This week I read an excerpt from a book by a single mom who raised three successful sons. She stated that her target audience was single parents, but as I read about the challenges she faced parenting her young boys on her own, I felt that many of the lessons she discussed applied to my family dynamic, too.
First, she said that parents coping with less-than-ideal circumstances have to do one central, important thing: get rid of the notion of nearly perfect. It will never happen and it must be banished forever. I love this woman! I contemplated how much grief I have given myself in striving to reach a standard of nearly perfect at various times in my life. It's a game a reformed perfectionist like myself just couldn't win. Rarely did things measure up to my ridiculous expectations.
I recently celebrated my birthday and ruminated about the fact that I really like being a thirty-something. I believe that somewhere in the process of parenting my unique boys and growing into a grown-up, I discovered the truth that when things are nearly perfect on the outside, they typically aren't all that interesting, nor are they realistic to maintain. Growth involves struggles, changes, and messes. And boy, are we growing around here!
The single mom from the article also shared this maxim: identify what you think is important for parenting your kids and then start eliminating items from the list. As I read this, I realized that she had essentially summarized what Jack's presence in our family has been teaching me for years. We can't do it all, but we can focus with laser-like intensity on those few things which are paramount.
For the single mom writing the book, those non-negotiable things did not include home-cooked meals, clean bedrooms, or attractively-dressed children. They did include politeness, kindness, church attendance, family time together, and sports participation (because it wore her boys out and taught them responsibility). I admire this writer for deciding that Hot Pockets as a regular evening meal for her boys was really not the end of the world and she wasn't going to let it get her knickers in a twist. For her and her children, being at church each week was important; that her boys looked like bedraggled orphans while there was less so.
My list of absolutes isn't really all that different from the single mom's. I admire her for realizing that she couldn't do everything, but she could prioritize a few things she wanted her family to learn, and then work resolutely to make those things happen.
So while these dog days of summer are doggedly testing my stores of creativity, problem-solving, and energy, the fact that it's "all kids all the time" doesn't have to wear me down completely. I just have to remind myself that nearly perfect is not only nearly unattainable, but also pretty darn boring. And while there are lots of things you could call my family, boring really isn't one of them.