Pretty soon, articles and social media posts will remind us that it’s time to “pick a word” for 2022 — a motivating mantra for the upcoming year.
I already have my parenting word picked out. It’s the same word that I’ve held close for three years: Enough.
Three years ago, illness ran into our house and shredded my make-the-holidays-magical to-do list. No decorating sugar cookies or wrapping up homemade caramels in wax paper squares. No sending out cards or visiting light displays.
Our Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a pot of spaghetti that a friend lovingly left on the doorstep. Rather than gathering around the piano for caroling, my kids danced around the kitchen to the Chipmunk Christmas album. Another friend brought by a 1000-piece puzzle to keep the kids occupied while I place phone calls and caught up on laundry. It wasn’t what I imagined. But it was magically, mercifully good enough.
A few weeks later, I ran a workshop for high school juniors about time management — a tough topic when the unspoken motto of junior year is Everything Counts for College. I encouraged them to adopt two phrases that I was striving to embrace myself: “better than nothing” and “good enough.”
Sometimes you are going to hand in an English paper that is “good enough” and get some extra sleep, I told them, because that’s the best choice for the moment. And as you structure your evening demands, sometimes you decide that 10 minutes of studying for your math quiz is “better than nothing.”
I borrowed the latter phrase from the research of Laura Vanderkam — a mother of four, time management expert, and author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. She reminds her readers that “something is better than nothing” when it comes to building meaningful habits.
The curse of being a parent journalist is that I constantly consume research that reminds me of things I should be doing to raise brilliant, compassionate, flourishing children. The blessing of the “good enough” mantra is that I know that there are a few important basics, and that on any given day something is “better than nothing.”
For example, I know I want my kids to develop strong health and wellness habits. We may not be running 5K’s as a family yet, but sometimes dance parties with my kids after dinner and that handful of carrots with their chicken nuggets is better than nothing.
I want them to be creative, curious learners. And I trust that those trips to the library, bedtime stories, and unstructured playtime is good enough most of the time.
I want them to be kind and brave, so we talk a lot about emotions: what scares us, what makes us feel happy inside, what makes us grumpy, and what we can do with those emotions. I try to pay attention to the little moments of goodness in my kids — when they are patient with each other or invite a new kid at the park to play — and to point out the goodness in others who cross our path. Tiny kindnesses are so easy to find once we start looking for them.
In our busy modern life, it can be easier to focus on ways we messed up or fell short than on the good we do day in and day out. In her book How to Be a Happier Parent, KJ Dell’Antonia also writes, “Humans are hardwired to focus on the negative. When we train our brains to notice and absorb everyday pleasures — the moments when we are safe and snug and warm with our families around us — we gain a deeper reservoir of joy to bolster us when things get rough.”
Safe and snug and warm: that’s not nothing.
On a “good enough” day, I can find five minutes to really listen to them — without my phone in hand. And I can whisper a final “I love you” before bed, even if the evening went haywire.
Today was a gorgeous autumn day, and I had all kinds of plans for an outing — something special before winter hits New England. But it was one of those weeks, and I woke up exhausted. Thankfully, my neighbors were raking leaves and invited the kids to jump in the pile. And, for them and me, that was good enough.