“Simple Wisdom” is a series of posts exploring life through the uncomplicated, baggage-free, brilliant eyes of a child. They often have a richer understanding of what matters most in life, if only we’d pay attention.
After a routine bedtime chat last week, I tucked my five-year-old under her cozy covers, nuzzled her nose, kissed her cheek, gave her one more squeeze, and bid her goodnight. A few moments later she called me back into her room, which is not unusual, but this time she seemed extra distraught. I climbed back into her bed and tried to talk her through it. She fought her lip as it curled into a heart-wrenching pout reminiscent of her early toddler days, and she cried out, “I just want our old life back!” I asked her to help me understand what she meant and between sobs she clarified, “I want you and me and Daddy to be in our home.”
What a simple request. It should be so simple to fulfill.
The first seven months of this year were largely scheduled (read: overscheduled) by late-January: Rotating visitors in our guest room every few weeks, trips to Florida, east Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, a half-dozen weekend gigs, juggling guests at our cabin, and a 40th birthday celebration. A schedule bursting with exciting events, but bursting nonetheless.
Too Much of a Good Thing Is Still Too Much
We were doing too much. I knew it. My body knew it. My gut definitely knew it. But my outward-facing brain–the one hard-wired to please others–found every way to convince the rest of myself that I had to keep going. I was doing this for my friends and my family and my husband. We have space to host people; we need to use it. We get invited on fun trips; we need to go. And I was doing this for my daughter! An only child needs play dates after all. She needs to spend time with our extended family, none of whom live nearby. She needs to travel. To experience a broad range of activities so she’s a well-rounded kid. She is about to start kindergarten, so we need to make the most of this time before we’re at the mercy of a full-time school schedule.
None of these things is inherently bad or wrong, which is why I was so effective at convincing myself I was giving her “the good life,” and that this rhythm of our lives was completely reasonable. However, it was breaking me in the process. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
I let the societal messaging I’ve been spoon-fed all my life take the wheel. Look at all of those “need to” statements above. Those ideas came from somewhere outside, but they played loudly enough on repeat that I believed they came from within. I joined the cult of busyness. But I couldn’t see another way without disappointing people. People I love and care about and with whom I genuinely want to spend time.
My Daughter Needs What I Need; But She’s Much Better at Asking for It.
Luckily, my girl hasn’t gotten those same messages yet. She is pure and untainted by the world’s expectations of her. When I reach a breaking point, I muscle through. When she reaches a breaking point, she cries out for change. She doesn’t second-guess her instinct, because she trusts that it’s right. She doesn’t worry about what others will think of her, so she is free to voice her needs without fear or guilt or shame. And that is precisely what she did.
She felt overwhelmed by all of our recent doing, and pleaded for some space to enjoy more being. And I couldn’t have been prouder… or sadder, because even with the best of intentions, I put her in this position. I empathized with her overwhelm and shared that I felt the same. I hugged her and thanked her for communicating those needs with me, and promised to protect our time over the next few weeks before and just after school starts. I blocked out any remaining white space on our calendar as “SACRED.” I told my husband she needs the three of us to be in our home, without any house guests, and to feel like we have ample time to enjoy being here.
Independence vs Interdependence
My husband and I are excellent partners in that we freely encourage one another’s independence to spend time with our respective friends, recharge separately as introverts, attend professional events, and hold down the fort at home while the other travels for work. This worked out beautifully in our couplehood. But as a family, it has its limits.
Our daughter notices when our schedules pull us in different directions too frequently. It’s often Daddy/daughter time while Mama is elsewhere, or it’s Mama/daughter time while Daddy is elsewhere. Once a month, we sneak in a date night. Then we all come together to spend time with family and friends. Our days as the three musketeers are few and far between. She knows we don’t love each other any less, but she misses the opportunities for the three of us to spend quality time together without other friends and family around. I’ve felt it, and now I see how deeply she feels it.
It is important to me that she sees her parents maintain a strong marriage. It is also important to me that she sees us not only as a unit, but as two healthy individuals with dreams and jobs and lives outside of one another. But it is most important to me that she feels the steadiness of a sturdy family foundation beneath her feet, and the mortar that binds the stones of our foundation is made of quality family time.
Adults can be freely independent. But by their very nature families are interdependent. We need each other. We need time with each other. And we need to protect and celebrate that togetherness.