When my oldest daughter was three years old, we were up at Big Bear Mountain on a family vacation. She was tantrum-ing about something trivial, as three-year-olds do, and I was right there in the ring with her, losing my cool. The frustration had been simmering in the pit of my belly, and had turned in to red, hot rage. It bubbled and boiled over spilling out of my pores and mouth. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you what the initial stand-off was about, but I had allowed this miniature version of myself to check-mate the crap out of me. I felt defeated and just plain burnt out.
After the dust settled and the tantrum tapered, I noticed an older woman a few doors down. Her husband was chopping wood, and I could tell that they lived here year-round. Among the row of empty rental homes, this was their quiet street, and mountain-life. I immediately felt embarrassed, as they had no doubt witnessed the interaction I had just had with my strong-willed 'threenager'. But as our eyes met, I didn't feel judgment from the woman at all. Instead, her eyes were knowing, warm and wise.
We made a bit of small talk about parenting, something she clearly had more experience in than I did. And she left me with words that shifted my parenting game forevermore. She said, 'pick your battles; but win the battles you pick.' So simple. So logical. So freeing. I didn't see the couple again until we drove away from our Airbnb to head back home.
What those wise words have taught me is to ask myself how much I really care about the argument, or battle, I am about to enter with my kids. Sometimes I find that I don't care much at all, and it isn't worth the fight. Other times I find that the lesson is important enough to go to war. What that wise old lady gave me, was a bit of a pause-button and a way to gauge what really matters. Her words echo in my head and in my actions often (and imperfectly). When we show up for each other in love and without judgment, we create space to teach and learn, seek and hear and to give ourselves and each other endless grace.