“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
From an early age, my son has been a creature of habit; a kid who absolutely thrives on routine. He is happiest when things remain constant, and works hard to ensure that each day closely mimics the one that came before. He reads the same book time after time, keeps his clothing selection to a bare minimum, and would be perfectly happy with a never-changing (if limited) menu of his favorite foods. There is no hidden daredevil in him; no rebel yearning to break free and change the world. He is, quite simply, happy with an uncomplicated life.
While I am constantly encouraging him to broaden his horizons, I do have to admit that this approach to life is not completely without appeal. By design, his wants and needs are few; small delights fill his days. He smiles happily as he reads familiar passages from his favorite books, quoting them aloud, and gets great satisfaction from donning a preplanned, color-coordinated outfit. Watching him, it’s hard to deny that there is something to be said about a life lived in the slow lane, free from the stress of endless decision-making; it leaves him time to enjoy the view on the backroads of life.
Alas, I think this approach is only possible for the very young. The nature of youth is much more forgiving of time spent in lighthearted leisure. It’s much harder for those of us in the throes of adulthood to put a carefree, relaxed pace of life into practice. It’s not for wont of trying; many people I know work hard to simplify their lives. The message, too, is all around us; lifestyle gurus advise us to slow down, relax, and “stop glorifying the busy”.
That’s much easier said than done. Shutting down all the noise of life simply isn’t possible, and that is because we live not only for ourselves but also for others.
For me, too many choices, commitments, and projects lead to an unsatisfying, stress-filled existence … yet I’m overtaxed, nonetheless. I routinely spend time careening between work, family, and personal commitments in an effort to stay ahead of what sometimes feels like a cataclysm of obligations. Still, I wouldn’t trade them, because life happens in these moments.
The challenges of today rest mostly in navigating the teenage years of my children, especially my daughter, the oldest. Time is sliding ceaselessly forward, and the laughing baby of 17 years ago is now a young woman, ready to dive into independence armed with a driver’s license and lofty career goals. The parenting ballgame really changes at this stage, and when you pair it with your own personal obligations and responsibilities, you spend a lot of time running, in every sense. Some days I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by it.
Would I remove myself from this hamster wheel of activity, if I could? Never in life. There is too much that is precious here.
Most days, however, there’s just no way to do it all. Ultimately, we must make some choices, so how do we prioritize what’s vital? On the surface, it’s an easy answer for me; my family always comes first. Okay, yes… but what happens when any number of the things that need to be done are for said family’s benefit? Is it better to do that shopping and laundry, so they’re dressed and well fed, or take that child who desperately wants an afternoon out (in my company, no less) for lunch and a trip to the mall- and bag the rest?
It’s sort of a no-brainer. I know which I’d rather do. But beyond my desires, there’s a formula to my logic.
Several years back, I read this advice: “Whenever you face a tough decision, find your answer by considering the consequences of each potential choice in the next 10 minutes, the next 10 months, and the next 10 years.” (1)
The things that often grab our attention first are the immediate needs; laundry, shopping, cleaning. (There’s no denying that things tend to descend into chaos rather quickly when they’re ignored.) In truth, however, the fire-alarm list of tasks that seem so insurmountably challenging today will barely echo in our memories months and years from now. The most important choices we make are the ones that will resonate in 10 years, not in 10 minutes.
However inept and frequently misguided my efforts are, my end goal in parenting is that my children feel secure, supported and well-loved. It is the most important construct of my life as a mother and the thing on which I place the most value. In addition, I’m acutely aware that the days I have with both children in my house and under my care are dwindling and drawing ever closer to the end.
Looking at things from this perspective, the decision was easy. That day, the laundry and shopping went undone.
My daughter may or may not recall my homemaking efforts later in life, but I can almost guarantee that day’s pile of clean laundry would not be burned into her mind as an outstanding example of my love. Conversely, I absolutely know she’ll remember our laughter-filled afternoon out, as we snooped through makeup, tried on clothes, and ate at her favorite restaurant. She’ll remember that she was more important than my ever-expanding to-do list; more important than all those things that in the end, mean nothing at all.
And really, that’s the goal, isn’t it? Not a perfectly calm, smooth life; but one that leaves us exhausted and grateful for our gifts at the end of the day.
Besides, let’s be honest, that laundry will still be there, waiting for us, tomorrow.
(1)Marjorie Ingall- Balance or Bust- Real Simple, January 2014.