Control What You Can, Because The Rest Is Out Of Your Hands

Have you ever said to someone “You control your happiness! It’s in your hands!” only to have them say “Really? Because my daughter threw up three times last night and we’re two payments behind on our mortgage.”

Well, yeah. Which is why I hate those pithy little sayings and would never actually say them to a real human being.

There is so much in this world that we can’t control. But that’s why I concentrate on doing it my way when it comes to the things I can control.

If you were to look at pictures from all of the different birthday parties I’ve thrown for my kids, you would be hard-pressed to find a pattern. In fact, you might think they were all thrown by different people.

Oh, look, some woman with disposable income threw a party with a giant red velvet cake and a huge platter of lox!

Huh, that mom didn’t lift a finger for that party – the whole thing was done by the Children’s Museum! They even provided the food!

Wow, are those handmade invitations? Those must have taken hours! And the personalized Thank You cards with pictures from the party? Nice touch!

Umm…bagels and juice boxes in the playground? Sure, you can call that a party if you want to.

All me. All different parties I’ve thrown for my kids. If I’m busy, the party is simpler. If I have time on my hands or some extra money, I go all out.

Same with dinner. This was this past week:

Monday The kids had buttered spaghetti with peas. It was a FastDiet day for me, so I had a frozen dinner. I don’t remember what Omer had – he made something for himself when he got home from work. We all ate at different times. Thinking ahead, I made my favorite pizza dough for the next day.

Tuesday Fiona’s friend was sleeping over, and I made two pizzas (the sauce was already in the freezer – very handy). Fiona and her friend ate together. I ate with Jake at 8:30 after I picked him up from Tae Kwon Do. I would have made three pizzas, but Omer insisted he didn’t want any. The moment he came home and smelled it, he asked if there was enough for him. No! There wasn’t! He ordered Thai food.

Wednesday All four of us managed to sit down together to a completely homemade dinner of baked sole (a super-easy recipe from Jennifer Perillo’s excellent book), mashed potatoes, broccoli sautéed with garlic, and rolls.

Thursday Fiona and I went out to dinner with friends after her tap class at a BBQ restaurant, but I didn’t eat because it was another FastDiet day. When we got home I ate a frozen Amy’s pizza. After Jake got home from Marching Band practice at almost 9pm he also had an Amy’s pizza. Omer ordered Chinese food.

Friday Omer requested that I make this. I’ll also be making this, and this, and carrots sautéed with dill. Friday is the day we’re all most likely to sit down together. I love Fridays.

It’s all over the map. I do what fits on any given day. I love to cook, so when I can fit it in, awesome. When I can’t, trust me, we don’t go hungry.

I don’t ever want to be known as The Mom Who Makes Amazing Lunches. Or The Mom Who Throws Magazine-Worthy Parties. Or The Mom Who Makes Her Kids A Hot Breakfast Every Morning.

That’s a lot to live up to. I’d rather keep people guessing, so that if I’m dealing with a sick kid, nobody will be surprised if Seamless delivers our dinner. Or if I have several deadlines I’m racing to finish and a trip to leave for tomorrow and I haven’t packed, I can outsource the work for a birthday party and just show up and have fun. And as often as I need to I just reserve the right to be lazy and phone it all in to save my own sanity. I like my own pizza better, but trust me, the pizza delivery guy knows me well.

And those other times? When I’m inspired and energized? I can run with something! I can put my all into it without being resentful. I can get excited. Because I actually want to do it.

Don’t paint yourself into a corner where you’re up at 2am making cupcakes because you always make homemade birthday cupcakes for your kid’s class. It is nobody’s fault but your own – you had control over that and you decided to hold yourself up to a ridiculous standard that nobody – I guarantee you – cares about half as much as you do.

If you and your spouse both get home at 7pm and you order in most nights, enjoy it. If you simply hate to cook and eat frozen meals and that’s what works for you, good. Whether you make your kids eggs and bacon each morning or they get their own cold cereal, don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it wrong. You do what works for you.

And for the love of GOD, stop obsessing over everybody else’s pictures. I posted this one on Wednesday:

Baked sole from Homemade with Love, rolls, mashed potatoes, broccoli

But I didn’t post anything the day the kids had plain spaghetti. I’m not embarrassed in the least that they had spaghetti, it’s just not an interesting picture. It didn’t occur to me to take one.

Stop beating yourself up. Stop reading Goop. Stop thinking that other people are doing it better. Unless you’re in their house, you don’t know what happens outside of those perfectly-framed pictures.

Do proudly post pictures and brag when you do something well. Do go easy on yourself when circumstances dictate that you put your feet up. Do set an example for your kids of someone who knows how to prioritize and ask for help.

Control what you can. It will leave you much more able to handle the things you have zero control over.


  1. says

    Thanks for keeping it real. It sounds a lot like us, though I’ve been slacking lately and I admit there are some meals I would be embarrassed to post on social media. As the kids get older and busier family meals do get hard to coordinate.

    • says

      @kim: Totally. Weekends are a crap-shoot, but during the week we sit down together twice if we’re lucky.

      I remember seeing someone on Oprah a couple decades ago say “Don’t like cooking dinner? Then do this.” And she poured a bag of pre-cut/washed lettuce into a bowl and screamed “DINNER!” and I was like YES! I mean, my version would be take-out or frozen, but I wasn’t even married yet and knew that that’s how I wanted to be.

    • says

      @kim: Oh, and seriously, more embarrassing than spaghetti? There wasn’t even any sauce! The kids didn’t care. I guess I’m lucky that my kids are pretty easy. Fiona will eat anything, and Jake eats hardly anything, but that works to my advantage when I don’t feel like cooking anything complicated!

  2. Carrie Roth says

    Amen Sister! I love to go all out when I want to go all out. But there are definitely times when the pizza guy and Costco cakes will do just fine.

  3. says

    We are in week 2 of strep and the tummy bug. They are finally holding stuff down and so when they asked if they could have Drumstick ice cream cone things at 10 am I thought, “Eh, why not?”

    It’s so empowering to let things go a bit.

    I asked the kids why I didn’t feel as well as they did, “Well mom, you didn’t have a Drumstick, did you think about that?” said the 5 year old. I think acknowledging you can’d control it all is probably as restorative as the occasional Drumstick. So excuse me while I go paw through the freezer.

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