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Why I Sweat the Small Stuff

Why I Sweat the Small Stuff

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This morning, I was struck by an overwhelming thought: I am a parent of children at almost every possible stage. I have twin toddlers, two children in elementary school, one in middle school, two in high school, and one in rabbinical college. Just thinking about my role as a mother (not to mention my other jobs) made me feel exhausted—and the day was just beginning!

How do I manage as the mother of a big family? You might think I ignore the little things, keep my composure, remain calm, overlook the small infractions, and always “let it go.” How else can a large How do I manage?family function? But upon reflection, here’s what I have become aware of—I do “sweat the small stuff.” I know it sounds completely counter-intuitive. But here’s why:

When my children are small, their “small stuff” needs my attention and empathy.

Like when my toddler wants a specific colored sippy cup with a different-than-what-it-came-with lid, filled almost to the top with water . . . and ice. Or when she sobs, “My elbow is bleeding right here!” pointing to the tiny fleck of lint that looks like blood. And of course during she-took-my-toy-and-I-am-in-a-puddle-on-the-floor tantrums. All small stuff, but not to a toddler.

These are the battle cries in the trenches of toddlerhood. These are the times that require my sweat—which includes finding the sippy cup and mismatched lid. Because although saying “You get what you get” and marching away is much easier, giving my daughter the sippy cup the way she wants doesn’t hurt her. (It’s not a manipulative ploy, just a child trying to get her needs met when constantly having to rely on someone else. Adults don’t do so well with that, either.) It makes her feel like she matters. Same goes for kissing the imaginary boo-boo and all the other small stuff. It matters to a toddler, and that toddler matters to me.

My toddlers do not need to hear about how insignificant their misery is in the scheme of things and how difficult life really can be, nor do they need a speech about character development and being too picky. They need me to love them, to be there for them. This does not mean I give in to every whim, but I show them that they matter. I don’t want to become so immersed in my “adultiness” that I forget that the small stuff is really big.

Not only do I sweat the small stuff, I celebrate it. Like when my little ones happily accept the first choice of pajamas—a rare occurrence.

I engage in conversation with my second-grader about the fairness of other kids’ bedtimes, and the reason someone else’s mom allows all sorts of things that I don’t—not because I think any of these conversations have real significance to anyone over 12, but because it’s the big stuff for my child.

In grade school the tantrums decrease, and children begin to understand the natural consequences of their actions. They are reasonable, and they can have real conversations about fairness and delayed gratification. Some of their grievances are still “small stuff” to me, but I remember it’s their big stuff—I sweat it with them.

And just like a beautiful ombré painting, where the colors begin bold and bright and then begin to fade away, the seemingly insignificant stuff of small children grow faint, and I am left with high-schoolers who no longer need me to sweat the small stuff. They make big and small mistakes, and have big and small things to celebrate. They can handle the disappointmentsThey can be happy with getting their second choice, they can handle the disappointments, they can make decisions without my input. They thank me for not getting them a phone before they could even recognize numbers, even though it is what their friends had. When their summer plans fall through, they make new ones. They call me to say that it’s okay that the dorm room they requested didn’t work out (“I’ll figure it out, something will give”).

And then I remember that I sweat the small stuff when they are young so they learn that they don’t have to—when they are grown up.

Dena Schusterman is a founder of Chabad Intown, the Intown Jewish Preschool, and the Intown Hebrew School. Dena writes about parenting and applied Torah and Chassidic thought and teaches women's classes. Dena and her husband Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman are native Californians living in Atlanta together with their children.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Joyce Teaneck, NJ January 24, 2016

I am a teacher of four year olds. so many things that happen to then, good and bad, are happening to them for the first time. That is only one of the reasons that everything is so important to them. They don't know yet what is "small stuff" and what is "big stuff." I believe that if it is important to them then it's important to me. That's not to say that I don't try to teach them perspective but first they have to be respected Reply

Anonymous January 22, 2016

Thank you I read your article this morning. This evening as I was listening to my daughter sweat her stuff, I thought of your article, and chose to respond with empathy despite the initial feelings of annoyance. I will be thinking about this a lot.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. Reply

miriam lipskier January 21, 2016

Wonderful! Reply

Ezza Australia January 18, 2016

Inspiring Such a wise and beautiful sharing. Thank you Mrs Dena Schusterman! Reply

Bracha Goetz Baltimore January 18, 2016

Wonderful! Reply

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