Last night, my four-year-old asked me if she could show me several toys she had gathered in a basket. That was the entire activity. She pulled out each toy, one by one. First up, a little pink parrot.
“This is my parrot. It’s pink.” Ah.
“This is an earring. It’s yours but I took it.”
“This is a watch. It’s red. So I guess it’s a red watch.”
We did this for the better part of an hour, with her showcasing her found items like Vanna White while I ooh’d and ahhh’d over each one until she was satisfied I fully appreciated their value. After we had gone through the basket a few times, I told her I needed to take care of some things – putting dinner away, returning some emails to a client, and starting our bedtime routine. She asked if we could play afterwards, and I broke the news that the bedtime routine actually involved her going to bed, which was as shocking to her this night as it has been every night this year.
“But we NEVER play together, Mom! That’s not fair!”
I instantly froze. Was I focusing too much on housework and ignoring my kids? Was I being a Martha instead of a Mary, and missing what was happening today in front of me just so I could prepare for tomorrow? Was I sending my daughter the message that dishes were more important to me than she was?
My husband, recognizing the deer-in-the-headlights look in my eyes, intervened. He reminded my daughter of all the time we had spent together today, all the fun we’d had outside and inside and playing princesses and Barbies and, most recently, the game where I watched her pull toys and stolen objects out of a basket. She groused a little more, but eventually consented to the evil bedtime routine and even agreed to put on pajamas, which is not an easy victory to come by in this house.
As I finished the work I wanted to do, I thought about how grown up my kids had become. They will start kindergarten and Pre-K this year, and from there it will only be a short jump to middle school, and then high school, and then, and then, and then… I thought about that saying people have, that you only get 18 summers with your kids before they’re grown and off to a new adventure. I thought about my daughter, and of the ways we had played together today and every day, and the fun we’d had all summer long. Some days were busy – a day at Disney, visiting grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, swim lessons and camps and VBS. Some days were lazy, and no one was dressed until lunchtime, and we didn’t go any farther than the back yard, and we watched too much TV.
You only get 18 summers with your kids.
But does every day of each of those summers need to be perfect?
When I think back to my summers as a kid, I remember the fun stuff – trips to Disney, days at the beach, and all the fun that comes with it. I know my parents put a ton of care into the fun vacations and the big moments, and I cherish those memories. The big moments mean a lot, and are probably just as important to the parents as they are to the kids.
But as much as I loved those things, they aren’t the first things that come to mind when I think of my childhood. The most powerful memories, the ones that stick out the most with vivid detail, are of the little things: Stacking our couch cushions really high and then jumping on top of them while my dad helped and my mom doled out the inevitable Band-Aids; the day we got a new swing set in the back yard; going to my grandparents’ house every Sunday for lunch; trying to convince my brother that our parents had found him at the side of the road and that’s why he was the only lefty in the family; the nights my sister let me sleep in the top bunk even though it was hers. It is the dozens, probably hundreds, of tiny moments that I look back on now, and that I think of when I am creating memories for my own children.
I heard a phrase recently that has stuck with me: Done is better than perfect.
At first, I didn’t like it. By its own definition, perfect is better. It’s perfect. Done can’t be better. (It actually reminded me of a phrase from Paw Patrol: Do your best and forget the rest! That sounds really encouraging, until you realize the firedog is saying it and that he’s the one responsible for saving your life.)
Perfect is better. Until it isn’t.
In my daughter’s mind, the amount of time we had spent playing together wasn’t perfect – because, for her, the only perfect thing would be if the playing never stopped, except for small breaks in which I would be allowed to get her applesauce. We would play all day and all night every day of the week and it would never be enough, because she’s four, and that’s how four-year-olds think.
In my own mind, I could look back at a long list of necessary chores and start to feel the guilt over doing them instead of playing with my children all day long. I could pick and pick at our fun day until I had torn it to shreds, ignoring all of the joy we’d experienced as a family and only remembering the parts where I was less than perfect. My Pre-K daughter, who has a promising career as a mind ninja, had me questioning whether I was focusing on the wrong things, worrying about the wrong stuff.
But here’s the thing – eventually, somebody has to do the dishes. A time will come when we have to go to bed. Someone has to sweep the floors before the EPA condemns the house. These things aren’t used as a means of ignoring my children, but as a means of fulfilling my role in my household. (I will take this opportunity to let you know that my husband is the one who actually cleaned up dinner and dishes last night, because he is rad that way.) There will come a point in the day where I do need to wash some clothes if I want any of us to have clean underwear tomorrow. I also work outside my home, and I’ve discovered others tend to get a smidgen annoyed if you stop returning their calls or emails for days.
Likewise, my kids need me to play with them. They need me to get off my phone and look into their eyes when I answer their questions. They need me to watch them do a flip on the couch for the fortieth time. They need me to be the snack keeper, the answer looker upper, the book reader, and, apparently, the third Transformer. They need me to be their parent and love them each day.
I can’t accomplish 100% of my work and play with my kids 100% of the time. It isn’t possible. I would have to be two people – two perfect people. And I am only one imperfect person.
And that, my fellow parent, is why done is better than perfect.
If my goal is perfection, I am doomed before I start. I am an imperfect mother, wife, friend, daughter, coworker, and everything in between. This isn’t meant to be self-deprecating; just truthful. The list of perfect people who have walked this earth is limited to Jesus. When I set out to be perfect, I am certain to fail.
But when I focus on getting done what I can – not always very well, and maybe downright terribly – and when I focus on the One who is perfect, and who redeems my imperfections each and every day, I suddenly find that life is a little more manageable.
See, I thought that “done is better than perfect” was just an excuse for laziness. But it’s actually an opportunity for me to understand my limitations and focus on the things that I have been called to do.
“Done is better than perfect” really means that you need balance in every part of your life. Not just some parts. Not just the parts you think people can see. Not just the parts you feel guilty about. Every part. It means that some nights we stay up late to play and some nights we’re in bed early because Mommy and Daddy are tired. It means keeping up with my own work, and taking time for myself, and being there for my kids, and being there for my husband.
Yesterday, my daughter and I rode a magic carpet, ate lollipops, helped some princesses find their sisters, and ran around in circles while my son chased us with his Batman toy (which I made the mistake of calling a doll earlier, and I am still very, very sorry, Joshua). After dinner, I braided her hair, showed her some videos of her swimming, and she topped it all off with the toy showcase extravaganza.
Because we were at home most of the day, I also managed to get some work done that I had been putting off – scrubbing my floors clean of a Mystery Substance that was now large enough to have its own zip code, putting away a pack of Pull-ups that had taken up semi-permanent residence on my kitchen counter, and finally remembering to actually start the load of clothes waiting in my washer instead of adding “just one more thing.”
Before you’re too impressed with me, I need you to know that I also managed to catch up on one or twelve episodes of my “stories,” as Daniel would call them.
I could have played with my kids more. I could have gotten more work done. I will always be able to find fault with the way I manage my time.
But done is better than perfect.
It’s actually good for kids to learn to play on their own – they have to use their imaginations, which is a vital skill, and it fosters independence. It’s good for children to learn about boundaries, and that while they are very much loved, sometimes things aren’t about them. It’s healthy for a child to see a parent as their own separate entity. I think it’s great for my children to see their father and mother working hard, both in and out of our home, and leading a family. It’s important for children to learn about being content and not getting another toy or a trip to McDonald’s.
It’s also good to realize that, oftentimes, dishes aren’t more important than snuggles. Going to bed late in the summer probably won’t hurt anyone. A study that I just recently made up shows that, in our house, the seventeenth round of Spiderman And Snow White Meet Some Ponies is actually the best round. You can always start the washer tomorrow if it means you get to play tag for an extra few minutes with your soon-to-be kindergartner. McDonald’s doesn’t have to happen every day, but a little treat goes a long way. Playing dress-up is actually pretty fun, and it turns out it doesn’t take very long to button a dinosaur costume – and the resulting dinosaur is downright adorable.
Do you see? I finally learned, all the way at the end of our fifth and sixth summers, that it is okay that I hadn’t planned out every minute and made each day unforgettable. It is okay that, some nights, I went to bed early, because I was just exhausted. It’s okay that, on more than a few occasions, I left a pot to “soak overnight” (we all know what that means) and helped my kids make paper airplanes instead. It’s okay that we spent money on trips and fun days, and it’s okay that the other days were spent at home. It’s okay that I asked my kids to play quietly while I got on the phone with my boss. It’s okay that I asked my boss to move a phone call because my kids needed me.
It’s okay that the little moments were as important as the big ones. It’s okay. It’s done, and I did it the best way I could – imperfectly.
When we start to think, even for a moment, that we can be perfect, we immediately stumble. We are looking to ourselves to do a job that can only be completed by Christ. But when we recognize our imperfections, and strive to do the best our limited selves can do, we find that the perfect moments we’d been waiting for were there all along.
You only get 18 summers with your kids. Don’t spend them looking for perfection so often that you miss the messy days right in front you.
Done is better than perfect.