The Two Words That Can Transform Your Parenting

by Susan Narjala May 25, 2017

mother holding her daughter in her arms 

Even before your eyes open, your mind is on “step on it” mode. Pack lunch: ham sandwiches, baby carrots, and raisins, times two. Drop kids off at school. Next stop: diapers from Target (don’t forget the gift for the baby shower). Get the minivan serviced. Make an appointment for the two-year-old’s well-child checkup (before she turns three). School pick-up, Taekwondo classes in the afternoon, followed by a quick stop at Walgreens. Thank God for the drive-through at the neighborhood Walgreens. Speaking of drive-throughs, that’s probably what’s for dinner tonight.

You’re tired before you even get out of bed. There’s a bajillion things you absolutely have to do today. You suppress a groan as you groggily turn off the alarm and steel yourself for the day ahead.

But here’s a thought: what if you and I replaced the “have to” with the words “get to?” Those two simple words – “get to” – have the power to transform our perspective on parenting.

You get to pack lunch for the kids.

You get to take them to school.

You get to take them to the doctor and to their after-school lessons.

You get to be their chef, their chauffeur, and their event planner.

Two years ago, my family and I moved from the U.S. to India where my husband and I were born and raised. For 12 years before that we lived in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. We had both completed graduate school in the U.S. Then came love, marriage, and two babies (born 17 months apart) in a baby carriage (more like a McLaren LX stroller). We loved our white-picket-fence life in suburbia. We were living the American Dream. Then, for a bunch of various non-dramatic reasons, we moved to India.

We lived a blessed life in America. We continue to live a life of more-than-enough in India. This wasn’t one of those Mother Theresa, let’s-make-this-world-a-better-place moves. We moved with a job that would provide enough for our daily needs and then some.

But every single day, as a person of privilege in India, I come face-to-face with the fact that I “get to” rather than I “have to.”

As I take my kids to school in an air-conditioned car, we pass by children sitting on mounds of sand outside construction sites where their parents work. Their naturally black hair is now bleached blond by the sun. Their moms carry piles of bricks and bags of cement through unfinished buildings. They don’t have the option of taking their kids to school. My "have to wake up when my iPhone alarm rings at 6:30 a.m." complaints seem horrendously petty.

Moments like these are laced through my day.

As I enjoy the rain from my penthouse apartment with its round-the-clock security guards and swimming pool, I look out the window to the street below me to see a family huddled under a blue tarp they call home. They don’t have to make the beds. They sleep on blankets on the hard ground.

As I leave the grocery store with stuff that I don’t actually need, I am joined on the sidewalk by a child trying to sell me a coloring book or a bunch of pens. Her mom doesn’t have to do homework with her. In all likelihood, neither of them knows how to read.

I could go on and on. But you don’t have to move halfway across the world to see that your life, like mine, is filled with "get to" moments. The very fact that we have beds to make, laundry to tackle, lunches to pack, and dinners to serve is a privilege that millions don’t have. Our normal is someone else’s dream. The fact that we are doing most of this for people we love is the biggest "get to" of all.

Instead of looking at our lists as chores, we need to see them as opportunities. So I teach my kids that we are blessed by trying to provide small blessings to others. It may mean carrying bags of packaged cookies in the car to share with the kids who knock at our car window. It may mean tutoring an underprivileged child. It may mean keeping our used toys in the trunk to give to the next child sitting on a pile of sand. It’s a drop in the bucket.

But, slowly, all the drops add up, and while the bucket fills, my perspective changes from being a parent obsessed with just how crazy-hard my life is to one who acknowledges my abundance.

We need to change the game by changing our vocabulary. Let’s start every day realizing that our "have to’s" are really "get to’s."

Susan Narjala


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