I have four children who are now 14, 11, 8, and 6. Over the years I’ve held pretty much every kind of parenting time management arrangement - full- and part-time at an office, full- and part-time telecommute, full-time at home with infants and toddlers, full-time at home with kids in school, and full-time at home while homeschooling. All of it was hard at every age with each kid for different reasons. But over the years I’ve learned a couple things that have helped me cope - not succeed, but cope.
Me pretty much every day since Kid #1 was born
It struck me at some point a few years ago that parenting is a lot like running a country. There are many competing problems and interests and sometimes the best solutions aren’t the one you end up choosing to implement - because sometimes the best solutions are just not possible. Instead you end up choosing second- or third-best solutions. And guess what? Usually those solutions are still good, or at least better than their counterparts - no solution, or a bad solution.
So here are some things a few of our presidents learned during their terms of office, with a few anecdotes of how they relate to mine.
My ideal homeschool day: my darling little children would play nicely together while I took them aside one at a time and did schoolwork with them. We would have an independent reading hour, plenty of time outside, and everyone would take a nice little nap from 2 to 4.
That day never happened, not in two years’ worth of homeschooling. Something always derailed the day I planned - sickness, impromptu playdates, missing lesson components, general kid chaos. It made me pretty miserable. I felt like I had no control over what was happening in my house and that I wasn’t getting anything accomplished.
My kids after several days confined indoors
Eventually I figured out that I should just expect the unexpected. Like Eisenhower says, “Planning is essential. Plans are useless.” That pretty much sums it up. Have a plan. Don’t take it personally when it doesn’t happen.
When people spend time in a space, that space gets messy. There is no way around it - not even if you try to clean up after every meal, every project, every toy session. Stuff is just going to get out of place and dirty.
The disaster that was my house bothered me for years. I never really got over it; all that mess still annoys me. But I’ve also learned to recognize that it makes me feel better to clean it. No one else in the family feels that way. Therefore, if I am super unhappy because of some dirty space, I should either clean it and feel better, or not get upset that someone else isn’t cleaning it or doesn’t feel that way. At least I no longer spend my life angry that others aren't cleaning up after themselves.
I know where this is headed...
Another thing that’s changed is my understanding of what the space is. My house isn’t a museum. It’s a home - we live in it, and it reflects the reality of our shared space. Dishes aren’t supposed to spend their day stacked perfectly in a cupboard ready to have their picture taken for Instagram. They’re supposed to be covered in crusty food and sitting in the sink all day because we used them for their intended purpose - eating breakfast off them.
I know that by 7 pm, the dishes will be clean again, stacked in their shelves and ready for the next breakfast. But by then, the living room will be a wreck because we will have spent the previous hour reading a stack of picture books in it. It’s like Lincoln says: “You can keep some of the house clean all of the time and all of the house clean some of the time, but you can’t keep all of the house clean all of the time.” Or something like that.
The hardest lesson I learned doing homeschool was that I was actually indeed a human being with limits. I tend to be sunnily optimistic about my abilities - today will be the day I control my temper perfectly and spend the entire day inside teaching kids to read and do Latin. I’ll have no trouble at all staying awake from 2:30-4:30 without coffee and of course I have enough self control not to eat everything that’s edible in this kitchen.
It’s way better for me to know that if I am expected to be home all day, there must be some time I spend outdoors, not looking at the wreck of the house. I need to walk away from situations where I know my temper will get the better of me. I will most definitely start feeling sleepy around 2:30 and will need 10 minutes on the couch. No food item is safe when I'm stressed in other areas that tax my self-control.
I’ve learned that choices must be made. I will never be my ideal self. But why make the perfect the enemy of the good? A perfect parent patiently and lovingly explains to a child why they can’t stab a wall repeatedly with a bread knife. A good parent takes the knife away and leaves the room without stabbing their kid with it.
And that brings to mind Teddy Roosevelt’s observation about his own parenting: “I can do one of two things, I can be president of the United States, or I can control [my daughter] Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”
"I think this would be a good time for a beer," FDR noted as he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act repealing Prohibition in 1933 during the Great Depression. No kidding. Yes, I'm putting on a brave face and I'm enduring and sometimes I'm actually even pretty good at enduring. But at the end of the day, it's been hard and I'm tired. Time for a beer indeed.
Cheers from Princess Awesome!