We sat on the floor of my youngest son’s bedroom among a mess of toys, books and unfolded laundry. My young twins (2 at the time) and my oldest son (6 at the time) played happily in an inflatable ball pit full of brightly colored plastic balls near the window.
I pounded the keys on my laptop attempting to fire off one more work email before someone needed their diaper changed or a bottle or a boo-boo kissed. A tear hit my keys. I could feel my heart racing and the guilt of my distraction overwhelmed me.
Why is this so easy for everyone else? Everyone else manages work, children, family, dinner, laundry, home — all so effortlessly. And I am drowning. If only I could get us back to square one — where all the laundry is put away, the house is picked up, the groceries are stocked, the kids are clean and bathed, my inbox is clear … then, then I can be happy.
Another email, marked with two !!s outlining an urgent request, hit my inbox. I closed the laptop shut in defeat and cried.
Luckily my children were too enthralled with the ball pit to notice. I slid my laptop under the bed and leaned back on the wall taking in my surroundings. I took a long deep breath and then another.
I let myself experience that moment with all my senses. I smelled the shampoo I’d used on the children moments before. I watched their little hands grab at balls to toss to one another. I listened to their laughs, straight from their bellies.
There, the children I’d prayed and prayed for played happily. There in the house we saved and saved for. It was a mess. Everything needed my attention. My to-do list was long. And I had no idea what we’d be having for dinner in just a few short hours. But there, in the middle of all of all of my mess and defeat and frustration, grace found me. It looked a lot like joy that came from someplace unidentifiable to loosen up the chains of perfection and allow me to see, with gratitude, that all those things I’d hoped for, they were right in front of me.
Somewhere along the way, someone set a standard for me. And maybe for you too? Someone decided *this* is what the good life looks like: a perfectly organized home, perfectly well-behaved children, and a perfectly managed inbox.
But what I learned, there in the middle of the mess and over the years since then, is that the good life is actually quite messy. It’s pizza party suppers with paper plates on the floor after a busy Friday. It’s living room forts made with chairs and blankets and a lot of creativity. It’s “creation station” with all the trash you can find around the house at the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s choosing a movie night, snuggled on the couch with a warm little hand in yours, over folding that last load of towels. It’s choosing good over great, fun over flawless, and grace over perfection.
And so, we choose what matters most. We set the rest aside for another day. As a recovering perfectionist, it’s not easy and I have to check myself often, but I see the thirst for the true good life in my kids — and that tells me I’m doing a pretty good job.
Emily Ley is a bestselling author and the founder of Simplified, a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women. Emily has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour and Good Housekeeping. Her first children’s book, "You’re Always Enough: And More Than I Hoped For," was released on June 21, 2022.