Why Motherhood (Sometimes) Makes Me Feel Like a Failure as a Person

posted by Andrea | 09/20/2013

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Before I had Nora, I was literally busy busy busy from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. And not just busy shopping or other leisurely activities.

I was working part time outside the home, part time as a Virtual Assistant, more than part time on my blog, juggling a crazy number of in-home organizing clients, and speaking for events all across the state of Michigan.

My house was meticulously clean, every room was fully decorated, our freezer was jam packed with homemade meals, we had at least 4 varieties of baked goods at all times, and our yard never looked better.

Dave and I did all sorts of home projects (and when we said we’d do it in a weekend, we actually completed them in a weekend).

I couponed like a champ, played “the drugstore game” weekly, and rarely ever spent more than $20 a week to fully stock our fridge, freezer, and pantry.

I was on almost every committee, group, and organization for our church and I volunteered for several different community organizations (seriously, some weeks I was at church EVERY single night).

I brought meals and goodies to sick people and new moms from church, from my work, neighbors, family, friends, etc. on a regular basis.

I handmade our Christmas cards. And I did crafts. For real!

Dave and I participated in TONS of school functions. We attended all the band concerts, choir concerts, musicals, sporting events, fundraisers, auctions, special dinners, faculty parties, etc. etc. I was even one of the main volleyball referees for both the high school and middle school volleyball teams.

I did fun things with friends and family, went on casual dates with Dave, and actually had a little free time :)

I woke up around 6:00am every day (usually without an alarm), did everything that had to be done each day, and almost always went to bed by 10:30pm with a fully crossed off to-do list.

So yeah, I was busy — but I loved every bit of it.

I was busy in the best way, I was helping, I was participating, I was involved, I was making something of my life, but most of all, I was SUPER productive.

I LOVE being productive!

.

Then we announced our baby news and everyone (I mean everyone) told me I would never be able to do everything I was doing after the baby was born.

At first, my stubborn self was annoyed by these comments. After all, I’m extremely efficient, I know how to maximize my time, and I basically had an endless supply of energy. But then I started to rationalize things and decided that maybe I should scale back… just a little.

So as my due date approached, I quit a few of my committees at church, I dropped a few volunteer gigs, I stopped doing the volleyball, and I ordered our Christmas cards online :)

I figured that was enough to give me a small amount of spare time for the new baby — after all, how much time and energy could a new baby take?

And then Nora was born…

As I struggled to navigate life with a newborn, I desperately clung to a few shreds of my old ultra-productive self for as long as I possibly could (it was several months before I finally gave in) and then I finally realized that I really COULD NOT do everything I was doing before Nora.

I felt like a total failure — not necessarily as a mom, just as a person.

After all, I preach productivity, organization, simple-living, planning ahead, etc. and if I was really “practicing what I preached” I certainly shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up with my pre-baby schedule.

If ANYONE could do it, I could.

But I just couldn’t.

Ever so slowly (and shamefully) I continued to resign from committees, quit volunteer opportunities, skip school functions, turn down new job opportunities, terminate current jobs, cancel vacations and outings with friends, limit the amount of couponing and shopping I did each week, relax my cleaning standards, eliminate anything even remotely unnecessary from my daily life, and say “no” a lot.

No longer were my days jam-packed with activities that made me feel useful, needed, helpful, and productive. Instead, I sat at home, by myself, holding a screaming baby, and mentally tabulating ALL the things I should have been doing.

I was doing the best I could as a mom, but I felt like I was failing at EVERYTHING else… all the things I loved doing and still wanted to do.

And if I’m really honest, even now, almost 2 years later, I still think back to my insanely productive pre-children days and feel a little disheartened at the lack of productive progress I’ve made.

Although I willingly give LOTS of effort and attention to our family, my business, and our home, everything else has basically fallen off my radar screen — and I suppose that’s OK.

I’ve picked my priorities and I realize that the only way to “have it all” is to limit what “ALL” is. I’ve done that… and I’m happy with the amount of time and attention I’m able to give to my priorities.

I guess I just wish I had room in my schedule for a few more priorities! 

I wish I was doing more at church again. I wish I was participating in more school functions. I wish I was the one bringing meals and having company over instead of the other way around (although I’ll never turn down a free meal!) I wish I spent more time on our house — cleaning, decorating, renovating, etc. I kind of even wish I could make homemade Christmas cards again :)

But with baby #2 on the way, now is not the best time to start adding things to my schedule.

I know that. I’ve come to terms with that. I’m OK with that.

But every now and then, there are still days when my duties as “mom” make me feel like a failure as a person because I’m no longer doing ALL those wonderful and helpful things I used to do and enjoy SO much.

I realize that what I’m doing now is much more important than a high school tennis match, a church choir practice, or homemade Christmas cards… I just need to accept that productivity is not the most important thing in life, and then move on.

SIDE NOTE: Making a “done list” works wonders for me!

It took a while, but I’ve FINALLY reached the point where I no longer feel bad or beat myself up about the fact that I (sometimes) feel like a failure as a person now that I’m a mom. After all, you can’t completely remove 26 years of a crazy-productive and semi work-a-holic personality out of a girl in less than two years!

It’s a process that I’ve slowly been coming to terms with.

Not that I dislike my job as a mom; I’m just still SO surprised how much time and energy it requires of me — so much that I physically can’t do all those other things, no mater how great or fun or wonderful they might be and no matter how well I manage my time.

And when I see other moms who are bringing 20 dozen baked goods to the church auction, attending every school function, sending out homemade Christmas cards, and seemingly doing all those things I wish I still made the time for, I MUST remind myself that maybe they don’t run a full-time business, maybe their children are in school all day long, maybe their kids take naps and sleep at night, or maybe they pay someone else to clean and decorate their homes.

Some day, I will be able to make time for those activities if they are important enough. However, I think if there was ONE thing I would have liked to understand before having a kid — this would have been it (and yes, I realize that there is no way to really understand this before you live it).

I suppose I’ve always learned best from real-life experience, why should motherhood be any different!

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87 comments

  1. Rebecca S.

    09/20/2013

    Thank you for being so refreshingly honest. We all feel failures at times now that we are mom’s, especially you stay home with them. Our definition of productivity as a women in this world is so different than God’s definition of what we should be doing. When our kids are little, our ministry and most of our time should be spent helping our kids to grow.

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  2. Julia

    09/20/2013

    I have been reminded recently by a sweet friend that this phase of life (I have three kids ages 6, 3, 1) is just HARD. We are ‘in the trenches’ of the daily messiness, meeting so many needs and answering questions, and using teachable moments as they come, etc. God has paired each mother and her children together. He has hand picked us for this job of raising these precious little ones for Him. And He has promised that He has given us what we need to do this job. Especially when we remember the resource of Himself.
    There are also seasons of life. Each will look different from the ones around it. I watch my mom enjoy every season she’s in. She is a great example to me.
    God has also given us each a ‘plate’ to fill with the things we carry on with in our lives. Each person’s plate is suited to what He knows they can manage. Some people are gifted with being able to manage many things at once and their plate may be a platter. Others may be given a salad plate size to suit the way God has wired them. But we are all responsible to make sure that we are not trying to overfill our plates. Because when we do, stuff falls off; and we don’t want the stuff that falls off to be the needs of our family.
    God promises us His grace and that definitely helps to ease the transitions in life. :)

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  3. Tauna

    09/21/2013

    I totally agree with everything you say.
    I work part time out of the home and run a business on my days off and weekend from home.
    After I had my first child, it took me a while to be productive again and we were in a fairly productive routine. (I was working full time out of the home and wasn’t running a side business!). Then I had my 2nd child when the first one was 3.5 years old….I started working part time and started a home business before I went back from maternity leave. I was pretty productive with a 3.5 yo and a newborn…Then my son started walking and moving! My life was over as I knew it. He is now almost 2 yo and this summer with both kids home on my days “off” all I got done was grocery shopping. My side business took a back seat all summer til my oldest went to Kindergarten! Now even with my almost 2 year old I can barely ever start anything and finish it. I do not work well with projects that I can start and never finish! I have just started having no expectations and when 1 thing gets done that’s an accomplishment!

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  4. Jessi

    09/21/2013

    Andrea,

    I have been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday.

    You are one of the most productive people I’ve ever encountered. I know that you are big on “to-do” lists, but have you ever tried tracking your activities (i.e., keeping a “done” list)? When I first started freelancing, I felt so lost because it seemed I never had big accomplishments to report to my friends and family. I felt bad because I knew it looked like I was just sitting around all day. Then one day, I got out a legal pad and started writing down all my activities that were closely or remotely related to my business (emailed X coach a question, read and learned about X, bought X supplies for business, scheduled X meeting with X). I was delighted and surprised to see I was easily filling up a page per day. I realized that I was being productive. I was just doing things people couldn’t see.

    My guess is that if you start writing down the things you do on a daily basis, you will find that you are actually more productive than you used to be.

    I know you miss the person you once were, but you are a stay-at-home mom on purpose. You could put Nora in daycare on Monday and go back to being your old self (at least in some ways), but you don’t want to. Your children won’t be little for long, and if you sing a song or read a kids’ book 13 times today, that COUNTS and deserves to be on your “done” list.

    I quit my full-time job a year and 10 months ago, and sometimes I really miss the person I used to be (the work clothes, colleagues, busy schedule, meetings, guaranteed customers, health insurance, and ADRENALINE). But now my life is slower, and I can hear myself think. I have my “writer’s mind” back in a way I haven’t since I was in school many years ago, and I’m able to do boring, regular things that I couldn’t do when I was working (lots of doctor’s appointments with my dad); hour-long conversations with my partner, John, at 3:00 in the afternoon – just because the weather is nice and we feel like sitting outside; and shopping or running errands when everyone else is at work and the stores aren’t busy.

    I know your situation is much different from mine, but you and I did both make choices. And we’re both so lucky.

    I think you should celebrate yourself and all that you do. You are working full-time with a baby as a helper. That’s an amazing feat, and you should feel great about yourself!

    Thanks so much for sharing your life!

    Jessi

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  5. Jennifer

    09/21/2013

    I felt the same way, like a failure, after going back to work full-time when my baby was 2 mo old. I hated going back to work, and evenings and weekends I didn’t want to do anything but hold or play with him. Then everything that wasn’t getting done started catching up with me, and I got really depressed about it. I hired a housekeeper to come every other week; that helped a little, but you know there’s so much more to running a household besides just surface cleaning now and then. Now I don’t even have the housekeeper anymore because we are trying to save money so I can quit working by June. I try to do as much as I can with a little 22 month old at my knees or in my arms, but I’m really looking forward to being home next year! I’ll have to do something part time, but I dream of all the time I’ll get to spend with him and getting our house back into shape!

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  6. Colleen

    09/21/2013

    If more moms were as honest as you, those of us struggling with high need children wouldn’t be made to feel so bad. I think there are more moms out there suffering than we realize. Like you, we were over the moon to have our first child, and like Nora, she was a non-sleeping, screaming child. As a first time mom, I also felt that I was doing something wrong. She never settled in for the night easily and NEVER before 10 or 11:00 and each night we prayed that she “slept in” until 4:00. Naps were taken on the fly in the form of 10 or 20 minute re-energizing power naps. My husband and I would marvel at the schedules of friends’ children who took two hour naps–sometimes in the form of one long afternoon nap or sometimes TWICE a day– and then went to bed at 7:30 for.the.night! What? What magic formula did they have? Did they realize that they were living an additional lifetime each evening while we were running the vacuum as white noise (not in a productive, I’m getting my chores done kind of way) to keep her from screaming?

    I could go on, but you get the picture because you live it. Yes, MANY things that were so important before she (and her brother 4 yrs later) arrived became non-essential chores and activities and that’s okay. As I write this ( STILL cringing from those early years) our daughter is 23 and our son is 19. They are wonderful, intelligent, productive, secure, self-sufficient,loving, funny, young adults. And.that.is.what.is.important!

    Maybe God sends these special children to us for a reason. Maybe it is one of the lessons that we need to learn. All of the other “stuff” that we thought was soooo important before they came, is just that-”stuff”. Hang in there! Take it from someone who has been there, you ARE doing things right : )

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  7. Theresa

    09/21/2013

    I have been going through this stage for the last 2 years also. Just recently I tried to verbalize these exact feelings to my husband, not quite able to find the right way to convey my thoughts. I am going to have him read this. Thank you for being real! I know it may seem difficult to publish personal struggles like this, but you are helping other mama’s realize they are not alone. Thank you!

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  8. Vicki

    09/21/2013

    Andrea I just had to comment about Nora. My first baby was so easy I couldn’t wait to have another. Baby 2 arrived 3 yrs later and oh my goodness! The nurses even warned me that she was a crier I just figured they were exaggerating. Well they were right. The pediatrician changed her formula 5 times. We walked the floor and rocked her. We did have some peace with the baby swing. She would be asleep, all humped over and we threatened anyone with bodily harm if they tried to straighten her out. She did finally start sleeping all night but naps were few and far between. I’d get her to sleep and she’d wake the minute I lay her down. Finally when she became mobile she was a much happier baby. I could actually get things done. She even started taking short naps. At 2 yrs old though the naps became a battle again and I finally just gave up. It wasn’t worth the fight. Sometimes she might fall asleep while watching cartoons before dinner but for the most part she just didn’t need one. So with the older one in school I finally realized all I had to do was make sure she had something to do so I could do what I wanted. She loved “dusting”. And when she got big enough I let her stand on a chair and wash dishes. (Plastic cups bowls and spoons.) I noticed even when she watched TV she had to have something to do. She’s not hyper, just liked something to do, Her older brother was totally different, he would stagnate on the couch as long as I let him. Good news is she’s a lot like you today at the age of 40. Has a nice home, 2 kids, holds down 2 jobs and very involved in her kids school functions. Yeah it was a very rough couple years, but once I let go of how I wanted her to be and let her be herself, it all worked out.

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  9. Carle

    09/22/2013

    I started reading your blog to inspire me to organize and simplify my life more. Now I come back for that, but also for your honest comments on motherhood (my son is 2 and is, of course, a joy and a challenge).
    As many have said, it’s nice to hear that we all share the same insecurities and doubts, and it is a wonderful feeling to reach the point where you think, “It’s not just me!”
    Thanks for your words, reading your blog is one of my rewards at the end of the day when the house is quiet! :)

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  10. Kathi

    09/22/2013

    You are amazing! Even with raising Nora, you accomplish more than most people I know. You are spending your time doing what’s most important now and that’s a good thing. Thanks so much for your example.

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  11. Patricia

    09/22/2013

    I think you are an amazing mom. I love your site. At 58 you’re an inspiration to me. I’m still learning. Thank you. By the way do you still use the oil method for cleaning your face

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  12. Sandy K

    09/22/2013

    You are definitely not a failure as a person. We all have our limitations. We just do know what they are until we get there. Focus on your successes. Your life will get much busier when your children start joining sports or other activities. They you are running yourself ragged trying to get to all their activities trying not to feel guilty if you have to miss one or the other. You will do what feels right. I can’t imagine doing all you do now, even when I was young.

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  13. Kristine Stark

    09/23/2013

    I love your webpage! I am a mother of 4 and you have taught me soooo many things!!! I blab to my husband about your ideas all the time! I call my self an ‘on hold type A” mom! I THRIVE and find JOY in organizing toys, clothes, and the whole house!” My kids, however, do not share this joy in life :) Just a few thoughts since soooo many have shared their advice! I have a ‘one room’ rule for myself! Clean one room for the day…then I can go in there and feel rested, and at peace! Let the rest go…for a minute, or hour, or day as long as you can. ;) The rest is just survival!

    By the way you have accomplished so many great things that I have added them to my goal list! I love your EASY recipes. I LOVE your goals, for saving, giving and retirement! I love that you don’t do debt, we learned that the HARD way! I love your KITCHEN redo, and that you use CRAIGSLIST! You are a thrifty, nifty girl! Thank you for being REAL, and a REAL inspiration!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow thanks Kristine! What a nice compliment!

    So glad you have benefited from my blog — and thanks so much for your encouraging words.

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  14. pw

    09/23/2013

    Now add in aging parents (from both sides) that start getting ill and need help, work a full time job of 10-12 hours a day, and you will be thankful you only have what you are dealing with. Just a word to enjoy what you are dealing with now because it can and probably will get worse. Especially when you start running kids to all the activities before, after school etc.

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  15. Sara

    09/23/2013

    I’m starting to think we live the same life! We just landscaped this summer, we are almost or possibly prego with #2, our first child is possibly high needs or just a crazy boy, and the list goes on. WOW!

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  16. Shelbie

    09/24/2013

    I am shocked that you didn’t think having a baby would require as much time and energy as it takes! You are raising another human being! Motherhood is is a full time job and then some, and unlike other “jobs”, you can’t close the door and forget about it until the next work day. It is all consuming and the most important job you will ever have…how can it NOT devour so much of your time and energy?!?

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  17. Laura

    09/24/2013

    I have been reading your blog since you were pregnant with Nora and I LOVE how honest and open you have become lately. I can relate in so many ways to the life that you describe with Nora – my first born was much the same. I remember standing in our driveway four years ago with tears streaming down my face as this perfect infant screamed – for h-o-u-r-s! No one else could soothe her and my life as I knew it came crashing to an end. Writing that I feel horrible, because the biggest blessing of my life was her birth but life changed so dramatically! My second born is about Nora’s age and has been a much easier child – so there is hope – but life as a mom will never be the same as it was before. For those of us who like to plan and do and be busy making and completing a to-do list it feels almost like an insult some days. :) I completely get where you are coming from!

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  18. eva

    09/28/2013

    reading this brought me to tears…
    yes – that’s what i feel sometimes!
    thank you so much for your honesty!

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  19. Navya

    09/29/2013

    I am a mother of a one year old boy! I love staying at home like you! But ever since the baby was born, I hardly have any ME time and I always have more Things TO DO in my list than the things I have accomplished! I totally get everything that you have mentioned here!

    hang in there, I have heard this is just a phase! And they grow up soon enough! That is my hope as well.

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  20. Liz Wootton

    10/08/2013

    Andrea, your post made me feel a little emotional. I, too, have experienced those feelings of failure, and although I did ultimately conquer them, but I was a mess in between, when I felt like I was incapable of being early for anything, or achieving anything on my to-do list, and I forgot things all the time.

    I want to thank you for your honesty, because I think there are so many moms out there who will identify with this. I wish that I had been less influenced by what I perceived people to be managing to get done, and by the outward appearances. These appearances all said to me that I wasn’t doing as well as everyone else. That they were better people, that they could cope with these things that I ought to be finding ridiculously easy because they weren’t difficult. If I had known the real struggles that people have, I may have felt less isolated and less like a failure.

    The flip side of it is that I did turn things around. It took me longer than you, but I got there. And I have learned that doing stuff at my own pace (or my son’s) is ok. Learning to say no to things has been a valuable lesson. All of this has brought me to where I am – closing one business to start another, which I LOVE, and learning to be in a great relationship with my son (who is 10 now and just the most amazing kid).

    Thank you for sharing, Andrea.

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