It is definitely a new year. How do I know? The tell-tale signs include the suddenly popular planner aisle at Target, the unusually crowded gym, and the abundant use of words like “savor” on social media. The type-A goal setter in me loves this time of year.
Nothing gets me going like a productive day of checking items off my to-do list. When I taught school I was fascinated by the process of measuring what my students had learned and accomplished because in a sense it also showed what I had accomplished. Similarly, I loved planning day: a day when I could dive into state standards, write out my curriculum, make one thousand copies, and pat myself on the back for being uber-prepared.
Has anyone else noticed that parenting doesn’t work this way? As in, you set out with perfectly reasonable goals and your children derail them within seconds. Whether it be the poopy diaper explosion, the hour it took to get a gallon of milk at the store when you’d planned for 10 minutes, or the attorney-level negotiations at dinner time to convince someone to take one bite of a freaking pea. When the fun-suckers are finally asleep, you realize you accomplished nothing on your to-do list and your messy house probably needs a hazardous waste sign on the front door.
This has been a recurring struggle in my motherhood journey. When I have one of those days, I tend to feel like a failure with a capital F. Really, what am I doing with my life?
Here’s what I often forget. Much of my mothering is not captured on the to-do list. There is a lot of good you cannot see. As parents, we do many things on autopilot. If we wrote out a to-do list for every little thing that we actually do, it would be crazy long and ridiculously detailed:
- Make breakfast for child, keeping in mind her preferences, her dietary needs, her ability to chew/swallow large pieces of food, and the amount of time available to sit at the table.
- Serve said breakfast to child with favorite plate/cup/spoon/fork. If these exact utensils are not clean, wash immediately. If child claims her favorite has changed since yesterday, adjust.
- Ask child how she slept, what she dreamed about, if she’s excited for the day. Ignore requests to watch TV or call Grandma. Express affection for her. Inquire about the status of her appetite.
- Guide child toward ending the meal. Wipe mouth, hands, feet, belly, and any other body part now covered in breakfast food.
AND THAT’S JUST BREAKFAST!
If I took the time to list out every literal thing I did to parent my children, it would perfectly explain why my other to-do list went untouched. Feeding, clothing, transporting, bathing, and getting children to sleep are all feats in themselves. Add in all the emotional life-lesson stuff; moments spent working through their feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration; time taken to teach how to use manners and look both ways before crossing the street; efforts to coach children on advocating for themselves, showing kindness, knowing they are enough, and overcoming adversity… I mean, really. Who does all that in one day?! WE DO! And yet we feel discouraged when the laundry basket(s) are overflowing or when we haven’t created a booming side hustle yet or whatever.
Unfair comparison is the root of my problem. Comparing myself to JoAnna Gaines, to a friend, to my unrealistic expectations. The truth is that everyone has their struggles, and simply put, comparisons are dumb.
Instead of wasting my precious brain power on comparing and regretting, perhaps I could spend it looking for the good that did happen. How did I connect with my children today? Who in my circle did I pray for this morning? What did I do to show my spouse I love him? That’s the stuff that really matters anyway, right? I’m not going to throw away my other to-do list, but on the days it goes untouched, I hope to focus on all the good I cannot see.