When We Fail Our Children (and we will)

In my worst moments, I can’t help but think that God made a mistake. That I wasn’t supposed to be his mom. That his mom was supposed to be the lady in the grocery store that never shouts at her children. The one who seems like she has it all together. The one born with endless amounts of patience. I’m so ashamed to admit it, but I have thought all those things.

My heart ached when I read this. The familiarity of the thoughts, clouded with shame and doubt and fear, flooded me with a knowing sadness. A sweet momma left this comment on last week’s post about feeling condemned and judged.

And it is haunting me.

When We Fail Our Children (and we will)

When my son was all of six years old, he struggled with just about everything related to school (well…except the actual learning part).

He struggled with wearing socks and shoes (at one point he wore tennis shoes 4 sizes too big so they wouldn’t touch the sides of his feet – he was teased constantly and would often trip and stumble as the shoes started to fall off as he walked).  He struggled with having to hold a pencil and complete worksheets that were way too easy for him. He flinched when the bell would ring, and when they went outside for recess through hallways crowded with other children and noise and smells.

He was physically sick almost every day at lunch when he had to find a place to sit, where another child wouldn’t crowd him, as the noise level continued to increase and the smells of cafeteria food mixed with a bleach cleaning solution permeated the echoing room.

I, his mother, was completely clueless.

Not just clueless – totally frustrated. I was upset with him for being obstinate. I would yell at him when he wouldn’t get out of the car in the drop-off line, more concerned with the families waiting behind me and me getting to work on time, than what was clearly an increasingly difficult task for my son.


I Have Failed As A Mother, Often

I remember like it was yesterday, one rainy morning that we were running late. We pulled up to the curb, both he and I feeling an increasing dread, as we inched toward the drop off zone. And when it was time for him to get out, with tears in his eyes, he begged me not to go.

To my shame, I got out, physically removed him from the car, and drove away.

I looked in my rear view mirror to see him slowly walking to class, in the pouring rain, in shoes that looked like he was playing dress up, shoulders slumped and tears streaming down his face.

I can’t forget that picture of him – abandoned and alone.

It was two more years before we started homeschooling. Three years before we took him in for a professional evaluation, and finally understood the struggle that everyday life can be for my boy.



When We Fail Our Children

The comment on the blog got to me, because I completely feel it – all the way down to the bottom of my toes. When I think of that time, I struggle with questioning why I didn’t act sooner, why my priorities were so out of whack and not in line with what matters most. As I type this, I am so sick to my stomach, physically reacting to the fact that I cannot take back that morning in the rain or those years of responding with anger and fear, instead of grace and love. I am sick to my stomach because I know that there are times where anger, exhaustion, panic or fear are still my reaction when my son struggles.

And I have often thought, “I just wish he had a better mom than me.”

So many of us feel this way, special needs or not. It seems to be part of this crazy season of life we call motherhood.

The truth is, I do wish my son had a better mom than me. I want nothing but the best for him, and I know that I fail him all the time. And yet, God does not make mistakes.

We need to say it out loud – God does not make mistakes.

He made me this boy’s mother and you, yours, for a reason. There is purpose, grace and even beauty in all of this heartbreaking mess.

It matters that we can see the brokenness of our own human hearts.

It matters that we know we are not capable of really doing any of this on our own.

It matters that we still keep getting up every morning and fighting the good fight.

Because in our self-doubt, there is also a sweet reminder. In our acknowledgement that we have failed, we begin to learn to rely only on the only One who doesn’t fail.

A mom who accepts her own frailty and, no matter how long it took or what got her there, finally surrenders to a God who covers all the gaps in her flawed parenting and loves her children more than she ever can – that mom can love freely. That momma can fight through the feelings of helplessness and defeat and anger and dread, and show up for her children.

You know you can’t do it on your own.

More importantly, you know you are not alone.

And it’s beautiful.

This post originally appeared here on Not The Former Things in 2014.


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  1. I went through this two weeks ago. My son just started kindergarten and he hates it. Part of it, a small part, is seperation anxiety. The rest is I don’t know what. He’s just unhappy and can’t adjust. So what did I do one morning? Physically dragged him to class. Probably the worst moment I’ve had as a parent. I feel ashamed and disgusted with myself. The more he goes to school the less he likes it and the less I like myself. Homeschooling is in our near future.

    1. I am so sorry. Please know that you are not alone, even when it feels so isolating. Whatever you decide about how to educate your son, he is blessed to have a momma who is paying attention and trying to figure out what is best for him. It matters! You matter!
      Praying for you and your little guy this morning.

  2. Becky Thomas says:

    That was me. I left that comment. The fact that I’m not alone has a lot of value. I’ve faced a LOT of things in my life and still face things daily. I have fibromyalgia and it’s a better-than average possibility that our youngest son has ASD as well. So once again I’m faced with this road I’ve never wanted to walk.

    When I was a teen I volunteered at a camp for kids with special needs. To this very day I still remember telling God that I could handle a child with Down’s or CP, just not autism. I couldn’t handle autism.

    To relieve your mind I will tell you I have a wonderful church filled with people who really, truly love my son. They pray for us often and in my darkest moments I put a post on FB asking for prayer. I have a wonderful husband and my mom takes both boys overnight once a week. It’s still hard, but not as hard as it could be. Still, prayer helps a lot. My personal motto has become: When life drives you to your knees you might as well pray while you’re down there.

    I still remember the day I knew we couldn’t do public school anymore. He was on meds to sleep and ADHD meds and we were considering behavior meds. He wouldn’t eat or drink AT ALL at school. That day his teacher called. He was dirty and wouldn’t let her change him. When I got there he was writhing in the floor, screaming and crying. She was still concerned with changing him. I told her I would change him at home and headed for the door with my son as fast as I could. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. On the way home I asked him why he wouldn’t let her change him, why he acted that way. His response was “school freaks me out.” I realized that he just couldn’t do it. And you know what? Neither could I. I just couldn’t do it every day, day after day. I had two choices: medicate him to zombie level so he could be “normal” or bring him home.

    1. Becky – you are so brave. Thank you for sharing your heart and your experiences (and for leaving such a wonderful message for all of us!). When life drives you to your knees you might as well pray while you are down there – I LOVE THIS!
      Praying and praying for you and yours this morning.

    2. becky i just want to ty im up at 12;38 am reading this after another day of iss for my 2nd grader praying that his christmas program tomorrow goes off without incident.Some days i feel somebody could have done better,but everyday no matter what happens he looks at me and tells me i’m the greatest mom ever.So ty again for sharing this and I wish your family well and you and yours will forever be in my prayers.

  3. I needed this reminder, specifically because we had one of *those* weekends when my patience was so thin, and I wished he had a better mother. I am becoming that better mother by being his mother.

    1. I love that – by being his mother I am becoming a better mother. Amen!

  4. Thank you for writing this. My child hasn’t been diagnosed with disabilities at this point, but I’ve got enough going on for the both of us. I have often thought that my ten year old girl, “Small” needed a better mother. I’d even pick out other mamas, wishing they were Small’s mother, knowing they’d do a much better job than I ever could.

    1. I am so sorry, Cassi. You are not alone and so many of us momma’s have done exactly that. Praying for you, your little one, and for a friend to come along side you and encourage you along the way.

  5. Heather K.Bloss says:

    I don’t have a child with disabilities, yet I have had this same experience just on a different level.I have been there many times,even as they are young adults I sometimes feel that I failed somewhere.and then I realized …I did.I did fail them ..I fair!ed to be their friend and chose to be their mom.god knows I was not( and still aint,)perfect or super mom ,just mom making mistakes and still learning….I see little ones with disabilities and think wow,they are just as perfect and precious as any.and the lesson I learn as a mom and a person,is that u never quit,you never give up.because life is what you make it and the hardest job I have ever had was being a mom

    1. Amen and amen!
      Thank you, Heather.

  6. I just found this from reading someone’s fb. When marriage and God’s Biblical plan for a family didn’t seem to be what God had in mind I choose to become a parent to children who came to this world out of God’s true plan. I was trained in special education and worked with children and families. I did not enter the parenting world thinking I will just love them and it will all be ok. I knew having infant who was born addicted to herion and premature would be not typical. He is now 15 and I also have twins that are 10 whow came as babies sick and developmently delayed.

    Being a mom has been the best thing to help me learn and grow in my faith. I know God knew what He was doing. Many days I don’t feel that way. Lack of services, money to provide things I see they need, times of not being able to be present, times of being in fear, times of deep frustrations….I question if God really made the right choice for their parent especially giving them only a mom. Just today at church I heard God shouting to remember it’s not performance but crossing the line of surrender…total surrender that is asked of me. To keep my heart in the state of sanctification and when I am close to the borders of surrender remember I am in the nation of salvation. I can’t lose!!! These children are His and if I remember to stay seeking Him He will see my heart and I am not judged by my performance as a mom. All these special children are uncharted waters and I seek God’s wisdom…mine won’t get me very far!

  7. Ann Money says:

    My daughter is also struggling with schooling issues for my granddaughter. This post made her struggles even more real. “New” everything doesn’t always work out, and many times the timing isn’t right. However, I believe that my daughter is the perfect mother for my grandchild, and I remind her almost daily that God chose her above all other mothers. I would love for her to create a blog like yours, however, many things prevent that at the present time. I, again, am so thankful for your blog (which my daughter reads) that reminds her that she isn’t alone in the struggle of having a perfectly-perfect special needs child!!!!!

    1. I am so grateful for your words tonight, Ann. Thank you so much. Praying for you and your daughter right this minute.

  8. Helen Locke says:

    I struggle every day, have twin boys age 5 who started kindergarten this year. One who is aggressive and doesn’t want to be at school, suspended twice, he is doing better now but still a daily struggle and I rejoice when he has a good day. The other one is the opposite, sensory problems- undiagnosed, shy, struggles with every part of learning. Yet every day I get up and do my very best for them, just like other parents I get overwhelmed and feel like I am failing them but I keep on trying. And then I have an 11 year old who excels in school yet I feel like I fail her as well because all my energies are used on taking care of the twins. So yes I feel like I fail a lot but I do keep on trying.

    1. And that matters so much, Helen. I can relate so much to what you describe. Praying for you and yours tonight.

  9. I love how older posts get re-posted on fb so I can see what I missed. I thank God that I don’t think these thoughts as much anymore. I used to think I was a total failure at being a mother. But he really does make all things new, in his excruciatingly slow timing. I wouldn’t tolerate half of what he does — God is not a control freak! He lets us make all sorts of mistakes and still promises to work it all together for good! And slowly I’m learning to apply that kind of patience and acceptance to my family — one way I’m (slowly!) becoming more like Jesus.

  10. 4 years later, this still matters. Thank you. I am not yet a mother. I am a waiting mother in public adoption. So many pieces of this process and knowing what lies ahead brings pressure to be on it and knowledge that I will often fail. Thank you.

    1. Praying for your waiting heart, Jasmine.

  11. I think that it is important to measure yourself against what you have done in the past and not against what you observe in other mothers (and fathers!) around you. That low point, for you, when you dragged him out of the car and left him in the rain at school, watching him as you drove away in the rearview mirror was an important moment for you. It is easier sometimes to learn who you want to be. But that moment taught you who you DO NOT want to be as a mother. It was your pivotal moment. It taught you what was important and what, in reality, is not so important. If you shift your perspective and try to appreciate that you needed that experience to become who you were meant to be, you will realize that it was less of a mistake and more of God’s way of teaching you. I am so proud of you. YOU are the mother that your child needs, wants and deserves. Good job, Mama…

    1. Thank you so much, Mara. Beautiful.

  12. Ahhh, this was perfect Shawna! We are struggling with the newness of this ADD diagnosis. Honestly, we’ve known it for a while and just hoped we were wrong. I feel the exact same way. If I had just understood “why” the meltdowns were happening, I could have coped better. Now, I start each day with a prayer that I parent my kids in the way God desires.
    Love to you!

    1. Love right back to you, Dachelle! What a wonderful way to start your day. <3

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