Parenting in the Big Picture

I had a crisis of confidence last week. My already truncated available time for writing was being impinged by a dental appointment for one kid, a canceled after school activity for the other and some sort of malaise that had me off for about 24 hours. As I forced myself into the seat to try writing something, anything, I simply just didn’t feel good and I felt the panic start to rise. I called the hubby for a moment of venting, frustrated that this creative life I desperately want, I seemed to sabotage at every turn. It’s interrupted and pushed aside and then when I have a few hours or moments and don’t feel well and simply want to sit my butt on the couch to rest, I feel guilty. Like desperately, beat myself up mentally, ready to give up guilty because aren’t I just wasting everyone’s time and forcing us into this crazy budget tightening onto one salary for my own selfish desires?

Yeah. That.

Luckily, I’m married to a guy who is not only practical but insanely supportive of this journey I’m on and knows me better than I probably know myself. His response floored me. Not just ebbed the panic or stopped the gush of guilt or placated, but stopped me in my tracks. It was an epiphany moment that not only cleared my own vision about my specific writing challenge in that moment, but opened my eyes to a larger understanding.

What he told me was that writing was like investing in your 401(k). You invest your money, but you don’t check it every day. It’s built for the long term. You will have up days and down days, but overall, you want a pattern of growth over the long term so that when you’re ready to retire, it’s ready for you. That doesn’t mean ignore it, it doesn’t mean throw your hands up the moment it gets tough, it means that some days are good, some days are bad, but no one day defines the entirety.

Mind blowing, right? Maybe just for me.

Then, I realized, not only did this long term view apply to my writing, but it applies to my parenting as well. There are some days when I just don’t feel in it to win it. The kids are at each other’s throats. The questions are endless. The answers are ignored. The crankiness is turned up. The lack of sleep catches up. The toys aren’t right. The screen time is taken away. The patience is short. The time is fractured. The desires misaligned. The schedules busy. The fridge is empty. The weather is rainy.

Then there are days that are just magic. The complaining is limited. The helping is rampant. The hugs are everywhere. The reminding is brief. The giggles are silly. The laughter is ongoing. The playtime is peaceful. The patience is plentiful. The chatter is two-way. The games are all-inclusive.

Regardless of whether it’s a bad parenting day or a good one, it’s the long term strategy, right? The child you’re turning into an adult. The memories you’re building that have little to do with whatever homework you’re nagging about or if the dishes were piled in the sink on Tuesday. The love that you’re sharing. The stories you’re reading. The time you’re spending. Yes, there are days we just want to end, tasks we wish we didn’t have to complete, schedules we wish we could free, but our ultimate commitment, our children, is still the top priority. And so we keep trying. We put them to bed and we binge watch something on TV and shake our heads when our spouse asks if we want to talk about one of those days and we go to sleep that night and try again the next day. We pack the lunches, make the breakfasts, drive the carpools and take deep breaths. We keep trying. We learn from yesterday’s mistakes. We put away the bad day before, we work on the day we’re in and remember there are more days in front.

Then, hopefully one day we’ll look back over this long trajectory of parenthood and our kids will tell us we did a good job. Not a perfect job. But a good job. Maybe even a great job. You’ll sit around a wedding rehearsal dinner table or a hospital bed as you meet a new grandchild or a Christmas tree with paper strewn about and toys underfoot again and your grown children will reminisce and laugh and tell stories and they won’t be about the days you hurried through, the days you didn’t feel the magic. They will be about the love. The fun.

We watched our youngest in a preschool performance this morning. He’ll only do this performance once. He’ll only be five for 9 more months. He’ll only be at preschool until May. As stressful as it was to create a costume and arrange our schedules to be there on a day where I’m also scheduled to be at the older’s school later and plan and run an adult meeting tonight, it was the big picture that granted serenity — time is fleeting and I want this moment to appear in my mind’s eye when I look back, not the remainder of the day’s logistics.

So, if you’re struggling today with today, focus on the end goal. Today might be a wash. That’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the minutia and instead live our lives focused on the bigger picture, the overall portfolio of their childhood that turns them into these strangely independent, individual adults that will jump onto their own roller coasters of life. That’s the end goal. Let’s make the long term investment.

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