When Priorities Get Mixed Up
A few weeks ago, MrH went out of town for a business trip. It was only two nights, but it’s a rarity for him to even miss dinner, let alone two dinners and two bedtimes, oh and two mornings! I was not excited about his trip and felt worried about how I’d hold up. I haven’t been feeling very well and my patience has been shorter than I’d like. Well guess what? I was a total rockstar. I felt like supermom with wings during those few days. I was shocked and it’s taken me a while to figure out why that happened.
It was during vacation last week that things really clicked for me: when I knew I’d be stretched beyond what I could reasonably manage, I set my priorities and let go of all the rest. Imagine that! I gave myself permission to focus on one thing and one thing only: the emotional health of our family. To make that happen I knew I would need to focus primarily on loving my kids well. That meant giving us permission to: leave later than usual for school, skip the laundry, run an extra load in the dishwasher rather than handwashing the pots that didn’t fit, order takeout for dinner (which I then ended up not even needing to do!), spend a few extra moments at night snuggling up, skipping baths, picking up less often (we ended up actually putting toys away just before daddy came home and the kids were so proud)… Well, you get the picture. I was able to allow myself to not be perfect.
Those three days were, for me, a clear demonstration of all the ways in which our family life would improve if I could let go of my perfectionism, my need and drive for things to go as they “should.” I know, of course, about letting go of all that stuff, but it’s doing it that’s harder. All of these things – keeping the house clean, cooking healthy meals that are within budget, having clean clothes, putting our things where they belong – are part of my responsibility as the person home with the kids. MrH does a tremendous job at helping and supporting that in every way he can, but the reality is that on most days there’s too much to do. In my postpartum period, people often told me I had to lower the bar a bit. My response? “I’ve already lowered it!” These three days have shown me that it’s time to lower my bar, and time to in fact rate all of those priorities lower than my main job, which is to love my children while ensuring that my own needs are getting met.
Now there is a plethora written about this very topic, but what I’m realizing is that my answers can’t be found in a book. That, once again, this is something I’m going to have to really figure out on my own. When a child asks me to play a game, do I automatically say yes? Or do I say “you know, I’m actually reading a book right now. How about we play that game in five minutes?” Or “I’d really love to, but right now I’m cooking dinner. Would you like to help me or see if your sister wants to play?” It really depends, doesn’t it? Sometimes the answer needs to be yes, and sometimes I need to set a limit. It’s about treading that fine line. Personally, I do better when there’s a more straightforward answer!
So here’s the challenge I’ve placed for myself: can I prioritize my family’s emotional health over all of those other things, consistently, for a week? How will our interactions change? Will it be something that’s sustainable or I go crazy by lowering the bar in other areas? Can I remember to place my highest priority at the top of the list (i.e.: can I parent intentionally according to what I value)?
It feels pretty vulnerable to post this because it seems like such a no-brainer to want to love my kids well. It’s one of my deepest beliefs that all parents want that, no matter how seriously they miss the mark. But, well, it seems necessary to me to go the challenge route and push myself out of my comfort zone. I have a vision for how I want our family to be and right now, it’s not that. Hopefully we find ways to get closer to our vision.