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Here's Why You Should Focus on Your Kids, Not Your To-Do List

Just the other day I was so productive. I cooked a great meal, cleaned the apartment a bit, ran errands, wrote a blog post, and handled some paperwork for our mortgage application. I somehow managed to shower, put makeup on, and slip into a shirt with no drool marks. I even spent time on my day job to, gasp, earn money. The feeling was incredible. I was on top of the world.

Before I could make a list for the next day’s errands, the fog cleared, and it occurred to me that the babysitter had been with my baby the entire day. The only reason I was even able to complete the tasks I had done was because someone else was watching my child.

On the days when I’m with my son by myself (which is most days), we go to the park, or to music class, or for a walk. We read books, sing songs, laugh and have fun together. There is even the frequent shameless love fest, with me smothering him with kisses and him giggling until he can’t take it anymore. And at the end of the day, the house is filthy and in disarray, I’m worn out and sticky (with eyeliner creeping down my face in a certain raccoon motif), and no meal has been prepared.

When I’m trying to have fun with Jake, and get a meal on the table, and get work done, and run errands, and clean the house, and be a somewhat pleasant person to be around (for the sake of my son and others around me, including the poor dog…), I am a frantic, sometimes miserable, often stressed-out crazy lady. And that can’t be good for anybody. Happy mommy, happy baby, right?  Happy wife, happy life? All the sayings boil down to a need for me to be happy in order for my family to even stand a chance.

I think this all comes back, once again, to the idea of having it all. I’m not even talking "full-time career, wonderful kids, happy marriage, perfect body, and thriving social life." I’m talking a more basic "dinner cooked, happy kid, house not a wreck, me showered and not a lunatic." Why does this seem like such a tall order??

I recently spoke to one of my oldest friends about this. She is a mom to three little boys (all age 5 and under – the woman is a superhero as far as I’m concerned). She agreed that it is utterly impossible to get anything done if you choose to hang out with your kids. It was an interesting perspective I hadn’t considered. Choose to hang out with your kids. As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t really see any way around the hanging out with my kid part of the equation. He isn’t even one and a half yet, and so there aren’t many options for letting him roam around the apartment while I get things done. (I’m doing a bit of “helicoptering” right now so that he doesn’t bust his lip on the coffee table or try to beat the dog with a wooden block.)

When I think about it, though, I am choosing to hang out with my baby. I don’t have to. I can choose to do the countless other things that need to get done or to be with Jake. I cannot choose to do it all. As my friend said, “What’s more important? Being nice to your kid or having a perfect meal cooked?”

I know that the obsessive-compulsive, type-A, over-achiever in me wants to act like nothing has changed with the addition of our son to our household. But I need to face the fact that everything has changed. And perhaps, in some ways, I need to let go a bit. More than once I’ve heard that being a parent is about learning to let go. And I think that applies to several things, since you cannot control the little people you create – not their colds and fevers, not their tantrums or hunger strikes, and not their desire to assert independence. In this regard, I have to come to grips with the fact that I need to let a night (or three) go by without a carefully planned-out dinner; that the furniture might be dusty; and that we might need to squeeze a little more toothpaste out of the tube because I can’t get to the pharmacy today. These things will all be handled when I have a chance, but not at the expense of laughing and playing with my little man.

Just this week my son started mimicking everything we say in his own version of the English language. It’s the most adorable thing I have ever seen or heard in my entire life. I’m happy that I was with him when he did it, and not juggling everything on my list for the day. The list can wait and as a matter of fact, I’ve been told the world won’t end as a result. We’ll just have to wait and see about that.