It feels necessary and right to start with this small freedom—which is actually kind of a big deal—the freedom to choose your legacy. But, this is where it all started for me. I spent a lot of the first few years of motherhood overwhelmed by the work, the chores, the lack of sleep, the weight of the expectations and demands of motherhood. I had no idea how to prioritize any of it. It all felt enormous and heavy. I sought relief in structure, to-do lists, schedules, and control, which left me exhausted, resentful, angry, and then guilty. And, the cycle went round and round.
As I angrily scrubbed yet another sink-full of dishes, feeling simultaneously resentful toward my husband, casually relaxing on the couch, and guilty for putting my list of chores over my son’s pleas for me to play with him earlier that day, a thought burst into my mind. The laundry is not my legacy. Funny, because I wasn’t doing the laundry at that moment…but the point was clear. This statement burst into my mind, shining a spotlight on my mismanaged priorities.
I was focusing on the wrong work—housework instead of heartwork. ‘Be silly,’ ‘play,’ ‘hug,’ ‘laugh,’ ‘get messy’ were not on my to-do list, and therefore I didn’t have time for those things. My son begged me to play with him constantly, but there was always one more dish to scrub, one more mess to clean up, one more load of laundry to fold. I didn’t race trucks with him, because I had to switch the laundry. I didn’t pretend to be the Mama T-Rex, because I had to clean the bathroom. I didn’t play in the sprinklers, because I had to prepare dinner.
I don’t want my children to remember me as the resentful woman who cleaned the house, did the laundry, prepared food, and snapped at everyone for tracking in dirt. I realized that each small choice, each word, each action was creating a legacy, a memory, a definition of who I was and impacting the world around me. Thinking about what I do want my legacy to be allows me to change my behavior and make conscious, intentional decisions about what I do and say. Knowing that every choice either builds a legacy of love or a legacy of negativity forces me to choose different, to choose better.
So how do you choose your legacy?
First, acknowledge that you have a choice. You can control how you are remembered, because you can control your words and your actions. Only you. This is so empowering! There is freedom in knowing that you don’t have to just keep going through the motions, you can choose different. Change is possible.
Take an honest look at your priorities. What is important to you and how do you want to be remembered? Write it all down. I want my children to remember me as someone who loved them and others, someone who was kind to them and to others, someone who prioritized love and connection over success and perfection. I want them to remember I had faith in God and did the tasks presented to me joyfully instead of resentfully. I want my legacy to be one of love, of kindness, of faith, of joy.
Compare that list of priorities with how you actually spend your time. Does the way you spend your time match your priorities? What do you say ‘yes’ to? Those are your actual priorities. What (or who) do you say ‘no’ to? Those are the things (and the people) that come second, or third, or never. Your legacy will be created by what you do today, what you say ‘yes’ to. I was saying ‘yes’ to chores, schedules, to-do lists, and perfectionism. I was saying ‘no’ to connection, play, presence, and rest, so that I could say ‘yes’ to checking off my list. Of course, the things on my list are necessary to run a household, but they don’t need to come before my family.
If your priorities and how you spend your time aren’t aligned, you have the freedom to make some changes. Change requires action. If I want my children to remember I had faith, then we need to go to church and pray together. If I want them to remember that I crawled around on the floor with them, laughed, held them when they cried, and modeled how to be patient and kind to them and to everyone around me, then I need to do it every day. And, I need to apologize when I fall short. A clean house and a tightly controlled, orderly life isn’t the legacy I want to leave in my children’s hearts, so I need to be willing to let go of perfectionism and leave things half-finished at times. I don’t care if my kids remember their shirts were folded into perfect neat squares or that the house was always in pristine condition. *Spoiler Alert* they won’t remember that stuff anyway. I want them to remember I was the Mama T-Rex and a dang good one.
The laundry is not my legacy, and I hope it isn’t yours either. We will have clean clothes and a (mostly) clean house, but that stuff isn’t what I want my children (or anyone) to remember when they think of me. If it is a priority, whatever it is, what are you doing every day to reflect that? Every moment offers a chance to choose better, to build a legacy you can be proud of. Make a conscious decision about who you want to be and how you want to be remembered by the people who matter most. Don’t let the laundry (or whatever distracts you from who you really want to be) be your legacy either.