I have a little book of quotes I started keeping when I was in high school. In preparation for this post I looked through it, trying to choose a favorite or extra meaningful one. There are some real gems, many of them with special memories or big life decisions or insights attached to them, and it was really difficult to choose just one.
But lately, a lot of wisdom from other moms has been coming to mind. Probably more than anything, this four word question catches me in a hectic or despondent moment and helps me put things back into perspective and smooth my ruffled feathers:
I first learned about this question from a grandmother, who had raised six children of her own - three of whom were exuberant and - ahem - creative, busy boys. She said at one point early in her work as a mom that she was having a particularly trying time with her children and it seemed the house was in perpetual commotion and things were a mess and the kids were always in trouble. She went to church one day and the Sunday School teacher passed out little refrigerator magnets with this question on it, explaining that when things seem out of our control or our problems seem insurmountable, or even when we are beset by a million little complaints or inconveniences, we should ask ourselves, "Does it really matter?"
This grandmother said she kept that little question posted on her refrigerator for years, and when things came up, she would pause and ask herself, "Does it really matter?"
In many ways, it helped her choose her battles with her kids. For example, did it really matter in the long run that her boys wanted to have long scraggly hair? (Something that parents tended to freak out about then.) Not really. They were good kids making generally good decisions - they would grow out of fashion statements eventually and she could leave that issue alone.
At other times, asking herself this question simply helped her to pause long enough - when something really did matter - so that she could decided on a wiser, more kind or effective way to communicate why it mattered to her children or to her husband. In this way, she was more often able to teach and guide instead of nag or condemn. She was able to ask, "Does it matter enough to make my child feel small or hugely guilty, or to drive a wedge between my husband and I that I'll feel sorry about later?"
I've come to love this question. Truly, there are so many things that we as women and mothers consistently beat ourselves up over. We try to keep the house just so, we want our kids to look clean and smart and obedient all the constant time, we want them to be happy and so try to orchestrate their activities, responses, choices...And sometimes when things don't go according to OUR plan - which they often don't, seeing as how there are other human beings involved who don't have the same plan and who like to make their own choices - we get all bent out of shape and tend to think our life work is just going down the toilet.
At least I do. Sometimes.
But asking myself, "Does it really matter...
...if Calvin has one more popsicle?"
...if Henry insists on wearing his sandals on the wrong feet?"
...if the laundry doesn't get done one more day?"
...if I stay up and rock Henry to sleep instead of making him go to bed on his own like I know he can?"
...if Cal stays home like he wants to, instead of being dragged to soccer/preschool/swimming lessons today?"
...if the boys touch the windows/mirrors/walls one more time with their little grubby hands?"
These are all small, preschool age type things, and eventually I know there will be things that I will have to lock horns over and assert my point. There are absolutely things that matter in the greater scheme of life, and it's my job as a mom to teach and enforce certain standards - but how refreshing it is to be able to let go of the little things.
And how nice when my kids want to come to me, and talk to me, and confide in me, because they know that not every word that comes out of my mouth is going to be a command or reprimand. That, to me, is something that does matter.
(Now, click on over to My Many Colored Days to see what Lei and the other Woman to Woman participants had to share this week!)