Behind the Scenes – Motherhood and Failure

I didn’t think I’d make this post today.  But God put this memory on my heart as some of chatted about motherhood and failure this morning.  I’m linking  up with Crystal Stine this morning for Behind the Scenes.  Won’t you join us?

The Photo


This picture is full of sweetness.  She had chubby arms with wrists that looked more like twist off body parts and this adorable nature that looked for and gave love with abandon.  Her little stomach stuck out so much; I called her my little Buddah baby.  She’s about 18 months and she was our first.  

She was such a content toddler.  You could put her on the bed beside you and give her a handful of books and she would happily sit and read while you dozed. She could watch TV or a movie with singular focus.  At 2 ½ she would sit through and LOVED the entire movie of the Sound of Music and at 3 my mother took her to see the Nutcracker – the ballet!  She sat through a live ballet performance at 3 years old!  Seems like we won the baby lottery doesn’t it?

This wasn’t always the case.  Not in the least.  She was a horrible baby, a horribly cranky baby.

I say that with all the love for her in my heart!  But before she learned to crawl or walk she screamed incessantly.   Cried.  All.  The. Time. For the first nine months of her life.  She was a mover and a shaker and even as a tiny baby you could see the intelligence in her eyes and right beside those smarts was the frustration when she couldn’t get to where she was going on her own.

There was a time when I thought I had failed at all things motherhood.  And they don’t warn you that when you give birth to this tiny human that you might not experience the overwhelming and instantaneous urge to nurture.  They don’t warn you that you will from the beginning attempt to balance their need of you with your need for peace and quiet and just one-more-moment-of-sleep-please. And that sometimes you’ll fail.

I don’t exactly remember the occasion.  The weekend was a haze of family commitments and a cranky baby that seemed to cry non-stop.  It didn’t matter what we did, nothing satisfied her.  I jostled her, I had her in her swing going turbo speed (that’s the only way she would sit in it), I strapped her to my back and carried her around, I nursed her, gave her a cookie to gum – nothing – none of it worked. 

When Sunday night came and she finally dozed off to sleep my head hit the pillow and I wished for Monday to come and uttered a prayer that it wouldn’t look anything like the weekend. 

Little Miss had other plans…

She woke up screaming – AGAIN!  I stumbled blindly out of bed to grab her before she woke the entire house (We were living with my Mom and Step-dad at the time) and attempted to nurse her.  But, she wasn’t having any of it.  She just cried and fussed.

I could feel every nerve, every last thread of calm and serene snap.  As I held her small frame at arm’s length I let out my own deep from the belly scream and yelled at her tiny anger filled face – “Stop it, Stop it, Stop it”

And even now 19 years later the guilt that followed after that meltdown is just a strong as it was then.  It makes me catch my breath.  Thankfully my mom rescued me that day.  I heard her soft knock on the bedroom door and by this time both Little Miss and I here were a sobbing wet mess.  I was crying uncontrollably – deep heaving, Hoover vaccum cleaner sobs that had us both gasping for air.  And my mom, bless her heart, took the baby from my arms to give me just one moment – one desperate moment of peace.


Eventually the tears abated and my monster child returned to normal. 

I will never forget that moment.  The moment I came perilously close to the line.  How my short fuse almost got the better of me.  How the situation could have been so much worse.  I remember telling my mom that I was pretty sure I had scarred her for life.  Remember saying that I was terrible mom, a crappy mom for letting my anger get away from me.

And while she held that precious, gum toothed baby in her arms my mom said:

Look at her.  Just take one look, what is there beyond the tears?  Do you see it?  Do you see how she looks at you?  Like you hung the moon and the stars?  She knows sweetie, she knows that you love her with everything you have and possibly more.  I can promise you that when she gets older this will not be the memory she holds on to.”

And 19 years later I know this to be true.  Because the picture that sits on her night stand while she’s away at school is the one that I posted here.  She doesn’t recall the time I lost my cool and felt like I failed her. 


She remembers that she was loved and cherished. 



  1. You’ve got to stop making me cry with your posts. Oh friend. I’ve been there so many times. The exhaustion, anger, frustration – we have our own mama-temper tantrums, don’t we? And by the grace of God someone steps in to give us a minute & put it back in perspective and we find strength to do it all again. For this toddler mama, that last line? The part she remembers? Thank you for that peace.

    • I bawled writing it!!! I am so glad that this gave you a little glimpse into the future… You’re an awesome mama… Love you!

  2. Anonymous

    I thank God for the courageous daughter you are. xx Sharing these vulnerable scary moments will bring courage and peace to others. Pay it forward, all you mommas who read this. It is important that we stay real with each other, motherhood can be a scary time and there is so much that surrounds us that implies that we should be perfect and yet what we are really called to is love, honesty and trust.

    Annon Mom.

  3. Thanks for this. Having raised one child to the ripe old age of a quarter century, you’d think I would know that our kids don’t always hold our failures against us. But there are those moments… Thank you for being real, for letting us know that none of us really have it together all the time, no matter what a pretty picture we try to paint online. I don’t have to tell you that this is something I needed to read today. 🙂

  4. This is a reminder every mama needs…I’ve got a fabulous three year-old who was a Very. Difficult. Baby. I know there were ugly moments…those when I was so thankful my hubby was there to take over while I took a moment to catch my breath. So true…they will hang on to the good and special memories because we love them. LOVE them with everything we have and more. Love to you, my sweet friend…thank you for being real with us. Happy Tuesday! 🙂

  5. Oh dear Tonya. I’m all sentimental today and this…well, tears are ready to fall but I’m at work (Shh, I don’t catch up on blogs while at work!) so holding back. My oldest son is 23, married and away from home and when I think back to moments like the one you decribed I truly thought he’d grow up hating me. But I remember visiting him right before he got married and him sending me a text that said, “Mom, thank you for coming out.” They hold on to those good memories. And even if they remember some of the bad, I’ve seen how God does wipe it clean. I’ve seen how God takes a family that was a complete mess and shows them how to love each other again. Bless you for your amazing heart my friend. Blessings, Beth.

  6. I felt this so deep friend. Your honesty is so sweet and makes me, a relatively young mom, feel like I am part of a great heritage of good mamas who have rough days and are struggling to trust God with it all. You encourage and your writing is simply gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this memory!

  7. You only had one moment like that? I can’t count the number of times I’ve let my anger, frustration, exhaustion get the better of me and erupt at the kids. I hate it. I hate yelling. I hate the guilt that follows. I hate that I can’t control it. I hate that I let my sinful human nature get the best of me in those moments, and that even though I hear God in the background whispering calmness into me, I ignore Him and let the temper-tantrum take over. The hardest part is remembering that this is how my mom was, and how that’s one of the only things I remember about my childhood with her – her temper. I don’t want that to be how they remember me. I don’t want that to be the memory they attach to their childhoods. With my daughter weaned, I can no longer calm her with nursing. And I hate that the fussing and the whining grates on me so much. The fussing never bothered me as much with my son, but now with a 3 year old whining and pushing so many boundaries, by the time the baby gets fussy, I’ve already had it and I take it out on her. 🙁 My husband and I are both at this point of knowing we need to change our reactions with the kids, but I needed this post from you today, to know that I’m not alone. Love you, Tonya!

    • Oh friend… with two children I had WAY more moments like that than I care to admit. Way, way more. But this was the one that came to mind this morning during our Twitter conversation because it was the first. The first moment I realized, truly realized that I was going mess up and mess up big time with this whole mothering thing. Can I encourage you friend here, just whisper right here that God knows your heart and you desire to change and that He is calling you to rest in Him. Can I also enourage you to read this post that I wrote about my son and how God took me to my knees?

      And this one by Ann Voskamp Life altering friend… truly.

    • Thank you, Tonya! This is one reason why ended up sitting on the floor of the playroom last night, hugging my knees, crying into my arms, calling out to God to change my heart. Will read those posts when I get a chance!

  8. Oh-oh-oh, Tonya. How I relate to this story and thank you for telling it. I have memories like these too, and they still hurt me to recall them. And just yesterday — a few more. Thinking again this morning, before reading your piece, what will they remember? What will be their takeaway stories? My firstborn daughter was so much like yours as a baby — intelligent and active and so frustrated that she could not yet do all that matched the life behind those eyes. Thank you, Jesus, for making beauty from our messes. And thank you for reminding us of the One who holds and rescues and redeems. So love your heart, friend.

    • Ashley,

      I too am so grateful for the cross and the grace that covers all that I may have left undone. And there is a beauty in the middle of our mess isn’t there – because right there in the middle is where we find Him.

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