On a busy morning this week, I was getting my 7 year-old in the car to head to school and explaining how I would rather spend the evening with her but I had another obligation. My daughter froze. She put her hand on my arm, looked me in they eye and said, “Mommy! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
And that was that. I stayed home that evening.
If you were to ask me what I value most, I would say my family. But if you looked at my calendar and tried to guess what I most value...well, you’d think I value doing my taxes, and going to meetings, and paying bills.
I fit in the things I value between the things I feel obligated to do. I schedule obligations and I fit my family in in between.
Doesn’t that seem backwards?
Yes, we have to pay bills. We have to work. But the really, really important stuff, the stuff that feels like the reason we exist in human form, that stuff should be scheduled too. The things we value most, like hanging out with our family, that should be on our list of “things that have to get done this week.”
The problem is that we don’t see the clock ticking on our relationships. We know the hard deadlines for work, and the due date for bills, and dates of the events we need to attend, but no one can tell us the expiration date on our relationships.
And I don’t just mean death, though that is always a possibility. I mean, no one can tell me the last time my son will crawl in my lap to watch a movie. No one can tell me the last time my daughter will ask me to build a fort with her.
It’s better that way, of course. I don’t want to know all the lasts. Every moment would be bitter sweet. But I don’t want to miss the lasts either, or the firsts, or the in betweens.
It’s immediately clear when I’ve missed an opportunity to attend a show, or a party, or a meeting, but I’ll never know what opportunities I missed with those I love. I’ll never know what moments could have been, because I wasn’t there to help create them.
I know for certain that in the last couple of weeks, I’ve let people down. I haven’t been able to be what they wanted me to be or be where they wanted me to be. I don’t like that. These are people I care about. People that deserve my time and attention, but every moment is a choice.
When we choose to do one thing over another, we will inevitably let someone down. I just don’t want my kids or my husband to always be that “someone”. My kids are going to be different people next week than they are this week. They’ll be bigger, they’ll be able to do more, they’ll know more.
So I’m going to schedule time to get to know them this week. I’m going to prioritize that. That’s going to mean saying no to other opportunities. That’s going to mean letting other people down.
I wish I could say that I’ll refuse to feel guilty about that. I will still feel guilty. But I’m going do it anyway.
Our calendars should be a reflection of what matters most to us.
Julie Mitchell owns Outside the Lines Creative Studios with her husband, Markus Baldwin.