Big Things are Made out of Little Things

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As I studied third world development and international relations in my undergraduate studies (at Wellesley College near Boston) and went on to study what education is and what more it could be with my Masters (at Harvard University), I figured out a whole lot of seemingly brilliant solutions to many vital issues.

But somehow I never quite got in the position to implement my ideas. I did some cool things – worked in orphanages in Eastern Europe while serving a mission for my church there, did a little humanitarian work in Kenya and Bolivia, ran volunteer-promotion efforts nationwide for The Points of Light Foundation, set up programs in needy schools and ran training programs for educators….

Saren and her sister working with children in Kenya

…then I started having kids.

Because my fertility clock was ticking when I finally found “Mr. Right,” we started our family quickly, the kids came in quick succession, and thanks to a surprise set of twins, I had five kids in just five years.

I loved my kids dearly and was grateful that my deeply-held dream of having a family had come true. But mothering didn’t come as naturally to me as it does to some. The photo below shows a peek at how difficult those few years were.

As I took care of my family, I saw my personal need to be involved in the larger world drift further and further away. I crammed bits and pieces of work for various worthy causes (part-time training and consulting for non-profits, service work for my church, helped a non-profit serving orphanages in Bulgaria get off the ground) in between naps and diaper changes and story time. But mostly my life consisted of doing rather mundane and often unpleasant things for lots of noisy messy wonderful people with many mutually exclusive needs.

One day I read a quote by Mother Teresa’s that stuck with me: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Motherhood is perhaps the greatest example of a long, long string of small things that, done with great love and extra thought, can have ripple effects that go on for generations. Big things are MADE out of little things.

I came to realize that maybe my “cause,” my purpose in life, was right under my nose. Perhaps mothering my own kids, helping make the schools in my own community better, being a good neighbor and friend, learning from and helping the other mothers around me, and blogging about it all was a much “grander” cause than any other I could pursue.

While it’s true that my kids are informed about world issues and pray each night for the orphans in Bulgaria that we do a fund raiser for each Christmas, I hope my kids also are learning something it took me a whole lot of years to figure out: Doing little things to better the world immediately around you and helping with the things you’re already PART OF is vital and beautiful – and often more personally satisfying than trying to impact big groups and sweeping causes.

Taking treats to a lonely neighbor is just as important as sending money to a lonely orphan. Offering friendship to a left-out kid at school is just as important as giving food to a hungry child in Africa. Volunteering in my own kids’ classroom is just as important as changing education systems.

AND… Helping bright, motivated moms find each other and share what they know is just as important as helping non-profits pool their resources and learn from each other – so that’s why I spend so much time working on this website with one of my best friends, April Perry.

The micro matters a LOT. The macro doesn’t happen without the micro. It really is the little things that count.

You and I can change the world, by changing our world…

One person, one mother, one family at a time.

Starting right here with you and me.

Photos by Saren Loosli


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  1. Mia says

    This is an interesting and important post. I agree with your views and it’s refreshing to hear someone put local over global as being just as valid. My background is quite similar to your own in some ways – I’m an academic (PhD in international development. MSc in Dev, BA in social sciences), and have worked in various locations around the world, I also grew up overseas and travelled all over the world as a child. I now have 4 children – boy, girl and twins – all very young.

    I always knew I wanted to be a mother and I love being with them. I don’t believe in child care, I think children should be with their parents….absolute necessity, such as single parents or real financial need aside. I don’t want to miss a moment of my children’s lives and feel that as their mother I am best able to give them a whole and fulfilled childhood.

    I love international development however – it is something that I am passionate about and to that end I continue to work in academic research for development as well as run a development consultancy (past work included aid work, governance assistance, micro-credit etc). But, as you say, it is hard. I work between meals, at night after cleaning up the house, when the children are napping. It means I do everything much slower (!) but it also means I’m not compromising my tme with my children.

    I agree that what is most important is doing what you can, well and with love and passion. In my case, that is being 100% present in my children’s lives, being involved with the community around me, and being involved in development. And above all to be happy with your choice, which I am, and which you also seem very much to be.

    I wish you well.

  2. Brooke says

    I love that quote by Mother Teresa. I try to remind myself every day that by small and simple means GREAT things come to pass. Here is another quote you’d like (you’ve probably already heard it) that goes along with this idea:

    “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences, that we often cannot foresee” -Marian Wright Edelman-

    Our small efforts will have a ripple effect and they WILL reach the other side of the globe because we are all connected. I think it’s great to try and increase awareness of global issues even though what we can mostly spend our time on is our local community. Change doesn’t happen without awareness.

    Great thoughts Saren!

  3. says

    Saren, I enjoyed reading your story and how you came to start this website. I especially enjoyed when you wrote “I came to realize that maybe my “cause,” my purpose in life, was right under my nose. Perhaps mothering my own kids, helping make the schools in my own community better, being a good neighbor and friend, learning from and helping the other mothers around me, and blogging about it all was a much “grander” cause than any other I could pursue.” As a SAHM, it helps me to see the value in what I am doing, right in my own home. Thank you for sharing. I am new to this site and look forward to reading more posts!

  4. says

    This is really thought provoking. I have taken my son out of pre-school because I realised he is not happy there AND I do not share that school’s values. How can I possibly feel like a contributing member of a community if I am not happy being a part of it?

    This months power is the power of acceptance. I was hoping you (or anyone else here) can direct me towards articles that might help me accept that as a full-time studying mother of one (or possibly more with very large gap in age or just an only) my mothering journey is just as valid as the one of stay at home mothers’ with multiple children. I live in a culture where small gaps are a norm and the older my son gets the less of a “real mother” I feel. It is something that I need to accept instead of feeling guilty, but I’m struggling with this.

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