All is not equal

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I was sitting on the bench last night inside the dojo, watching my son Joshua kick and punch in his mixed martial art class. I drank in the joy of seeing little kids focus intently, and the pure cuteness of seeing Bruce Lee moves from kids who come up to my waist.

Then I got a pit in my stomach.

I realized that I had forgotten to turn in Josh’s monthly homework, due last Thursday. The monthly homework is a great idea — there are handouts with exercises which focus on a core concept being taught that month in martial art class, like integrity or kindness or focus.

Ironically, this month’s topic was on personal responsibility.

Kids must turn in their homework in order to get a stripe on their belt, which qualifies them to “tip test” that month, an important step in progress toward a new belt. No homework = no tip = no test.

What made me feel sick was realizing that the oversight was mine — Josh had been sick on Thursday, and I knew I needed to drop it by the studio, which is right on the way to my office.

But I got distracted by a new site and product launch, and the excitement of a feature in the New York Times.

All worthy items which are important to building a strong business — but which mean nothing to a five-year old who only knows that “Mom forgot something important to me again.”

<Cue dramatic image of Mom clutching heart and falling on the floor in agony, as she realizes she is setting her kids up for some painful stories on the therapist’s couch.>

In every moment, a lesson. In every busy life, a choice.

Thank goodness for life coach training, because I am not one to dwell in guilt for too long. It won’t help me learn, and it certainly won’t help Josh.

I asked myself (as I was pounding the heavy bag in my own adult MMA class):

What lesson can be learned from this experience?

And it came to me:

  • You must prioritize your top values (aka: “I take care of my responsibilities as a parent” or “I value my health”)
  • You must act on these values by making them a priority
  • By not choosing to prioritize your values, and activities, you choose to let important things fall. And unimportant things to receive more of your attention than they merit.

My parenting example could be turned on its head by someone who focused so much on the children’s needs that she ignored her desire to build a business. Or kickstart her acting career. Or get away on retreat with her girlfriends.

“I really would love to quit my loathed job and start a business, but I must first finish knitting mittens for each member of my son’s hockey team, then I have to grow my own organic lettuce so I can make fresh salads for my kids’ lunch every day.”


“I long for rest and exercise, but I volunteered to make homemade soup for 1,000 people each week, and then there are the three meetings a week as Chair of the PTA, and someone has to dig through the neighborhood trash for recyclables. If I don’t do that, who will?”

In this case, I rather like the advice offered by Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit (one of the greatest books I have ever read, written in 1938):

And that is what I would say to to worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could not find a minute for it:

‘If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say:  ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you.  They would probably all become playwrights.”

It will make you feel miserable if you try to be all things to all people, and get everything done on your to-do list each week. It simply is not possible.

You can, however, choose to put focus, energy and time into the important things each week.

Laundry can wait.
Responding to every last comment on your blog can wait.
Two hours in front of the mirror trying to look like Jennifer Aniston can wait.

Snack helper and show and share duty at your toddler’s school shouldn’t wait.
Remembering your best friend’s birthday each year shouldn’t wait.

At least in my world.

Josh will be fine. He is five years old, for goodness sakes, so I don’t think missing one belt test will change the course of his martial arts career, or scar him for life.

I will be fine. I will make different choices about how I prioritize my to-do list, and I will turn in next month’s homework on time.

Choose what’s important to you. And act on it.

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16 Responses to “All is not equal”

  1. […] Pam Slim on sort of screwing over her son […]

  2. I am undone by this post. I am a knitter of mittens. And I’m not even very good at that. But I’m constantly doing for others and neglecting myself. In this example I kept waiting for you to tell how you were going to make it right by your son…and you didn’t. You said, “He’ll be fine.” Because he will. He will learn to value what you do. Just as you value what he does. Both. Both. Both.

    This bothness of life is stunning me right now. So much so I can’t really think of anything else to say.


  3. I recently got engaged and moved in with my fiance. For the first couple of weeks I made no effort to think about my priorities. I would work late, spend time with my friends and come home barely in time to kiss her good night.

    Then I realized “WHAT AM I DOING?!” Here was this wonderful woman who I had moved in with in order to spend the rest of my life with her and I was spending time figuring out the best color scheme for my blogs!

    Yes, I still spend some time on my side business and some time with my friends but I’ve reduced those in favor of what really matters. You’re right, you don’t have to sacrifice everything but it’s nice to know I’m focusing on the things I value most.

  4. Denise Green says:

    I love your hilarious examples of non-priorities, and am grateful for the book recommendation. Thanks, from a mom/entrepreneur with confounding priorities.

  5. Kirsty Hall says:

    Wow, perfect timing for me after I had one of those weeks where I realised that my parenting had been less than stellar recently.

  6. Marilyn says:

    Hey Sister! Inner peace through lowered expectations. 😉

    My main thought is… should five-year-olds even have homework? Let alone “homework packets.”? I remember a friend of mine whose first grade teacher was chewing her out over not signing some homework thing that needed to be returned. She replied, “So this is my grade, then. not my kid’s.”

    We strive to be perfect parents. But our kids shouldn’t be punished if we screw up. I’d say turn in the packet with a note explaining what happened and go on. (Just don’t forget the cupcakes if there is a party.)

    Big hugs, Marilyn

  7. Pam,

    Thank you for the compassionate reminder that we all need to do an internal values check on a regular basis. I really appreciated something I heard in a training once: “If we made a list of everything that ABSOLUTELY MUST be done (to be good parents, to run a business, etc), and then honestly addressed the time it would take to do each item on the list, we would realize that no single person can accomplish each thing.” So, as you pointed out in your lovely, honest, post, we all need to give ourselves permission to assess our priorities and do the best we can. And if we fail, to forgive that and keep moving!

  8. Allan Bacon says:

    Really, really nice piece, Pam. So powerful to be able to see parenting through your eyes as you worked through something that most of us would gloss over, blow off or stress out over.

    What a wonderful response!


  9. So, earlier today I was thinking along similar lines. I asked that basic awareness question: am I acting in accord with my values?

    It’s basic but damn hard to live by.

    I passed with mostly okay colors until I remembered that I hadn’t called a friend back. Or remembered to send out an email. And that I couldn’t remember the time I commented on a dear friend’s blog to tell her that she rocks.

    We can’t make up for lost chances in the sense that those choices are in the past. All we can do is show up for today.

    You rock, Pam. (See you tomorrow.)

  10. First, I have to say that it would take at least three hours for me to look like Jennifer Aniston. Four, if I haven’t brushed my wig yet.

    It’s especially interesting going from corporate job to independent gig when you have kids. When I worked at my corporate job, all I could do was whine about how they were always taking me away from my family. If only I had my own company, I could work at home and spend more time with them!

    Irony kicks in when I rushed through the kitchen today to grab another cup of coffee while trying to avoid my 3-year old who suddenly noticed… Daddy’s here!

    “Daddy do you have to work or are you going to play Transformers?”

    Ugh. I’m so busy! So much to do! I’m already behind today!

    I realize the only thing that’s changed is my work environment. I still have the same power of choice I did then, which is to spend a few extra minutes playing Transformers.

    I wouldn’t have gotten fired then and I won’t lose my business now. I wish I could say I was present enough to discover this for myself. But I am grateful I read your post today. Thank you!

    WonderParent Powers… Activate!

  11. Jesse says:

    Hi Pam,

    I’ve never commented on your blog before, and only checked it out a couple times. You see, I’m the person who focuses almost all time and attention on her kids and barely manages to write a blog.

    I’m glad I found this post.

    I needed it.

    Thank you

    p.s. From one mom to another, I can tell you were doing your best.

  12. Gayla Kraus says:

    That was a great post and a very timely one for me. I just started my own business and am struggling with finding the time to still do the other things in life that matter to me.

    Thank you for helping me remember my priorities.

  13. Nancy Hagen says:

    Loved it Pam! A great lesson to pass on.

  14. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pamela Slim, Terri Zwierzynski, mindycrary, Sandi Faviell Amorim, Shauna Harper and others. Shauna Harper said: RT @pamslim: "All is not equal," my "failure as a mother" moment last night, and how I recovered from it: […]

  15. Nice post Pam. Funny how we constantly heap more on our plate, like we are constantly in line at a Las Vegas Buffet!

    Somewhere inside we need an alarm that goes off that says “Enough Is Enough!”

    People Pleasers… all of us!

  16. Thanks for sharing this, Pam. It’s one of the things I love about you…being willing to share all of yourself, not just the smooth, polished stuff (I still remember the “potato chips for dinner” story!)

    In the end who we are is what’s important…not the little mistakes we make. Doesn’t always help in that panicky moment, but it sure does when you have a chance to calm down and breathe.

    I’ll try to remember this the next time I have one of these moments…they are plentiful!