Motherhood – why do we look at the fails over the wins?

It’s been one of those days. A day of rain outside and tantrums inside. Grumpiness and lost patience. I have spent much of the day berating myself for not being enough – enough of a mother, wife or worker.

Half term means the (self-proclaimed) Northern Love Machine is at home. With my job working (mainly) from home and his job teaching, it means that school holidays are an opportunity for us all to spend time together, as a family. Except for the days like today, when we are all on top of each other, I am feeling panicked about not getting any work done and the house feels like a pressure cooker of frayed tempers and bad moods.

Today was not a good day. 

By about 2pm I felt like crying. I hadn’t got all my work finished, my three year old was bored and demanding attention, my husband was tired and out of ideas for ways to entertain her. I had given up on work about an hour before, instead trying to coax my child into having a nap. I felt cross with her and cross with him and cross with myself. Mostly, I felt cross with myself.

When bedtime eventually rolled around I was defeated. Silently cursing myself for not doing better today and pleasing everyone, being there for those who are the most important, I felt like a failure. And then Frog turned to me and said, “Mummy, I’ve had a great day today. Thank you.”

And then it hit me.

Why as a mum do we focus so much on the things we do badly rather than the minor achievements of our day? I’d been beating myself up for not spending enough time with my daughter, while she was still excited by the 45 minutes we had at the park. So I decided to look back on the day and record all my wins, rather than my fails.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • I told my daughter I loved her, at least 15 times.
  • I gave her a cuddle whenever she asked for one.
  • Instead of letting her watch TV for a full three hours in a row, I made up a game in an empty bathtub that involved sticking and letters – winning educational points right there.
  • I took her to the park, even though it was pouring with rain.
  • I laughed at her (frankly questionable) jokes.
  • I joined in with her singing at bath time (even though I really just wanted to sit on the sofa and open a bottle of wine).
  • I did the aeroplane game up the stairs, involving carrying her as fast as I could, as high as I could, until my back felt like it was going to give way.
  • I read her a story at bedtime.
  • I tucked her up and told her tomorrow would be a good day.

Bath play



  1. Louise says

    You’re a great mum Molls and don’t you ever forget it !!!!!!! You would be totally abnormal if there wasn’t at least one fail a day :)) I make plenty !

  2. says

    I should think that mothers who feel they are doing a marvellous job are, like that smug biblical Pharisee, more inadequate than we guilty worriers. The best gift we can give our children is Being There, even grumpily.

  3. says

    I’ve thought about this a lot over the past 18 months and concluded that adults seem to naturally notice their ‘failures’ over their triumphs (unlike children) and that we seem to get the message from society that we should always be more/better and so on. I’m glad you wrote a list of what you did well, when you see it written down I bet it made you feel even more amazing, which you are you you know. :)

  4. says

    Wow, can I come to your house? Sounds fun.

    You’re so right about Mummy Guilt. It’s an epidemic. I sometimes make a determined effort to think of the ways I’ve done well as a mother (as you describe) because I want my own children to be able to feel positive about themselves when it comes to their turn to be a parent. We learn so very much of our parenting attitudes from our own parents, so I’m aware that if I model Mummy Guilt, that will probably be inherited by my kids – as I suppose I inherited it from mine, who was (still is) a fabulous mother!

    Great post.

  5. says

    I’m not a parent but I am a bit of a perfectionist. But somehow, this past year (the big 3-0 has so many wonderful things to answer for) I’ve started to focus more on what I have done, rather than what I’ve not. As human beings I don’t feel we celebrate mini victories or little, wonderful things enough. You and Frog laughed today, doesn’t that count for so much? Now, share one of those truly awful jokes just so we can all celebrate your wonderfulness that little bit more – my husband’s are rubbish, rarely laugh at them. Must improve before we have a family!

  6. says

    Molly, I do this ALL the time so I feel your pain, I really do!

    However, I like to think that the mere fact that we berate ourselves over our fails is proof in itself that we ARE good mums.

    We’re doing the best we can and yes, sure, it sucks when things don’t go to plan or we fail at times but it really is about those little moments of joy, those moments when we let go of perfection and just ‘be’ a mum, that our love and effort really does shine through.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. If you were my Mum, I’d be a happy bunny 😉



    P.S Great post btw!

    • says

      Thanks Katie – and what a lovely comment. You are SO right, of course. I think it’s human nature (adult human nature, anyway) to focus on the negatives and the things we do badly over the things we’re good at. I must keep trying to look at the wins instead of the fails!

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