I had the “perfect” pair of lamps in my living room.
(Notice, I used the word had. As in past tense.)
Somewhere along the line as we were building our home and imagining all the ideal outcomes, I had pinned a picture of a sofa table and two mercury glass lamps. They would be just “perfect” for our living room.
Well, months and months later, after lots of work (and even enough time for the skin on my “caulking finger” to go back to normal), when the house was finally finished and starting to feel like home, I happened upon a pair of mercury glass lamps for a bargain. They were perfect and the price was a steal.
I couldn’t pass them up.
But as they sat sheltered in my kitchen, with the price tags still attached, I started having second thoughts.
I have four young boys.
And I was about to put two glass lamps in the middle of my living room?
Was I crazy?
My mother in law loves decorating. She also happens to know what it’s like to raise a house full of kids. (EIGHT as a matter of fact.) So I gave her a call to double check my judgment.
And her answer flipped my thinking in the most helpful way.
“Well,” she said. “I don’t think moms should wait their whole lives to have nice things. But tell me this. Will you be OK when they get broken? Because they probably will eventually.”
And here’s where she totally changed my perspective.
“But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Kids need to learn about how to be careful and what happens when we’re not. You can’t shield them forever from those consequences. And when one gets broken, you can always move the remaining one to another spot in the house, and they’ll see it and remember what they learned about cause and effect and how to be careful.”
“If you can be OK with that, I say you should definitely keep them.”
And so I did. (Though I confess, I did use a hot glue gun to stick them to the table — a little extra stability never hurt anybody!) I loved the way they looked in my living room. They were “perfect”.
(Notice I used the past tense again. I’m sure you know what’s coming.)
As my boys grow, it’s definitely different from when I had a house full of babies and preschoolers. The hazards and concerns are different. And while, in many ways, safety issues are much less of a concern, at the same time, these boys are getting bigger. Which means their movement is bigger. And propelled by bigger muscles.
And when they roughhouse and wrestle, and maybe, say, I don’t know, swing couch pillows around, for example, the force is greater.
It can even knock over a lamp that has been glued to a table.
And when that day came, I was so grateful that my mother in law predicted its inevitability. That she had already shifted my mindset to see that accident as a great learning opportunity.
And so they did experience natural and logical consequences — remorse, cleaning up glass — and we did talk about the disappointment of what happened.
But because my perspective had already been shifted, I could respond with a pre-planned speech about how it is more important to me that we learn than that we have perfectly nice things. That I did really like that lamp, but that accidents happen. And that losing a lamp isn’t as disappointing to me as not learning the lesson from our mistakes.
Perspective and expectations are powerful aspects of parenting — and of working with children in general.
When we have unrealistic expectations, we will be disappointed and frustrated, over and over again. And we will often see the failure as being out of our control, which is actually even more frustrating. But when we can back up to see our own role, our own perspective, and recognize our own power to change the way we think and the way we respond, we begin to see a big difference.
My new perspective about my lamps as a chance to learn didn’t bring back those broken shards and reassemble them back into their perfect form. But yelling and crying over them wouldn’t either.
From the outset, my expectation and focus was not on having “perfect” lamps, but on helping my boys learn how to be careful. Whether they learned that concept by preserving the lamps or by inadvertently destroying them, with the right perspective I was prepared for either path.
I live in an imperfect home with an imperfect family and four imperfect (albeit fantastic) boys, who have unfortunately inherited their mother’s perfectly clumsy genes.
Accidents will happen.
And happen again.
I won’t be purchasing any housewares that are so expensive I can’t recover from their destruction, because my mother in law taught me to ask myself, “Can I be OK when they break?”
Because my perspective, my highest goal, isn’t about the stuff. It isn’t about decorating a home to rival the skills of Queen JoJo herself. My main priority is to raise good kids and a strong family.
And sometimes that gets messy.
Even “Queen JoJo” (Joanna Gaines) had this realization, long before my dearly departed lamp bit the dust. In her book, The Magnolia Story (affiliate link), she said:
I realized that my determination to make things perfect meant I was chasing an empty obsession all day long. Nothing was ever going to be perfect the way I had envisioned it in the past. Did I want to keep spending my energy on that effort, or did I want to step out of that obsession and to enjoy my kids, maybe allowing myself to get messy right along with them in the process? I chose the latter – and that made all the difference.”
Whether in our classrooms or in our homes, we have to always keep in mind our highest objectives, our truest perspective. Because it’s easy to get caught up in unrealistic expectations and Pinterest perfection, but our real work and our real rewards are right in front of us. In the messy details.
Be brave enough to let go of “perfect” and hold on to what really matters.
Find out more about my course, Letting Go of Perfect: The Art and Science of Being and Awesome Mom without Losing Your Mind.
And check out this quick 30-minute mini-class focused on how to keep social media from making you feel like a failure.
Margaret Alvarez says
Amanda, thank you so much for sharing this story. Your willingness to learn and grow in this parenting adventure is inspiring! Plus, I love your light touch when telling us about an experience which must have been hard, even though your mil helped you prepare for it. 🙂
Perspective is everything. I am learning that more now that my kids are 4 & 6; I wish I had been able to take this message to heart a little earlier in my parenting journey. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.
Sweet post! It reminds me too of the times I was doubtful on whether to give glass cups to my kids to drink milk. My hubby had told me to go on and that they should learn how to use it carefully.
He was right. They broke two cups and after that- my kids have always been careful.
A great article. I find that when I think of developmentally appropriate behaviors for kids that it helps keep my expectations in check. I always strive to stretch my children a bit to learn and do good, but not to expect perfection. Your MIL’s insight is very true. At the end of the day, we also have to think of what is more important to us- our children or stuff in our homes. I know what my answer is. 🙂