When All You Have is Not Enough

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Failing My Children

I have been in the role of mom for six years now; well six and a half, but who’s counting? During these past six years, as I have submitted myself to the refining process of motherhood, I have become acutely aware of my own brokenness. Finding that in some circumstances, more than I care to admit, I have failed my children. Failed to meet their expectations. Forgotten to send lunch money. Failed to pack a snack. Forgotten “Bring a Stuffed Animal To School Day.” Responded to an expressed need too harshly. Allowed distraction to take the place of being present. I could list off more, but for the sake of my pride, I will stop there.

My Worst Failures

The worst feeling of failure, in my opinion, has been in the moments my children were truly experiencing discomfort, and I was unable to alleviate it for them. I met this feeling of failure face-to-face when my second child was born.

For the first six months of his life, he struggled to find contentment while I struggled to help him experience contentment. I was doing “all of the things” and meeting all of the needs, but nothing worked. So my husband and I took turns walking and bouncing and shushing and patting for six months. Then one day, things suddenly got better.

Thankfully, those days are long behind us, but the experience of not being able to fix “all of the things” for my children is one that I have continued to encounter. Now it takes the shape of their hard interactions with friends, grumpy moods that seemingly appear out of nowhere, and consequences from their poor decisions made at school.

Unable to Help

I realize as I release my children (slowly) into the world, they will encounter the beauty and darkness held there within. Meaning, they will experience hard things–including sadness and pain–and I will be unable to alleviate that for them. All that I have to offer them will not be enough to take that away. That is an unsettling feeling as a parent. 

Through my years as a social worker, I have assisted many families in connecting to children with extensive trauma histories. I have seen this feeling of failure repeat itself. In these circumstances, children have entered into new homes after they experienced the darkness of this world far too early. These families come face-to-face with their inability to erase the years of pain that their children have experienced. So what can they do? What can we do when our children experience pain and hardship?

One Crucial Thing We Can Do

Outside of meeting basic needs, parents can do one crucial thing for their children. It centers on the word “safety.” I am referring to a safety that exists beyond what is provided in a home with four walls and three meals a day.

I am referring to the safety that is provided when a parent gives their child permission to express their pain and sadness. It occurs when a parent sets aside their need to control their child’s experience, and instead, is available to hear the full range of emotions experienced by their child.

This safety is compounded when a parent is able to validate their child’s experience, take ownership in the role that they may have played, and offer an apology. This level of vulnerability between parent and child, and permission to be a mess, is the best gift a parent can give their child in the midst of hardship.

Be Present in the Hard

As parents, all that we have is not enough to shield our children from hardship. What we can do is be present in the hard. We can give permission for pain. We can walk and bounce, shush and pat, hold and snuggle, validate and apologize, until one day it is better again. 

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Caitlin moved to Alabama from Virginia as a young child and has lived in and around Birmingham since. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from The University of Alabama and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She currently works full-time at a local, nonprofit child welfare agency, Agape of Central Alabama, and holds the title of Adoption Supervisor. She oversees both domestic and international adoption and specializes in educating families on attachment based, trauma sensitive parenting. As a parent, and a domestic adoptee, Caitlin finds great joy and fulfillment in her profession. Three years ago, 1 month before her 30th birthday, Caitlin was reunited with her biological family. Caitlin has since developed relationships with members of her biological family and has shared those experiences with her adoptive family. Personally and professionally, she has been surrounded by some of the bravest of women, from all sides of the adoption triad, who have greatly impacted her view of the world and her identity as a mother. She currently calls Bluff Park home, where she lives with her husband Wally, of 13 years, and their three children, Rowan, age 6, Elliot, age 3, and Remy, age 1. In her free time, you can find her working out in her makeshift garage gym, drinking copious amounts of coffee, or working hard to make the people around her laugh.

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