trying ( oh so hard) to make things better..but I cannot actually make it RIGHT, no matter how much I LONG to do so...

  8. Sorry, didn't mean to hi-jack your posting like that Holistic Mama

    Am a bit tired and a bit sad at the way my life has turned out,


  9. Well written Mon. I agree that acceptance is not giving up. Not at all. Sometimes, acceptance is needed to gather yourself and move on from a moment. I love reading these comments... so many mothers at different stages, and ages of children. I learn so much from you all.

  10. Shoot Mon. I wish Google Reaer would give me the option ofleving something marked as "not read" so I could be reminded to reread this when it's quieter and I could reflect on it more.

    I've admitted to myself what a "happy person" looks like in terms of what I hope he'll grow up to be. It's hard not to let go of what I see that as meaning - CEO of pharma company would be a tough one to watch.


  11. Whenever I get embarrassed at my children's "bad" behavior in front of others, I at least recognize that it's all about me in that moment, not them. It's me making up the story in my head that others will judge me poorly for my children's behavior, which is probably not outside normal kid behavior anyway.

    We used to joke that my son could be anything he wanted to be when he grew up, except a pimp, drug dealer, or mercenary :-) It was really liberating in a way to realize that I truly didn't care if he wanted to be a ballet dancer or a cowboy, liberal or conservative, etc. How tiring it must be for people who invest so much personal energy into trying to control their child's destiny!

  12. Compostwoman - highjack all you want, discuss is what helps us all.
    But what you say was partly the point of my post! That yes, they are who they are. It's the pressure to make things different that is the problem. I AM talking more about younger children though, when they are at the personality forming stages.

    Tara - you can star items, that's what I do.

    Have enjoyed all your comments!

  13. This definitely struck a chord with me. I've felt that letting go of a lot of expectations (of my self and my child) is allowing me to relax into the experience of mothering a lot more. I'm able to slow down and trust myself more than I used to, rather than this constant, undermining self-doubt that makes me anxious and tense, and a whole lot less patient with myself and others.
    Having said that, it's a bit of a constant daily effort - lol.

  14. Great, powerful post which I completely agree with. Don't always remember acceptance in the moment though, but I'm trying.

  15. Do I need to say anything at all? So what I needed to read. I think that I might print it out and pin it to my forehead.

  16. I feel so sad and heartened reading this post. Sad because I felt blindsided (and a bit traumatized) by how my parenting changed when my son turned three (this was also when my second child was born)... I am still putting myself back together.

    Heartened because you have had this insight so early in your daughter's life... heartened because we have had these realizations at all, and that we are able to learn and grow, continuously, always. In every moment.


  17. I have learned to accept that my son is his own person, and I just need to let him be that person. I think that if I always have this attitude and always support him and give him my love, then he will thrive in his life. I feel like this is the simplest way to parent--there is no right or wrong, no failure, no contrived idea of what "success" is. I look forward to seeing what he will become.


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