Last week, I was clearing the kitchen table and scrubbing the floor below it; a standard action in a house with three young kids who rarely keep food on their plates or in their mouths.
My four-year-old son came bolting in from the other room, put his hands on his hips, and declared, “Mommy, I have something to tell you!”
I smiled . . . because I had heard this sentence from him dozens of times in the weeks prior. It’s the way he gets my attention before he’s about to tell me I’m his favorite person in the whole world, how his heart is full of love for me, and how I am his best friend.
I crouched down next to him while the doors of my heart opened to his adorable love, and said, “Mommy’s listening buddy. What do you have to tell me?”
With pride in his eyes, he raised his fist in the air like a superhero and exclaimed:
“YOU’RE A FAILURE!!!”
My jaw would have hit the floor had it not been blocked by his gigantic, cherry-on-top hug that showed that he thought he was giving me a huge compliment.
My oldest, who knew something wasn’t right about what he said, looked at me with eyes that wondered how I was going to respond.
She saw me silently laughing while still in his embrace, and I put my finger up to my mouth to encourage her not to say anything.
With my hands gently on his shoulders, I said, “Buddy, I know you thought that was a nice thing to say to Mommy. But I want to make sure you know that calling someone a failure is not kindness, so you shouldn’t say that to anyone else.”
He was devastated.
He also couldn’t explain where he had heard the phrase, but he wanted to try again.
“Mommy, you are my whole heart. That’s kind, right?!”
“It is, bud,” I said, “and you’re mine too.”
He skipped back to his train set, and I went back to tile scrubbing with a bigger smile on my face.
The whole thing was a comical “the things kids say” moment . . . but for me, it was also a moment of gratitude that his statement didn’t trigger me.
Because that was not the first time I had heard, “You’re a failure.” Far from it, in fact. My inner voice had told me that plenty of times in the past. Over and over again . . . especially when it came to the way I viewed myself as a mother during the tough years of raising three under the age of four.
“You’re a failure because you haven’t figured out how to give all three of them equal time.”
“You’re a failure because you can’t figure out the balance.”
“You’re a failure because you don’t have it all together.”
“You’re a failure because you’re not enjoying every moment.”
I used to believe every word. It kept me from seeing all of the things that make me the loving mother I know I am. It held me back from giving my authentic, caring self to my kids because I had given up believing it was enough. Until one day, I reminded myself the same thing that I reminded my son about calling someone a failure: “That’s not kindness.”
So I started to give myself more loving affirmations instead.
“You’re doing a great job.”
“You are doing the best you can.”
“It’s OK to not have it all together all of the time.”
“You are enough.”
I AM NOT A FAILURE.
I’m far from it. I’ve silenced that voice that tried to convince me of it for so long. My son knows I’m not a failure, too . . . because I’m his WHOLE heart. And mine is now full with enough self-love to be able to completely give him mine in return.
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