Motherhood – What Am I Doing Wrong?



Motherhood What Am I Doing Wrong

She sipped her tea and then hesitantly asked, “So how do you get your kids to listen?”

“You keep doing what you are doing.” I replied. “I’m sure I’m not going to give you any advice that you are not already doing.”

I felt rotten for telling her that. I absolutely meant what I said. I have seen this lady every week at storytelling for over three years now. I have watched her parent. I have listed to her tell stories about parenting. I don’t hang out with her in between Monday mornings, but I know enough about her to be confident in the fact that she is doing a wonderful job. Her children are delightful, and when her kids are not so delightful, she handles them with dignity and understanding.

But I still felt rotten for giving her a glib answer. But honestly, glib answers sometimes are not really glib. They are just honest.

The real reason I felt bad was because I recognised exactly where she was at. Why? Because I have been there. I have been at my wits end. In front of my kids, I’m staying strong, I’m hanging in there. I’m being ‘consistent’. Except I can’t shake that feeling of doubt that perhaps I’m doing something wrong. I can’t help but feel guilty that the reason my children are misbehaving is all my fault. I can’t help feeling that somehow I’m failing them. And that things will never get better because I’m doing the wrong thing.

And so, I have been brave and gone up to women that I have admired and asked the same question.

“How did you do this?”
“What would you do in this situation?”
“Can you give me some advice?”

I ask these questions, genuinely humble, ready to learn. Perhaps a little desperate.

Most of the answers are things I already know and the reply makes me feel a bit frustrated because it’s not the answers I want. Not the answers I need to get through these rocky waters.  I want to assure this person I admire that, “Yes, I do that. I’m not neglecting the basics. But tell me more. There must be a great secret. There must be something I’m missing.”


When that mother questioned me on Monday, her face full of expectation, waiting for the great revelation that was going to unlock the elusive key to parenting, I recognised her desperation. And I wondered. “Why can I emphasise with her frustrations and be so confident that she is going to produce wonderful children and kind and respectable adults, yet I don’t have the same confidence in my own parenting ability?”

All of a sudden it occurred to me that perhaps the older women’s confidence in me was well founded. (And that the younger women’s judgment of me was actually misinformed.)

When older women I admire tell me that I’m doing a good job, regularly I doubt it. In my head I think, “But you don’t know what I do when no one is around. Just how badly I fail.” But I think they might.

I didn’t want to leave the woman doubting that she really would be trying the same strategies that I apply, so I gave her a few practical examples.

“I get my kids to listen by getting down on their eye level to talk to them. I make them repeat instructions. I don’t give them too many instructions at a time. I follow up on what they have been told to check they have done it. I am consistent to apply consequences if they don’t do it and when they get it right, I pile on heaps of praise.”

She was nodding. She knew I was right, she really was doing all those things. Her eyes still displayed guilt. She leaned closer and whispered.

“But I yell. I get so frustrated. I yell at them. Every day I yell at them.”

I understood. So do I. Praise the Lord, I’m getting better. It’s not every day lately. But there has been stages where it has been and I understood her guilt. But I also knew that some bouts of imperfect parenting does not necessarily equal failure. We are flawed humans, which make us flawed parents. We make mistakes. We recognise those mistakes, we make amends, we try to do better and we don’t give up. And we keep doing the things that are right.

When you are a parent, you cannot afford to give up on yourself. You can’t afford to give up on your child. Not Ever.

I hope this week that mother believed me. I hope that this week she had a bit more assurance that she is on the right track. I hope she realises that at the end of the day, parenting every child is challenging. I hope she knows that every child is different too. She will work out the best solution for her child, there will be similarities to the way I parent, and there will be differences. There is no formula, because every family is unique, every child is different.

I am thankful that this wonderful Mum made herself vulnerable enough to talk to me.  I admire her willingness to be transparent. I think us women need to do this more often.  To ask for help or advice when we are at our wits end. I think that people we trust need to be honest enough to tell us in loving ways when we can make improvements too. In the long run, they may see the situation in a different way, and their advice could make another mother’s life that little bit easier. And a little bit easier is all you need to make it through the days when you are in the trenches sometimes.  But most of all us mothers need to start to believe it when people we trust tell us we are doing a good job.

Do you feel like you are getting it wrong in motherhood? Do you need to start believing the good that others see in yourself?


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  1. That is really lovely that she was able to approach you and ask you that. So many of us get our back up when it comes to parenting advice. I feel like I make lots of parenting mistakes! But on the whole, my kids are happy and spirited and I know they feel love. That’s the big picture.

    1. I felt honoured that she felt free enough to ask me. It’s not an easy thing to do when we are feeling discouraged and struggling. You are right, love is the bigger picture. If they know that they are, someday they will hopefully be able to understand that our failings were coming from our own inadequacies rather than any reflection on them.

  2. Loved your honesty Caitlin. I feel like I’m getting it wrong a lot of the time, but I also get it right too. While my kids get yelled at sometimes (they’ve become hard of hearing in their teenage years!), they also get a lot of love, attention and affection, so I sure hope it all balances out in the end. I get lots of other people telling me what great kids they are, so I just hope they come out as great adults. We’re doing the best we can! x

  3. Um, we all do it wrong all the time. The trick it to hope you aren’t completely f*cking them up forever (there’s a podcast on that and apparently we all are, despite our best intentions). All you can do is keep trying to do it better….

    1. Yes, I’ve heard the theory that we’re all messing up our kids – and it’s right we kind of are. Our kids need to know that we aren’t perfect also, and we shouldn’t try to pretend to be perfect in front them either!

  4. What a beautiful post. I think the key is being honest. If we all tell the truth about our parenting, warts and all, other Mums will see there is no magic formula. #TeamIBOT

  5. Great post. It’s a great compliment when someone tells you are doing well as a parent, but it’s even nicer when someone asks for advice. We all struggle in our different ways as a parent. Honesty is the best answer too. At least we all know we aren’t alone in the whole parenting world!

  6. When we are honest.. We see so many feel and do the same thing. There is no rule book for parenting and no one tells you just how hard it can be

  7. You are the type of person I would want as a friend in my mums group Caitlin! I reckon you have so much advice to give being a triplet mum. I also think your honest and straightforward answers are refreshing. Yes I do think I get it wrong as a mother and there are days when I have asked why God did you bless these beautiful kids with me as their mum? All I know is I’m doing the best I can and there are good days and bad days and being consistent is what helps in those younger years. That mother is blessed to have someone like you in her life that she can call on for advice. Xx

  8. We’ve all been there! I’m constantly asking myself and others “what am I doing wrong? what can I do to change this?”. And like you said, I’m being consistent, fair and clear about expectations and not asking for too much. We just have bad days. They have bad days. Doesn’t make us bad parents. I read an awesome quote that made me giggle the other day from Michelle Pfeiffer – “like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, and hold our breathe, and hope we’ve set aside enough money to pay for our kids therapy”. #IBOT

  9. Each day is a new day to try again. I keep telling myself this when I have had a bad parenting day. Yelling is my biggie! I am trying and getting better at not yelling everyday. But you are so right, we can not give up. It is never too late to change, to try again. We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again. Our kids deserve it x

  10. I always feel like I’m doing something, or everything wrong. Most nights I crawl into bed and run through the list of where I failed, and pray that tomorrow I can do it better. Love them all a little bit more.
    And I think so long as we’re actively trying to do that, we’re doing the best that we can.

  11. Every day is different, some days you feel like you aced it just to have the next day be a catastrophe. I don’t think there is just one straight answer but I do think there is strength in numbers which is probably why we need to keep talking to one another, sympathise with the struggles and help each other move forward one day at a time.

  12. Yes, I sure do feel that I’m getting it wrong, particularly with my almost three year old. She’s going through a particularly difficult stage and I wonder if it’s because I haven’t spent as much time with her as I did with my first. I just hope and pray that the good outweighs the bad and we’ll all come out of this as fairly well-adjusted people. I hope your friend is okay. I’m sure she appreciated your advice

  13. A great Mummy post. This job is a tough gig and we are most critical on ourselves {no thanks to all those judgy Mums and Dads and grandparents who just make us feel worse}. I think we all feel like we are failing at some point – but I think we appreciate the mothers, who tell the truth and admit it, the most.

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