If there's one universal truth in becoming a parent -- and there may be only one universal truth in becoming a parent -- it's that life instantly becomes more complex. And stays that way.
The constancy of this battle against chaos struck me recently on the drive to school. From my first moments awake I had been struggling: urging the kids to eat and get dressed, making breakfasts and lunches, packing backpacks. I had decided to save time by not dressing myself, but we were late anyway. We missed the car-pool dropoff and I had to conduct the Walk of Shame: taking my kids to their classrooms in my jammies.
Driving home, I could sense the clock ticking down to the time when I would be late to pick them up. It was time for drastic measures. What if I, for once, followed all that "simplify your life" advice we hear? I decided to do a little experiment and try five techniques that are supposed to make life saner:
This is the simplification tip we seem to hear most often. The premise is easy enough: You're in control of what you allow into your life, so don't allow anything that promises complications.
It makes sense until your 5-year-old tells you she really wants you to volunteer in her classroom, and while you're there, the teacher tells you how much they need items for the bake sale, and while you're baking, the sitter you love tastes the brownies and you love her so much that you let her take a bunch home and decide to whip up another batch, and the next thing you know you're late again and the kitchen is a mess.
That's how it happens.
My problem, really, with saying no is that I don't want to disengage from life, just simplify it a little. So I wondered whether instead of saying no to big things, I could try saying no to littler ones and see if they added up to a real change.
- I said no to making an alternate breakfast when Mare decided she didn't want cereal.
- I offered Ren a choice of only two shirts, and didn't let her dig in her drawer for alternatives.
- I even said no to fixing myself a coffee to go.
Sure enough, we were in the car ten minutes sooner.
The "no" thing backfired when Renny insisted on bringing her doll-baby into preschool. "No!" I said with smug confidence. She started shrieking. I handed her the doll.
Sometimes "yes" can be simpler. The key, I realize, is figuring out when to say what.
Ask for help
This is what you're supposed to do when you have kids, because you can't do it alone, it takes a village, all that. When it comes to the big things -- someone's in the hospital, or your pipes burst, and you need someone to watch the kids -- it's easy to ask for help because you don't have a choice.
But when it comes to the everyday simplify-your-life things, it's harder to ask someone to share the burden. I decided to try asking for help on the smaller things, starting with this project: asking three mom friends each to try one of the tips in their own lives. Karin and Tania agreed. Ellie said no.
"Oh, does your life feel simpler now?" I asked her.
"Simpler than Tania's and Karin's," she replied.
The exchange showed me how closely related asking for help and saying no can be. Were my other friends only saying yes to be polite? Would I owe them something later and feel like I couldn't say no because they had helped me?
At the same time, it was fun to be doing the simplicity project together, and it certainly made my life easier just to ask them how it went instead of doing it myself. So in some ways, asking for help makes life more complicated, but it also makes it more enjoyable. I do think if you are going to ask for help you have to be ready to give it. But what's so bad about that? My friends got to do a fun experiment with me, and owing them one isn't so bad.