The Six Stages of Parental Failure

“Hold up. Let me take a pic.”

My son forced a smile, then ran to catch up with his class.

“Love you! Have a great day!” I called after him. A little too sweetly and much too loudly.

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.24.18 PM

I checked the photo before uploading it to my Facebook page. Not a great shot, but… Nope, you can’t tell he had been crying. Nope, you can’t see how wrinkled his shirt is. Status update: “My sweet boy- headed to his last field-trip of the year.”

I went on with my day- distracted by work and eager to forget that morning’s drama:

Earlier, my son had shuffled down the hall in his sleep-shirt and too-short sweatpants. “Mom, where’s my field trip shirt?”

I stopped blow-drying my hair. Crap. I thought. Is that today?

He read my mind – and my face. “Mom. My field trip is today. I told you…”

That was the moment when The Stages of Parental Failure began:

1. Blame-shifting: “What kind of teacher schedules a field trip on a Monday? They didn’t send that third reminder-email like they usually do. And you…”– pointing my finger at my son – “You need to be more responsible with your things. You should have had everything laid out last night. What grade are you in again? That’s right. Fourth! You are old enough to take care of things like getting ready for a simple field trip!”

Son backed away slowly, then ran to search his room again, eager to end my lecture and solve his problem. But as he was leaving my room I saw him mumbling out of the corner of my eye…

2. Anger: “Do you have something to say? I followed him down the hall. If you have something helpful to tell me at this moment, I’d love to hear it! I cook your meals, do your laundry, drive you all over creation, and now you are criticising me for not having YOUR field trip shirt at YOUR fingertips?! Seriously?!”

His mumbling was replaced by a quivering lip and tears… both ushering in my next stage:

3. Despair and Self-Pity: I’m the worst mother. I bet Robert’s mom* has his shirt ironed and on a hanger with his Bento-box lunch packed with quinoa and vegetables in the fridge. I bet Robert’s mom never loses her temper. I suck at this and I’m giving up.

My own tears fell on the laundry pile and I prayed that the shirt would be underneath that load of dry-clean-only guilt.

My son entered, heard my sniffling, and whispered, “That’s okay, Mom. The teacher said that she has some extra shirts if we need one. I’ll just ask her when I get to school.”

But I was too far gone. His sweetness drummed a hostile beat in my chest and the next stage brought me to the war path:

4. Rally and Fight: NO! We are going to find this shirt if it’s the last thing we do. You go look in your closet and tell your sisters to check the van. It’s here somewhere! Find it.”

I wiped my tears with my fist and marched onward… overthrowing laundry baskets and couch cushions like an angry Momster Rapper in a music video.**

My kids  worked together  tore around the house in a fear-driven craze for another ten minutes until I spotted a hint of light-blue fabric under one of our sleeping bags near the Christmas decorations (don’t ask). Yes! I ran upstairs waving it in victory, although I was the only one who was feeling the win.

The clock struck panic o’thirty and I barked orders to run to the van while I threw a sleeve a crackers and a mushy orange in a brown bag (suck-it, Robert’s mom), shoved some cash into an envelope, scribbled my son’s name on both, and raced to school.

The ride was silent except for the sniffles, sighs, and deafening tension. I stared ahead and tried to feel nothing.

“Oh, I was worried about you!” The teacher greeted us and took our enveloped money with a smile.

“Oh, we are just running a little behind this morning,” I replied sweetly and put my hand on my son’s shoulder, using the sliminess of that lie to smooth out the creases in his cotton blend.

It was at that moment that I forced him to turn and smile for my camera. For my Facebook post. To create a memory…

That’s exactly what I was trying to do. Create a lovely memory that would replace the broken, real one. Subconsciously collecting evidence to somehow prove that I’m the kind of mom who has it together… and who has perfect, always-smiling kids.

To the unknowing feed-scrollers, that picture told the story I created. The one I thought I wanted.

Now it’s later and I’m staring at that photo while trying to choke down regret. Oh, to go back in time…

The Fifth Stage of Parental Failure is almost always slow to arrive:

5. Surrender. Repentance. Humility. Learning.

How much more would my kids know of God’s provision if I would rely on the help of His Spirit? How much more would they know about God if I would quit trying to cover up His story?

I have a habit of relying on myself. I’m determined to cling to a tale in which I’m the hero. We can force a smile, wipe away tears, and smooth out wrinkles, but we all know that story is a real tragedy. It’s illustrated with two-dimensional photos framed with pride. Pictures that bring a lump in my throat and remind me of what happens when I insist on being the author of my story- and my kids’ stories.

In God’s story, He’s the hero. He’s writing a narrative that’s scripted to glorify Himself and bring us the very best of endings.

His story is illustrated with brokenness, honesty, and humble repentance. It’s not the kind that photographs well – or shows up on many news-feeds, but it’s the only one He calls us to join in and share.

What if the story on that Monday morning was about a mom who told the truth even when it wasn’t flattering, offered guidance and grace in the midst of stress, and accepted help from others as God’s provision for His weak and needy people?

Wouldn’t that have been a great memory for my kids? Wouldn’t that have been an adventure on which they could build their own lives?

Since that day, I’ve learned much. I’ve learned that the best pictures are ones that tell true stories. I’ve also learned that my kids are better off when their memories are of times when God was the main character… not their mother.

I’m better at resisting the slippery stages of parental failure and receiving His guidance and grace – one forgotten field-trip at a time.

The fifth stage opens the door for the sixth and final stage…

6. Hope – God is able to redeem the worst of days and restore the weakest of people. His grace is new each morning and He never stops whispering His Redemptive Story into our weary, mother hearts.

Here’s a more current pic of us -on a happier day. Notice my not-showered coif and undone face. Also notice our genuine smiles. To God be the glory!


Who’s the main character of your story?

*Robert’s mom is a fictional character. I made that name up. But the idea of her torments me on bad days. Imagine Mother Teresa’s personality and work ethic with Carol Brady’s hair and Emily Gilmore’s resources. Don’t know Emily Gilmore? You are a failure. There is no hope for you. 

**Momster Rapping is not real… yet. I’m going to make it famous. Wait for it…   In the meantime, if you are a mom who struggles with anger at times, looks awesome in baggy sweatpants, and can throw down a sick beat, please send me your info.

21 thoughts on “The Six Stages of Parental Failure

  1. this abundant life April 27, 2015 / 6:59 pm

    Great post. I have been reminded very clearly lately that both my boys and I all require a lot of God’s grace. You are abso


    • Karen Brown April 27, 2015 / 7:39 pm

      Thank you! It seems your comment got cut off, but I’m going to assume you were going to say, “You are absolutely my favorite person in the world. ” Thank you so much- I’m humbled by your words. 🙂


  2. Molly April 27, 2015 / 7:09 pm

    Oh my goodness, yes. So much yes! ALL of the yesses!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Suzanne April 27, 2015 / 8:04 pm

    This was the perfect nightcap for a day that started by calling my husband to rescue me because I was almost out of gas at the gas station but sadly, without my wallet in my purse. All I had was my Aldi’s quarter. Hooray for HOPE and GRACE – which are so much more than girls names to me. LOVED THIS AND YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 27, 2015 / 8:10 pm

      Yes to Hope and Grace at the gas station! And yes to the faithfulness of those Aldi quarters! 🙂 Thank you so much for your sweet comment. Love you, MS!


  4. Kathryn Shirey April 28, 2015 / 5:41 am

    Love this ! We need to do more to encourage and be real with each other in this parenting journey. I was talking with a behavioral therapist recently – one who seems to get all the kids to do what they’re supposed to do, who always seem to command their respect. I made a comment that she must have the best kids (and she has one with special needs, too). She quickly replied that her own kids are her worst advertisement for her therapy services 🙂 I think all moms struggle to get it right day in and day out. We need to celebrate the small victories, give ourselves grace for the days we stumble – but in all moments be present to love our children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 28, 2015 / 5:44 am

      Thank you, Kathryn, for taking the time to read and leave such encouraging words. Blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kelly Balarie April 28, 2015 / 5:50 am

    This is an awesome post. I love how you structured it with the different stages you went through. What fun it was to read. Plus, I loved seeing the picture of you with you son. Keep up with the fabulous writing, the child-loving and the deep encouragement you provide! Thank you Karen. Cheering you on from the #RaRalinkup on Purposeful Faith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 28, 2015 / 5:52 am

      Kelly- I’m so grateful for your words. Thank you for taking the time to encourage so many. Blessings!


  6. betsydecruz April 28, 2015 / 6:09 am

    Wow, Karen, you’ve told a story here that we’ve all lived ourselves. I’m also getting a little better at living in grace as a Mom, one lost shirt and burned meal at a time…Praise God that there’s hope as we let our Redeemer God be the main character of our story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 28, 2015 / 8:51 am

      Betsy- Yes- Praise God for His Story! Thanks for stopping by!


  7. kaylietess April 28, 2015 / 6:21 am

    Oh this is so good! I have little ones running all over the place and I can go through this cycle several times a day. Grace is just so the Thing. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 28, 2015 / 8:50 am

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Grace and peace to you and your little ones 🙂


  8. Anita Ojeda April 28, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    I have no rhythm, I look ok in baggy sweat pants, but I can get in a tearing temper at times–I’m up for joining your band! I’ve fallen into the parental failure trap time and time again. Thank goodness for do overs! I finally learned to offer do overs to my self and to my children. They’ve made all the difference in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown April 28, 2015 / 2:40 pm

      Anita- Amen to do-overs! Thanks for stopping by, friend! 🙂


  9. kristine April 28, 2015 / 6:10 pm

    Awesome, Karen! Been there, done that, bought the field trip shirt! (More than one I might add, because I lost the first one.) Thanks for this great story- and wonderful advice for me today. Especially the last one…hope!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. joanneviola April 29, 2015 / 6:44 am

    Wonderful post, Karen! And one we all can relate to! I know I can relate to it multiple times with each kid. I have so come to appreciate the grace & mercy of our God who covers my mistakes. I am so glad I stopped here from Three Word Wednesday!


  11. KatieReid April 29, 2015 / 7:07 am

    What a good list of the mental process we go through. Love the no make-up, real life, real smiles shot. Great reminder.:)


  12. Kristin Hill Taylor April 29, 2015 / 7:46 am

    Oh I’m right there with you, getting to surrender slower and grumpier than I should. But when I do let go, I always find freedom. Thanks for the reminder that God is with us, for us, and actually the one in control. 🙂 I too rely too much on myself and then default to going to others before I go to God. He’s been showing me this and helping me put him first. Your words are wonderful encouragement that echo what God’s been teaching me. Thank you for sharing at #ThreeWordWednesday.


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