I recently went to Uganda, where I spent endless hours plowing through red tape and bureaucracy to help two daughters, ages 12 and 15, obtain the documents they needed to be reunited with their mother here in the United States. When I left, I told my kids I wasn't sure exactly when I was coming back, but that I hoped it wouldn't be more than two weeks. I have traveled a lot over the last year working on a photography project, so I knew my kids were used to me being gone. Plus, I knew they were in excellent hands with our community of neighbors and friends and their father (aka Super Dad). Still, not knowing what it would take to reunite this family was weighing on me. In the back of my mind I was hoping my kids wouldn't hate me in the end for putting the needs of these other children ahead of their own.
As parents we're always working this equation, right? Your children's needs vs. what work needs. Your children's needs vs. what your partner needs. Your children's needs vs. what the house needs. And let's not forget, your children's needs vs. what you need. Sometimes it seems like there isn't enough of what everyone needs to go around, and we worry as parents that are kids will be scarred for life if we get the balance wrong.
I once had an older mom friend who suggested that I reconfigure the right answer to this math problem. Instead of going for 100% needs met at all times for everyone everywhere, she suggested I take an eraser to that penciled in figure and write "good enough". This seemed scandalous to me, since at the time I parented my babies and toddlers under the "over and beyond" is better than the "good enough" rubric.
As I've grown up over the years along side of my kids, I've been forced to reconsider the wisdom of her advice. I know in new and humbling ways that I cannot do it all. I'm gambling that fulfilling my own hopes and dreams will take a big burden off my kids who might be compelled in later years to complete my unfinished business in life. I'm hoping that making space for my own life work is making space for them to consider their own. And you better bet, I have my fingers crossed that "good enough" parenting will be good enough when my kids are running their childhoods under the microscope when they arrive fully awake in their early twenties.
On Sunday, not too long after my two week trip to Uganda stretched into a grueling three, Madeleine presented me with a beautiful handmade card. Neither one referenced the ways that I've taken care of her physical needs or been a steady presence or worked tirelessly on her behalf (three failings I'm tempted to write in the "not good enough" column), but her loving words convinced me that maybe, just maybe, choosing to live a life with a larger purpose might be "good enough".
With her permission, I'd like to share her poem with you. I'm sure I'll be clinging to it for dear life through the inevitable storms of girlhood, but for now, these kind words (and all the ways we all try to do our very best at loving and at parenting) feel like more than enough.
The Most Important Thing
The most important thing about my mom is that she cares.
She is the person I wake up for in the morning.
She lights up our lives like a dozen fireflies floating around in an open field.
She is loved beyond anything she can imagine.
She brings people together in a way so beautiful no photo, painting or word can describe.
She can solve any problem with the blink of an eye.
She loves people with no hesitation, thought or reason.
She doesn't know it, but they love her, too.
But the important thing about my mom...is she cares.