As moms, we all recognize the value of a solid routine. We have them for chores, mealtimes, bedtimes, and even our vacations. Our routines help us get out the door each morning at a reasonable hour (usually) and in one piece (hopefully). They maintain our sanity and they give us a semblance of composure and control. We carefully balance these family routines with work, school, and extracurricular activities, and if we’re lucky, they keep our homes humming along at a maintainable if monotonous pace.
These routines, or “scripts,” are invaluable, especially when our children are young.
But if we aren’t careful, we can easily find ourselves feeling stuck and bored, leading wearisome and irrelevant lives that don’t quite live up to the vision we once held for ourselves and our families.
As Annie Dillard has famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” and if our days are endlessly humdrum, our lives will be too.
In their book The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath write, “This is the great trap of life: One day rolls into the next, and a year goes by, and we still haven’t had that conversation we always meant to have. Still haven’t created that peak moment for our [kids]. Still haven’t seen the northern lights. We walk a flatland that could have been a mountain range.”
It isn’t easy to snap out of our ruts. To do this, we must first understand the scripts we are following: why have we chosen to adhere to them? Are they truly serving us, or are they holding us back?
What does life require of us, what do we require of life, and how do our daily scripts fit into this big picture? Only after we understand our personal narratives can we take our lives into our own hands and begin to shape them into stories we have chosen for ourselves, not the ones that were simply handed to us.
According to Chip and Dan Heath, our lives are shaped by “defining moments”—short experiences that are both memorable and meaningful. Often, these defining moments are spontaneous or unexpected, but we don’t have to sit around waiting for defining moments to happen to us; we can create them ourselves. When we strategically break the scripts we’ve been following, defying expectations for how an experience will unfold, we are creating defining moments. This requires energy, intentionality, and a willingness to upset the status quo . . . but it will be worth it! As Tania Lunia says in her book Surprise, “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most ALIVE when they’re not.”
So how do we go about creating defining moments for ourselves and, perhaps even more importantly, for our kids?
There are the obvious ways: an exotic vacation; a move to a new state or a new school; the addition of a new pet or family member. But defining moments don’t need to be extravagant; even small surprises or breaks in routine are enough to be meaningful and memorable. I’ll never forget the day my mom pulled me out of school for an hour at lunchtime for a mother/daughter picnic in the park and a quick dip in the neighborhood pool. Defining moment. Or the Saturday before my little brother was born, when my Dad and I planned and executed an epic Alaskan excursion, all from the comfort of our living room. Defining moment. Or the chilly afternoon when the doula who had attended my son’s birth one year prior swung by my house to drop off a teddy bear for his first birthday. Defining moment.
As a mom who loves structure and struggles to break my own family’s daily scripts, it requires extra forethought and a release of my Type A tendencies to create defining moments for my son.
But I’m doing it! Whether it’s a surprise trip to Zilker park to ride the train on an unassuming Tuesday morning, or a meal eaten picnic-style in the living room in front of a movie, or a night spent sleeping in a pillow fort on the floor . . . these moments cost next to nothing, yet they help to get us out of our routines and form the moments I hope will define his childhood.
Of course, variety is the spice of life, not the entrée of life. None of us could live on a diet of paprika and oregano, and not every day—or every week or even every month—needs to include a defining moment.
A little novelty goes a long way. But as we play with our scripts, and weave these elevation moments into the fabric of our families, we can slowly work ourselves out of our ruts, rising above our routines to cultivate lives we are proud to have led and craft the legacies we want to leave for our children.