On New Year’s Day 2012 I traded my big red toolbox in for a petite elegant handbag. My parenting toolbox was too heavy and cumbersome. It was a fabulous box, bursting with wonderful tools. And when I was relaxed and reflective I could easily open the lid and reach right in. Helping a child to read? Emotionally connecting with a middle schooler? Oh yes, that wrench for silent letters and this clamp for holding us together.
But in the heat of the moment, the lid wouldn’t budge. I’d yank and tug — no luck. So I let it go. And picked up a clutch. A sophisticated bag with simple lines. Big enough to carry only one tool. One single word. And for a year, whenever I felt at a loss about what to do, I pulled out my word. Instead of a set of directions, it was a guiding principle. Instead of a map, an image.
I was surprised by its versatility. When I was in conflict with my kids, I thought about my one word. When someone came home heart broken, I thought about my one word. When there was bickering, I thought about my one word. And I let my response to what was happening be guided by my one word. It became my lodestone, my grounding force.
Can one word work? In one word: yes. And here’s my evidence. I enjoyed my kids more in 2012. I love and adore them as always, but in 2012 I was more relaxed with them, I laughed more with them. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe it was connected to their developmental ages and stages, but maybe it was more- maybe it was my one word.
And beyond being Mom? Since our lives and our parenting are entwined I shouldn’t have been surprised that my one word slipped into the rest of my life as well. I found myself reaching for it in my interactions with my husband, friends, colleagues. And I knew it had permeated everywhere when a dear friend spontaneously reflected this autumn “Emily, you are always filled with such grace.”
Grace. That was my word.
So here we are, in the beginnings of 2013. Grace is gone. But not really, because it has seeped into the fabric of me, making space for a new word. A new focus, a new touchstone. Now that we are a few weeks past the frenetic lists of resolutions, I invite you to try simplicity this year. In moments when your heart accelerates, your breathing becomes shallow, and tempers flare, what one word would best guide you? It may represent a trait, a characteristic, a value. It may be something already a part of you, something you once had that’s been misplaced, or something completely new. It might be joy, simplicity, resiliency, hope. An entire alphabet of options await. But that’s the beauty. It doesn’t have to fill a dictionary. Just one entry. Defined day in and day out by your experiences. Allow your word to surround you like a comforting blanket, let it slip into your heart. Then you’ll know just where to find it when the times come. Because in parenting, they always do.