the harder thing is the easier thing

One evening a few months ago, Robert went out with some friends, and I was solo with the three amigos. We decided to go to IHOP because there was nothing to eat in the house. Robert said, “All three? By yourself at a restaurant?” Yes, and a sticky one at that!

We had a great time. Afterward we went to the grocery store for some essentials. The kids were pretending the van was a space shuttle and we were headed to the space station for some supplies for our trip to the moon (our house). I decided to turn it into an elaborate extended make-believe space adventure that lasted into bedtime.

I didn’t do this because I’m all that creative, but because I’m lazy. It’s one of my laws of parenting: the harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s actually easier to call them First Officer Caroline and Lieutenant Margaret and Sergeant James, and to pretend to dodge asteroids (other cars), and to dock the lunar lander in the garage, than to zone out and drive and shop and come home and chase them upstairs with a toothbrush while they run amok in their underwear, whipping their pajamas around like lassos.


When it comes to children, it’s easier and more rewarding to expend a little extra effort and intention in order to play, than to be lazy and unintentional and just let things happen. Because the “things” that happen from your lack of initiative will invariably cause you to expend more energy (cleaning up messes, breaking up fights, managing overtired kids).

Think about this for yourself, and figure out whether it works in other spheres besides parenting. As for me, I see this principle at work everywhere. Every few months, Robert and I get into serious inertia with going to the grocery store. Robert won’t feel like making a list, or I won’t feel like going, so we’ll spend the next few days or weeks limping along on McDonalds and random mystery freezer foods crusted over with ice. It would be easier if we just went to the dang store.

BTW, Gretchen Rubin likes to say that the opposite of a great truth can also be true. So it’s true that too much planning can become inauthentic and draining. We can make the easy things hard. I also think that kids need to learn to manage their own boredom. I’m not talking about overprogramming here, but rather doing the work up front that creates a space for them to create.

Here’s a final example of this principle that also happens to show off the blue room in action. Back in May, Caroline was home sick. I was supposed to leave the following Sunday for a week of study leave, so of course it was a busy week. I was really hoping for some time to wrap up loose ends and get things ready for Robert to be a single parent for the week. (And can I say once again that single parents are my heroes?) I was sooo close to popping in a video, which I have done many, many (many) times in these situations.

I was taking an online class on contemplative spirituality and creativity in which we were making mini-books. I thought, Why not? So…… “Let’s make a project,” I announced. I helped James snip some paper with scissors while helping the girls:

hard at work, intent at play

you can tell in her eyes that she's sick 😦

Margaret wrote a story about going to the zoo.

the finished product

It was so much easier to do this than to try and get something done while leaving three small children to their own devices on a rainy day.

Where have you seen this principle at work? Where have you seen it break down?


6 thoughts on “the harder thing is the easier thing

  1. Jeanny House says:

    It’s hard to have Difficult But Necessary Conversations. You know the kind I mean — the ones where there’s a conflict or a bunch of feelings that need to be sorted out or a misunderstanding or a necessary and true apology. Ultimately, they’re not as hard as I fear they’re going to be and life with that person is much easier afterwards than it would have been if the unspoken were just left to fester.

  2. Jeanny House says:

    By the way, I love your spirit and creativity in recognizing these situations and turning them around!

  3. Asad Jafari says:

    MA, please please please write a book. Cover everything, from your spirituality to your parenting style to your marriage rules. I thirst for your wisdom, as bizarre as that sounds. 🙂

    • mamdblueroom says:

      Oh Asad… 🙂

      And right now you are LIVING the harder thing being the easier thing. I can’t think of much that’s harder than quitting smoking… but it’s easier in the long run in terms of health and well-being. Be strong!

  4. […] was trying to think of ways to make it more interesting and special. One of my parenting axioms is the harder thing is the easier thing. Things flow better when I put in a little extra effort up front—the kids respond with […]

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