Always Real

In Motherhood, Forgiveness Trumps Failure

The other day I was trying to make dinner while Sean was in the kitchen working on an art project that involved paper, scissors, stickers, tape, feathers, glitter, glue and a hole punch.

Normally I let him go crazy with that kind of thing. I love to stimulate his creative energies. But at that particular point in the day, I didn’t have the patience for it. It was one of those occasions where he was making messes faster than I could clean them up or step over them. At every turn, he needed me to stop what I was doing and help him with some aspect of the project and it was wearing me out.

At one point, he stood on my chair and reached into the cabinet over my desk and grabbed a roll of my sacred tape that no one is allowed to touch except under threat of death or mortal sin. He knew better than to get into that cabinet and he took advantage of the fact that I was distracted to do it.

In trying to dispense the tape, he worried it into one unending hunk. The tail end of the tape disappeared into itself Ouroboros-style never to be free from itself ever again. And then he handed it to me to fix. At the same time he is offering me a useless hunk of tape to fix, a pot on the stove threatens to boil over and the timer on the oven goes off and steam comes shooting out of both of my ears.

Using my last good nerve, I snatch the roll of tape from him. Huffing and sighing, I spin it around and around and around, feverishly searching for the end with my badly manicured fingernail while what I really feel like doing is throwing it across the room. But I don’t. Instead I more than firmly tell Sean that I don’t have TIME for this right now and how aggravated I am that he took MY TAPE without asking ME first and now the TAPE is no longer good and I will probably have to THROW the TAPE away and it was MY TAPE and he didn’t ask to TAKE my TAPE and what am I going to DO with a hunk of TAPE? And I probably used the word tape another 10 or 15 times so that he might be clear about my feelings on the topic of tape.

He dropped his head to his chest and then just like a little baby, he brought his fists to his eyes and began to quietly cry.

“You make me feel like you don’t love me,” he squeaked.

As I looked at him sitting on the floor on his knees with his hands covering his face, I saw that blond curly-headed two-year-old boy again. And in that moment the world abruptly stopped spinning and slammed my heart into my throat.

Dinner would have to wait.

I sat down on the rug and pulled him into my lap. I hugged him as he sobbed into my neck.

As I held him and rocked him, the western sun glinted off the tile signaling the close of another day, a day I didn’t want marked by failure.

“Sean,” I whispered into his hair, “I am so sorry that I made you feel that way. I never want you to feel that way. I love you more than anything in the entire world. Please forgive me.” He nodded yes under my chin.

I explained to him that I was feeling tired and cranky but I shouldn’t have spoken to him so harshly. I gently admonished him to please stay out of my tape without asking first. He nodded yes under my chin.

I sat on the floor in the midst of tape and feathers and glitter and glue rocking my not-two-year-old boy as the day faded away and dinner grew cold.  I told him that I loved him more than anything ever 10 or 15 times so that he might be clear about my feelings on the topic of him.

In motherhood, forgiveness trumps failure.

50 thoughts on “In Motherhood, Forgiveness Trumps Failure

  1. I so get you. It took me awhile to learn that my anger just communicated “I don’t love you”. I thought it meant “this is really important so you’d better not do it again.”

    Now, I try to find the humor in the situation, as much for the kids as for myself. Mommy laughing at their foibles seems to still communicate that they shouldn’t do it again.

    And I’ve discovered that I’d rather err on the side of grace (, Lamont,) than anger. Even if they do play me sometimes. Great post.

  2. That was precious. But I definitely understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes, by the time my 5 year old gets home from school my nerves are SHOT and my brain is DONE and he catches the blunt end of the torture my 6 month old has put me through all day. So sometimes you have to take a step back and put things in perspective.

  3. I feel like I was right there with you both as I read this (crying of course).
    You capture the real life situations that happen in a wonderful way with your writing as well as your actions!

  4. That post was so honest … and most of us mommies can truly empathize! I find that my children bring out BOTH the best in me AND the worst in me at times. But you’re right — forgiveness trumps failure, thank God! Thanks for sharing and being so open and real.

  5. You are so right. Of course we mamas make mistakes but admitting to our failures and doing a quick U-Turn to get back on the good mothering road goes a long way in building strong relationships with our children.


  6. It’s incredible how the people we love become the things that annoy us, isn’t it? But more incredible is the radical transformation back to those we love when something finally gets through to us.

    I wish I could keep proper perspective. But I don’t. And forgiveness is so, so important. Grace is amazing, isn’t it?


  7. Aww! I find myself in the same spot around dinner time lots of days. I’m working on how to curb my crankyness, because even after I apologize and “make it right” it still doesn’t feel right in my heart.
    I love how Sean can articulate things-my oldest isn’t as good at that so I have a lot of guesswork involved and that tends to make me more cranky!
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. I just had almost the exact conversation with my six year old boy yesterday morning. He also was making messes quicker than I could clean them up. I had been unexpectedly called in to work(I only work about 2-3 times a month, so it really wasn’t expected), I was trying to get him and his brother ready for school, and pick up the house because of guests we were having that evening. His words were, “I feel like you hate me!”. I too had to stop what I was doing and just hold him and tell him how sorry I was and how much I loved him. He got up and told me I was the best mom in the world. How quick they are to forgive!

  9. What a sweet story! I have given my children many tirades like this over the years, sadly. Once a few months ago I was going on and on about something, and my youngest came up to me a few minutes later and asked, “Are you ready to be a nice mommy again?” Sigh.

  10. I’m not saying Sean isn’t above trying to work me, but he doesn’t do it well enough to get past my cynicism. I could see in his face that I had really hurt his feelings. We both needed a nap.

  11. I had a day similar to yours yesterday…homeschooling 2 kids, messy house, pms…the list could go on and on ….and could be any mother’s list….

    Last night I was listening to a sermon entitled “False Starts” by Erwin McManus( He was talking about Moses and how he started out with an unfortunate and almost certain fatal beginning, being in the basket on the river and all. And then spent 40 years on the run after killing an Egyptian. And how from all that, he was brought to the mountain, the holy mountain to stand in the presence of God. He had a rough start but by God’s grace he was given chance after chance and had a really good finish.

    How thankful I am for God’s grace as well as the grace of my family and friends.

    Have a blessed day!

  12. Children, adults and tape….why is it such a big thing to us and a little thing to them?

    I remember one of those e-mail question/answer responses that made the rounds several years ago. The question was ‘what was the worst Christmas present you ever received?’ My niece replied ‘tape’. She was just a child when she received tape for Christmas – from her grandfather – my dad. She didn’t remember that she and her brother and sister had been rummaging through Granddaddy’s desk ( a definite no-no) while staying with their grandparents one summer. Being a loving Granddaddy rather than a mom 🙂 – my dad did not resort to throwing the tape (my usual response) or even raising his voice. When Christmas time came around, my dad bought each of his grandchildren several rolls of tape and wrapped them. It seemed like a perfect gift to him. when my niece heard ‘the whole story’ behind the tape, it completely erased the memory of the tape as the worst Christmas present ever.

  13. I’m so grateful for my children’s forgiveness. They bestow it so easily, and it feels like such a gift each time I receive it.

    Beautiful post, as always.

  14. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me. Patience is a virtue, but it is not mine. I get snappy. So, my daughter and I have talked about what it means to love someone all the time (to the moon and back, and then some more, and more than all the stars in the sky) versus not liking someone for a little while for something that they DID (not because of who they are). She just turned four, and she does know the difference, because I’ve pointed out times when she hasn’t liked me very much, but still loves me. I told her that is something that happens with adults too. Hopefully, it’s helped. I don’t ever want her to feel unloved, even when she’s acting like a jerk.

  15. That is such an important lesson to teach your boy. I grew up in a house where recognizing our feelings or how we hurt each other wasn’t done. We would get angry over the superficial things, like the tape, and tough it up. It was assumed, that if we were upset about something, it was ok to hurt each others feelings a little.

    I am just now learning that sometimes, instead of arguing about the tape, I have to say to my fiance, “You made me feel like you didn’t love me”, and that is a valid concern. And if I get angry at him, even if he did something wrong, if I hurt him by speaking harshly and disrespectfully, then I also have something big to apologize for.

    What great life lessons you are already teaching Sean.

  16. And aren’t we lucky little souls forgive so easily? And, for the record, if you ever need tape….I have mind hidden in the left hand drawer in the wine cabinet in the dining room under a pkg. of Christmas cocktail napkins. Feel free to borrow it anytime.

  17. I have been there, so many times, especially with the tape, feathers, glue, etc. etc.

    Vintage Girl crumples and says “Mom, those are mean words”, which of course feels like a knife in my heart.

    You did an amazing job and should be proud.

    For some commiseration on messy kids, check out: One Bag Nation

  18. From the mean daddy perspective: you got worked. Still… it’s never a failure to reassure them that you love them completely.

  19. My patience ran out at midnight last night with my baby who was tired but wouldn’t sleep. I kinda growled at her and she cried. And I felt like the worst person in the world. She still came and snuggled and forgave me.

    Thanks for sharing that.

  20. First, I also really appreciate your honesty in telling this story – it helps to see how other moms work thru the tough times. He learned all sorts of lessons about how his behavior impacts others, how important his feelings are to you, etc. Tho he may have worked you some, don’t we all learn about our influence over others in all these different ways? Thank you for sharing the messier moments with us, too 🙂

  21. AM — Sorry for making implications. I guess I’m a bit too cynical myself, having found myself in similar situations. My four-year-old manages to get to me just as thoroughly. I have no doubt Sean’s feelings really were hurt.

  22. Crying at the end of this day. Never expected it – so sweet – forgiveness and love make you cry – and getting it back makes you cry, too.

  23. Thank you for this. I blow up at my kids way too much, and then spend the next week loving on them, and telling them I love them, over and over and over, and praying for the patience and fortitude I need in order to avoid screwing them up. It’s so hard. You are a really great mom.

    Even if you did get played? Good for you for extending grace.

  24. I hope you are right…I make mistakes like that more frequently than I would like to admit. Some days are better than others, aren’t they?
    Milford, CT,

  25. Thank you. I don’t post often, but read daily. I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately, and I really needed to hear what you said. Exactly today. So, while you don’t even know me you helped more than I can tell you.

    Now, I am going to dry my tears, go back into the family room and hug my little girl. And find more patience, she deserves it and I so want to give it to her.

  26. Awwww…so sweet! Brought tears to my eyes- I can’t tell you already how many times I have had to apologize to my little boy- 9 months old now, for being impatient- and I’m sure there will be many more times in the future. Thanks for reminding me that it’s okay to make mistakes.

  27. Great insight! I’ve been told that you can have 1,000 at-a-girls but one oh S#%T wipes the at-a-girls slate clean.Sometimes it is best to start explanations of wrong doings (their will be many more coming at you) with an “I LOVE YOU” and because “I LOVE YOU” , blah blah blah and more blah blah blah. This habit has served me well and sometimes when presented with a “why mom?” I just look at my boys and they finish with an “I know you love me”
    LOVE trumps all!! God Bless.

  28. Thank goodness they’re so ready to forgive. I just start to LOOK angry and mine starts crying and runs off to hide in a closet. If she actually lets it get as far as words, she says I’m hurting her ears.

    I find myself having to apologize for losing my temper more than I’d like to admit.

  29. I think I do this kind of thing every – single – day. It’s so frustrating sometimes to be a mom. Especially when your eldest is just like you! Mine is just like me, and I think I have to apologize and ask forgiveness at least once a day.

    Anyway – after all you went through to have your precious one and only boy, to know that even you (someone who couldn’t possibly take her child for granted as much as I do) too have those “steam-coming-out-of-your-ears” moments helps me know that I’m doing ok. Because you’re doing ok too.

    You really are an example and an encouragement to me…Thank you.

  30. That’s a great story. As I type this, my younger son just dumped a bowl of cereal (and milk) perilously close to my laptop. Your post made me think before speaking (not that that happens a lot).

    This reminded me of my older son and his tape adventures. When he was two, he decided to use an entire roll of (cheap) tape to wrap all of the kitchen chairs together – around the kitchen table! It took forever to get that stuff off. He was proud of the “trap” he had made. In fact, there were many more traps to come. The most notable of which was when he had used tape from the coffee table to the couch. My husband did not see it, and tripped over it – spilling a bowl of cereal all over the family room. Let’s just say it was a good thing that Andrew was in bed when this happened!


  31. The nicest thing is when you hear your 9 or 10 year old say to someone, “I’m sorry. I am having a bad day and it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

  32. I loved this.

    I find myself so often having to gulp down my pride and say, “God, redeem this situation!” And their little hearts are so eager to forgive.

  33. Yet again you prove your excellent skill at mothering. The Boy uttered those same words to after my getting onto him for the umpteenth time about something (most likely trivial). I gave him a big hug, told him that I do love him with all my heart, but that he’d better quit being a stinker by disobeying me or else. I probably should have left the last part off… Sometimes I should just say to heck with my rules and love him with abandonment.

  34. Awww. That is so sweet. I know I too am guilty of doing this very thing. My 4 year old is always asking if I’m mad at him when we’re discussing his bad day at school. I always try to reiterate that I’m not mad at him but disappointed that he didn’t follow the rules but no matter what I still love him!

  35. What a sweet story. In my case there can be as many as four children all trying to do their thing while I’m trying to get something done, and it can be very vexing. I DO soften and apologize when I realize I’ve hurt a child’s feelings, but unfortunately my kids have gotten pretty thick-skinned. From a glass-half-full perspective, that could mean they are way too used to harsh words from me; or if my glass is half-full, I could say that they’re so secure in my unconditional love that a little steam coming out of my ears doesn’t frighten them. I DO want to get better at being firm but KIND. It is a daily test. Your story reminds me of why it is so worthwhile to keep trying.

    P.S. I buy big multi-packs of tape at Costco, and it is very worth it — although sometimes the kids still can’t find any of their rolls, and they borrow mine. My worse annoyance is that I can’t keep a roll of correction tape around — my toddler has ruined about three full ones so far. (Yeah, I surely should have learned by now to store them somewhere less accessible.)

  36. I am putting a link to this post on my blog if that’s alright. I would love to post the whole thing right on my blog (of course with a link to you and the post and giving you props for it, as it is you that wrote it). Let me know if that’s ok. I read this post a couple months ago and I think about it sometimes. I know I need to think about it more often. Even though my kids haven’t come out and said, “You make me feel like you don’t love me,” I know that is what they are thinking when I put something else above them and get upset at them. I have a couple friends who I know could benefit by reading this. Could you let me know if it’s ok for me to post it? Thanks.

    Links are fine, but please don’t copy and paste — not just from my site but from anyone’s. Even with props and links, it’s copyright infringement. Thanks for asking up front.

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