We fallible human beings are inveterate black and white, all or nothing thinkers–especially when stressed. Either everything is good, wonderful, 110% perfect– your life, your parenting, your relationship, your job, your holiday, last night’s sleep, your weight, your food consumption–or everything is a mess and you are a dismal failure. One minor slip, and (fill in the blank) is all shot to h*)). One cookie wrecks the diet, so may as well have six more. One cranky moment where you snap at a child or loved one, and you are a wretched parent/partner. One hour–or even two–of restless tossing and turning at 3 a.m. ruins your whole night’s sleep. One traffic jam in an eight hour journey or one rainy day dooms the whole vacation. One missed deadline and you’re a terrible worker. If none of this rings true for you, sign off right now and go crack open a well-deserved bottle of champagne. You are perfect–or at least your thinking is!

If any of the above thoughts have ever crept into your embattled brain, consider one of my favorite phrases:

It’s all about the ratio.

Our lives aren’t judged by any single moment of success or failure, but by the ratio of wins to losses, grand slams compared to falling-flat-on-face-in- mud moments. Bad mommy moments to tender bedtime stories. Decisions that worked versus backfired with a vengeance. Judith Orloff says there are no wrong choices–some just lead to more painful paths than others.

When you are feeling badly about some completely human action you have blundered into, stop. Take a deep breathe. Do the math. There are 168 hours in the week. “Oh well” if you got sucked into sulking for one of them. You need to ingest 2000 extra calories to gain a pound. One cookie is only 1/10th of that. There are 365 days in the year, eight hours in a night of sleep, 100 assignments in a college career. Etcetera. You get the picture.

Self-compassion comes into play again. Forgive yourself, your errors; maybe even define what you can learn from them. Then refocus on your successes by calculating the ratio. Embrace the fact that we’re all doing the best we can, given our circumstances at any moment.

One Comment

  1. Funny you should write this Ann!
    I was at church and going over the relationship I had with my late mother and began to wonder if I would have liked to have ME as a mother. Whether I was feeling sorry for myself or just plain down on motherhood in general, I unanimously agreed with myself that I would not have liked to have had me as a mother, so good thing I didn’t!
    I came down on myself really hard until I realised it was all supposition. I wasn’t blessed with me as my mother, my children were.
    Latest comment on how they feel about me for Mum is they wouldn’t have anyone else as their mother.
    Good job actually because I’m not giving up my post no matter how I feel about me, it’s all down to how they feel about me!
    And that makes me feel okay.

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  1. Once is enough | Ann L. Dunnewold, Ph.D. - [...] one, and let it go. If it recurs, revisit the issue. Otherwise, offer some compassion, remember the ratio of …

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