Pursuit of the Perfect Plan

Photo by Decidely Digital at www.flickr.com

Here is how it happens to me. I read a book, talk to a friend, or see a parenting show on TV, and suddenly I’m sure I have the solution to all my problems. I prepare, research, design, and over think everything. I put my new plan into place as soon as I can, and hope for the peace, serenity, and joy it has promised.

Then, just days later, I throw in the towel yet again. The new plan didn’t work. Either my kids hated it, or I did. It didn’t fit our situation, our schedule, our preferences, and our values. Somehow, someway, it just didn’t work.

So I go on the search again. I’m always looking for the “perfect plan.” It’s the one plan that has everything I need, solves every issue I’ll ever come across, and fits perfectly with our family. If you guessed that I’m still looking, you’re right.

My oldest son has ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), and as I’ve researched ways to help both him and the family, I’ve come across a lot of “perfect plans.” One of the leading experts on ADHD suggests a fairly complex system of rewards for good behavior. It includes earning points for chores and other good behavior, redeeming those points for all activities big and small, and a couple different ways of tracking who has what points available. With three children under the age of 8, this was simply too much to handle. I’ve simplified it to fit our family. Instead of tracking points, we just know that unless your chores are done and your attitude is good, the electronics stay off and friends can’t come over.

Chore charts are another issue in my house. For my daughter, they are very motivating. My sons couldn’t care less about charts and points and pictures. Instead of trying to force everyone to enjoy the cute pictures and clever ideas as much as I do, I just make a small chart for my daughter, and find other ways to remind my sons of their jobs. Everyone is happier.

Many times as I’ve discarded most or all of a “perfect plan.” I’ve felt discouraged and wondered if I’d ever succeed at mothering. Then I realized I’ve been building our perfect plan all along. By choosing one good thing over another good thing, I’m doing the best I can for our family: and that’s okay.

I am slowly coming to realize that my way of mothering isn’t at all like anyone else’s, and that my differences are a good thing. My children are nothing like anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing too. If I mothered them the same way my neighbor did, they’d be miserable. Her children would probably stage a revolution if she tried things exactly my way.

Mothering my own way, without comparing myself to others, is difficult for me; but with the failure of all those “perfect plans,” I have found a desire for more independent and individualistic parenting. We’ve cut out activities that no longer meet our needs or detract from the more important uses of our time. I’ve decided that family breakfast can be just as important as family dinner. I’m setting aside my guilt about paying for preschool instead of participating in a neighborhood co-op. I’m nowhere near the “perfect plan,” but now that I’m looking inside myself to find it, I’m closer than ever before.

QUESTION: What are the things that you do differently than the mothers around you?

CHALLENGE:  Can you stop comparing your mothering with those around you? Choose one thing you do differently and honestly evaluate whether it blesses your family. If it does, let go of the guilt. If not, look inside your heart and ask for family input. Is there a better solution for your family?

*** For great ideas to help you develop your own “perfect plan” for your own unique situation, check out our new Family Systems Webinars.


  1. Risé B. says

    I used to beat myself up so badly about my mothering. Lots of anxieties I have experienced having come from a home with an abusive mother. I was, and still am, very conscious about being ‘mom.’ I am always watching my words … do they offer life, or death? Is it an encouragement or a detriment? Are my (and husband’s) rules really for our children’s benefit or is it a form of control?? Am I asking them to do too much? Am I asking them to do too little? I am more on edge about it because I do not want any abusiveness being passed down to my kids.

    I have strived to not parent like my abusive mother did. And it’s hard when you grow up being abused in such a manner as I was because for many years, it was my ‘normal.’ And there is nothing normal about abuse. I knew that how she treated me had no reason to it and the older I got the more evident it became. No child should live a life unloved by a parent.

    So because I was, and still am to some degree, so hypersensitive to being a good mom – there are days I can be a complete wreck and can feel like a complete failure.

    Just a few days ago, I went on a long walk with my husband as I vented some frustrations. I assured me that I am a good wife and a good mother. It meant the world to me to hear those words. It’s all about the love … without love all the chore charts and a well kept home mean nothing. I love to keep a nice home, but if you came to visit – it looks nice, but it also looks lived in.

    This post was awesome for me. As mothers I am convinced that we can only do the best that we can. I discovered too that part of being a great mom is to never be afraid or hesitant in apologizing to one’s children when one needs to and to never cease telling them and showing them you love them (which does not necessarily mean buying them everything they want.) I’ve tried all the charts for chores too … I have tried incentives … there is no ‘one thing’ that fits every kid. I wish.

    Whatever I have done does not make for real tidy kids … their rooms are messy and it doesn’t seem to bother them as much as it does me. But what does work is when I do ask them to do any chores around the house, the task asked for is done without complaining. I don’t know how I managed that – but I will take that help over nagging them for clean rooms. :) I am a mother of three, two of which are now in their teens … so far, so good.

    I have strived more in my mothering in just being a present mother, being there for my kids when they need me, when they need to talk to me. We have family discussions at supper every day about family issues and what goes on in each other’s lives. It took me some time to see it, but I have come to know that the relationships we have with our kids is far more important than a chore list and keeping our home in a state of show. And as a result, our kids can come to us with anything and challenge us on anything (respectfully of course.)

    There are tons of articles out there about on how to make a home beautiful, how to be a good mom if not a great mom, how to have order and how to organize … but how to love as a mother – that would be something to write more about! :)

  2. michelle says

    Firstly, I love this article. It’s Me!!! Over the Christmas Holidays I researched every blog possible and downloaded and laminated every chart you could find to get the house in order for the new School Year. Everything was perfect, except for one little problem, my kids are human beings and have their own personalities – shame on them. They started school last year and by half way through the year they were on track. It was a learning experience for all of us, but finally they knew their routine in the morning and afternoon and were actually doing little chores that made them feel responsible.
    This year has been horrible. Chores have gone out the window, as simple routines are not even being followed. Term 2 has just commenced and we are getting a little order back.
    I blame myself not them. Firstly it’s a new year which means new teacher, new students, alot more work load. I should have given them some breathing space to adjust and not expect them to work like robots from week 2. They are doing alot better, and encouragement is always the key.
    As for comparing myself to other parents. The way our household is run compared to family & friends who have toddlers, it is very different. I don’t keep a completely clean house day in day out. I have told myself I will change, but at this point I realise I will never be that type of mother. I have friends who have children at the toddler stage and their house is spotless and they’ve even trained their children to pick up after themselves. Although I understand the logic behind this, I don’t believe in kids being spotless all the time and not being able to play freely rather than structured.
    Also, these mothers I’m comparing myself against have 1 child. From day dot I pretty much had the 2 kids. They were born 12 months apart, and once my daughter turned 2 she was diagnosed with Global Developmental Delay. This is not my excuse for everything I’e done right and wrong, it is purely my reason of where my distractions have been. Getting my daughter to speak at her level, running her around to professionals, playing developmental games becomes more important than how neat everything is. And I’m glad for that, it has shown me what is important in life. Getting down on your hands and knees and playing with your children at THEIR level is all that matters. And when they’re adults, they’re the things they will remember.

  3. StephJ says

    There are two things I do that are “against the grain” compared to other mothers around me. The first is that my older kids only do one extracurricular activity each at a time. I feel that family time is much more important than exposing them to activities they will have their whole lives to learn how to do those things if they choose to, but now is the time to create our relationship that will last them their whole lives. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle with this; I HAVE. When my oldest was 4 I put her in Soccer because it seemed like all the other kids were in Soccer and I didn’t want her to “miss out.” What I learned was that it did NOT work for our family. At the time, she had a 7:30 bedtime, but soccer went until 7:30 two nights a week, we had to RUSH out the door to get there for 6:30 after supper, no time for after dinner cleanup or playtime, it was just a big rush and NO FUN! So when it came time for my second DD to do Soccer, I decided against it. I still struggled with whether I was doing the right thing, because it seemed as if my kids were the ONLY ones not playing Soccer. But having a peaceful house with kids who get to bed at a regular time and aren’t crabby has been worth it.

    The other thing a lot of parents in my area seem to do is have huge birthday party “events” where they rent out the gymnastics place, or swimming pool, etc. Then they invite the entire class to the party. I won’t even send my DD to all the parties, because if I did, that would be 20 parties a year over top of any outside-of-school friends, and I don’t want to pay for all those gifts for kids that she doesn’t even know all that well. when an invitation comes home for her, I assess whether this kid is a friend of hers or not, I ask her if she plays with this kid at recess, talks to them lots at school, etc. If the answer is honestly, no, then I don’t send her to the party. If it is yes, and I have heard her talking about playing with this kid, then I do send her. As for our parties, we have no more than 8 kids or so, because that’s how many we can fit in our house, especially with my own three. Because my oldest’s birthday is in the summer, that cuts down the guest list somewhat because people are out of town. We also had her birthday in the backyard one year, and this year she says she wants her friends to come to the park behind our house for a picnic, which I think would be really fun and not too complicated to do. But it’s hard because she goes to all these other parties and then asks me, “Why can’t *I* have my party at Chuck E. Cheese?” 😛 So there’s pressure from HER as well because the other parties all set up that expectation.

  4. Sharla says

    Great article!!!! I realized a few years ago that the plans that involved to many steps did not work for my family. Now we have simplified everything and I love it!! It’s my own plan designed just for us! :)

  5. Emily says

    I think it doesn’t matter what the plan is as long as it’s consistant. I too have tried a plethora of charts and systems and switching it up so often has caused more harm than anything. Something simple and consistantly followed is always more valuable in our home because over time I can see the fruits. I have two private charts hung behind the doors of two of my children for a private goal between me and them. This “secret” nature of it has been a bonding thing for us and has been a great motivator. As for chores, they have their own “permanent” chores, a family rule of helping when asked, and a list on a wall of extra chores with a amount I will pay for that chore if they want to earn money. Nothing fancy, nothing unsustainable. Every family is different

  6. Meg Zerkle says

    Thank you for all the comments! What wonderful ideas I’m getting!

    Rise, I love the reminder to apologize to my kids. I definitely need to do better at that. And I’m sure that your husband is right, you’re doing a great job!

    Michelle, I agree that the relationship with your children is way more important than any routine or list of to-dos.

    Steph, I applaud your courage in setting limits for your family. It’s something I’m working on too–what is best for them/us rather than what my neighbors might think.

    Sharla, simple is always better, as far as I’m concerned.

    Thanks ladies for your wonderful thoughts and comments!

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