An ideal parenting day was never, ever going to happen on planet Earth. But if I used the moon’s slower rotation, I could stockpile victories by the dozens.

Sometime after my third child arrived, I finally noticed the pattern. My daily parenting victories inherently required that I fail at something else, and I could list those successes and failures, side by side, every night, guaranteed.

Day 1: Made the coolest birthday cake ever BUT had no time for homework or piano practicing.

Day 2: Drilled on chores like a good disciplinarian BUT couldn’t do Legos, board-games, pillow fights, or bug catching.

Day 3: Cheered the soccer game and the band concert BUT gobbled french fries and fruit snacks instead of having a sit-down dinner.

Day 4: Allowed play-dough and finger-paint BUT kitchen spiraled into chaos.

Day 5: Got the kitchen spotless, (even inside the oven and fridge!) BUT didn’t cook anything, made the kids watch TV, and had no time for exercise or shower.

Day 6: Devised fabulous personalized gifts BUT drowned in a laundry tsunami.

Day 7: Enforced zucchini soup BUT kids voted Mom public enemy #1.

I stood inside a massive circle with my parenting ideals spread out around me along the perimeter of the circle, many of them on opposing sides of a spectrum. If I ran toward creative-artistic-mama then I had to let go of tidy-organized-mama on the other side of the circle.  If I ran toward strict-discipline-mama, I lost my grip on fun-silly-mama on the other side of the circle. If I ran back toward flexible-spontaneity-mama, I couldn’t hold on to structured-routine-mama because they were on different sides of the circle.

Each day, I was running back and forth between opposing ideals, wanting to give my children every good gift, but never able to touch them all at the same time. It was exhausting. Should I just choose one side  and camp there?  Should I just crumple in the middle of the circle and cover my face with my hands?  I could move only so fast. There was simply no way to avoid the pendulum realities of parenting.

I was attempting to be the human equivalent of the giant Foucault pendulum found on display in so many children’s museums (illustrated here, esp 2:00 min mark). It hangs a few inches above the floor, centered inside a large circle of pegs. Though the pendulum swings back and forth in a straight line, the Earth rotates on its axis beneath us at roughly 1000 miles/hour. So, over 24 hours, the pegs around the perimeter of the circle will slowly rotate underneath the pendulum. Thus, the pendulum will eventually knock down every peg placed along the circle surrounding it.

Somehow I thought that if I just kept swinging, I too could hit every desirable spot on my parenting circle within a 24-hour period (as the earth rotated beneath me at 1000 mi/hr.)

Guess what? The earth moves faster than I can.

(Yes, I know I’m impressive, but trust me on the calculations here.)

So I tearfully vented my despair about this whole problem to my truly patient husband, who luckily also happens to be a genius at not over-reacting. He nodded and validated my feelings without trying to fix me, and expressed appreciation for all my efforts, just like the ideal husband should. He agreed with me that successful parents will always have to “pendulum” somewhat, back and forth, between opposing virtues. Then he very gently pointed out one key thing that was probably already obvious to anyone reading this.

Why was I insisting on a 24-hour pendulum?  If I really felt that I had to count my victories and failures (debatable!), why did I need to calculate the net total every single night? Corporations don’t send employees their performance reviews every evening at midnight. They send them out monthly, quarterly, or yearly. This gives employees time to grow, time to accumulate victories and successes between evaluations. Could I treat myself as generously?

I thought about that for a long, long time.

What’s the rush? Do victories evaporate while I sleep? Expire overnight? Why do I think they cease to exist if I’m not holding them all simultaneously in my hands during this single day?  Instead of re-setting my self-evaluation counter to zero every night, could I let the daily victories accumulate over a longer performance window?  Could I break my habit of evaluating myself every single time the sun goes down?

Still pondering one night, I watched the sun set and the moon rise.


Who says I have to rotate my pendulum as fast as Planet Earth? Why not choose another axis around which to rotate—like the moon that moves so much more slowly? Businesses often take their operations “offshore” to reduce their tax burden. Could I move my parenting pendulum—my “self-evalution operation”–offshore, and decrease the taxation on my soul?  Could I minimize the taxing effect of facing a nightly failure?

Many years have passed now since I moved my parenting pendulum “offshore” to the moon. This might sound like a simple accounting trick, but it really made a difference in my head. Since the moon rotates on its axis just once every 27 Earth days, I now have approximately a month of Earth time to swing back and forth toward all my worthy goals at opposing ends of the circle. When I get something right, I put down that victory, smile at it, pat myself on the back, and swing around toward another side of the circle for balance. Sometimes I’m a little more fun. Sometimes I’m a little more strict. Sometimes I’m creative and messy. Sometimes I’m structured and tidy. But all of these moments contribute victories to my monthly stockpile. I’m no longer choosing one virtue over another with a sum total of zero at days’ end.  I’m accumulating all opposing virtues throughout the whole month, because all of them count toward a single “day.”

When I raced Planet Earth, I had to skip reading bedtime stories on many nights, and I mentally gave myself zeros for those days. But with a month-long grace period, I find that I have 15-20 reading victories or more when it comes time to check in with myself. When I look through the check boxes next to my many goals on a [monthly] “lunar pendulum rotation,” I find fewer omissions. During 27+ days, I can actually reach most of my ideals at least once, and some of them several or many times each. Have I taught my kids anything about Family History? Um, yes I did—about three weeks ago we read Grandma’s story.  Check. Have I taught my kids about cooking?  Um, yes I did—last Thursday I showed Daniel how to make noodles for himself. Check. Was I strict about nutrition?  Um…yes, on Sunday I made everybody finish their plate before dessert. And so on, for many other victories. I now have a practically perfect “lunar day” now and then!

Does this mean I’m abandoning the virtues of daily routines, so supported by child development research? No. It’s just that my routines are much simpler now, and less over-scheduled. I don’t try to fit in everything, everyday. I just try to fit the very most important things in, everyday.

I asked myself, what few things belong at the center, where I anchor my pendulum? What do I hold on to at all times, all days, all hours, while I’m swinging back and forth among other priorities? What is so important that it becomes the centerpiece—the focal point—the anchor—the pivot point—of non-negotiable routine?

It had to be God. When I don’t hold on to Him tightly, with both hands, I either swing out of control or lack momentum all together. So daily personal prayers, family prayers, scripture study, weekly sacrament, and frequent temple attendance can’t be skipped or postponed. These covenant actions tie us to Him, and anchor us to Heaven. Through these simple routines, I can hold on tightly to His power as He swings me eventually and repeatedly toward all the worthy but lesser values on the outer edges of the circle– like nutrition, cleanliness, talent development, and so forth.

Then God helps me figure out what other goals need consistent routine attention for these kids, with their individual talents, during this particular season. We still strive for some consistency with music practicing, homework, chores, etc. But I don’t worry as much if these things aren’t perfectly represented in every single day.  I can hit them many times over 27+ days, and call the month a success, all things considered. As long as I cling to God, He will get me around the circle to everything I need to do most.

This is what my children need more than any other worthy input: the uplink to heaven. They too will one day struggle to simultaneously embrace all the worthy goals around the circle. I don’t want them to mistake any one peripheral goal for ultimate happiness or perfection. They too will have to alternate between opposing strengths to survive. Like many families, we still have to adapt for illness, vacations, seasons, unexpected repairs, and the changing needs of siblings and elderly grandparents. If I hold my children close while I cling to our Heavenly Anchor, eventually we will swing through all the other joys around us. And while I might not be able to reach every ideal daily, I have learned that with God’s help I can reach most of them within a lunar day. This month. And the next month.  And the next—until my children have experienced all the joys and lessons around the circle many, many times.


Two footnotes:

1. I also “offshored” my Sunday-School and seminary-teaching pendulums to Planet Mercury, (which has a 59 day rotation.) A single one-hour class period can’t always include the whole spectrum of teaching virtues, but an 8 week run can. Over 8 weeks, I can usually fit in some funny, some solemn, some reverent, some games, some scholarly notes, and some practical applications. I can alternate between weeks with heavy participation and weeks when we cover more material. Planet Mercury just works for me on this.
2. Like all metaphors, the lunar pendulum has limitations. In reality, our successes accumulate over a lifetime, not just a month. I am not really recommending a formal tally every month—it’s just a way of describing an idea that is useful to me and several of my mommy friends. More able writers have tackled the idea of perfectionistic scripts with precision outside of the scope of this article. Many other brilliant moms have tackled routines with greater finesse and success. Kudos to all of them.