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Works-in-Progress, Finish Lines, & Savoring the Difference

I‘ve been thinking a lot lately about works in progress and finish lines.

It probably has something to do with January.  For most of us the new calendar means to-do lists with big fat deadlines attached to them:  things we have to finish, have to complete, and the fear that goes along with those deadlines of being behind.

It is a time for winding down, finishing up the old projects so that we can have new beginnings.  And, for the most part, I like that end of the deal. I love it when things are new and fresh and we get to start again.

In some ways it is a refreshing contrast to the rest of my life.  So much of the daily work and living associated with my life right now just doesn’t have a set end date and there is no number circled in red on the calendar for completion, no finish line in sight.

I can only see where we’ve been and compare it to where we are today. And, try as I might, I cannot predict the future.  No matter how carefully I plan, some things are beyond my control and some visions are murky.

But, the thing is, I like finish lines and due dates. They give me a sense of security. Nice, crisp, predictable order.

How do we know when we’re finished as parents?  How can we feel secure about this very monumental responsibility of raising children? Or, when there are times of upheaval or crisis, or plain old overwhelming circumstances, how do we know when we’ve caught up again?  How do we know when we’re back on track? How do we know how long we need to hold on?

Well, we don’t, of course.  Not really.  There’s no set number of days or finish line to cross.  We get there when we get there.  We are works in progress, as are our children. We hold on as long as it takes.

Now, I love a nice well written step-by-step knitting pattern and I’m a big fan of the household to-do list and the homeschool skills checklist.  I like ticking off those boxes and crossing out those lines completed. But my experience is that doesn’t often translate to motherhood. There aren’t many times parenting comes along with a nice, tidy line of boxes to check off.

Lately I catch myself in conversations using the phrase “when things get back to normal” and then I wonder what in the world does that even mean?  Is there really, truly such a thing as normal? Or am I using the word “normal” when what I really mean is “calm” or even “in control” or some other post-holiday, post-life change, or post-developmental stage of symbolic balance?

How can I learn to embrace the incomplete, the undone, and the left yet to do? The big, scary question marks that don’t have immediate answers?

WORKINPROGRESSPhoto by Breibeest

In knitting circles, sometimes we talk about being a process knitter versus a product knitter.  A product knitter knits for the end result and is happiest once an object is finished.

A process knitter knits for the act of knitting itself, the experience, and is fine with projects that take a long time to complete and might even have several projects going on at once because they just couldn’t resist the call to create.

Most knitters fall somewhere in the middle, a mix of product and process in a ratio that works for them and makes them happy with the craft.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

Sometimes in parenting we’re aiming for the final product:  getting through a trip to the grocery store, sleeping through the night, potty training, the first day of school, driving, graduation.  Or, in my case recently, just one night where nobody throws up, please just one barf free night this week.

It is good to have goals, and a joy to watch our family reach them, so treasure those milestones, celebrate the small victories and the mental finish lines when you cross them.

But the bulk of parenting, the majority of our day to day living, isn’t about finish lines or milestones.

Most of parenting is about the process:  living, loving, and knowing these people we’re blessed to call our family.  Watching them grow, loving them – good, bad, happy, or sad. 

It really is a lifelong calling.

Years ago, my mother, my grandmother, and I were watching my oldest daughter play.  I wondered something out loud about if it ever stopped being amazing to watch your child and my mother looked at me  and said,”It hasn’t stopped being amazing yet.“   And then her mother looked at her and said, “No, it hasn’t.”

Deadlines, patterns, and to do lists, they are pretty great tools for getting things done. But the process is pretty wonderful, too; being in the moment and simply enjoying the experience.

So I’m learning to embrace the finish lines and the works in progress.  I find they both have a sweetness worth savoring.

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  1. Erin @ thh

    I like this. Something to think about today. I do NOT knit because I don’t like how much longer knitting takes than crocheting. I’ve tried knitting a few things, but the slow progress meant I usually abandoned the project before it was done. So, yes, yes yes. Product person. It’s why I get frustrated in life and in motherhood. I know this, but not always sure how to remedy it.

    I read a book recently that I loved (The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris). There was an idea in it that really stuck with me–that we entangle and frustrate ourselves when we try to get everything done “once and for all”, when in reality the ONLY thing that’s ever been done “once and for all” was Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. Nothing, nothing else in life gets the final stamp of “finished product”. It was a really humbling thought.

  2. beth lehman

    i’ve just recently come to this realization… i love that your mother and grandmother echoed those same sentiments in your presence. that made me smile.

  3. Angel Jem

    I love that generational mothers are always mothers story; how lovely to have that as a memory!

  4. Missy June

    Oh, this is such a good reminder for those of us who like to check off lists! I teared up at the comments made by your mother and grandmother…amazing what “work” we get to do! May we remember that among the trials and celebrate the progress when it is recognizable. Sometimes it gets even more difficult for me to glimpse now that we have entered tween years. There aren’t milestones to it, or tasks to accomplish (like potty training or riding a bike), there are just consistent days of rising to the task, doing the hard work, encouraging the wearing, guiding the wounded and shaping selves. It is good work, but not often measurable.

  5. Linda Sand

    As the 68 year old mother of a 46 year old daughter I can assure you parenting is a process that doesn’t end until one of you dies. We’re more friends than parent/child now but she occasionally still comes to me for feedback on a decision she is pondering before she makes her decision. To me, that means I did a better job of parenting in her younger years than I thought at the time that I was doing. You are, too.

    • Gail

      Linda, I am 71, parent of 2 adult children and grandmother of four. You are right, it does not end. The relationship changes, but it is still there.

  6. Kim

    I am a product person for sure, which has been an issue in raising children. Parenting never ends, not even when they marry, move away, and have their own children. I am learning to enjoy the journey instead of always asking, “Are we there yet?”

  7. Maggie@ThisWeekinSuburbia

    Oh I’m the worst at this… I live to check the item off the list and say it’s completed. Such a weakness…

  8. Rebecca

    Great and awesome post! Thanks for that because I sometimes find myself just wanting my daughter to take a shower solo and without drama. I am convinced that she was a cat in a previous life she hates having a shower. This post made me realize that it really isnt so bad and perhaps all too soon she will not even want me to shower with her or need my help so much. The change will be welcome in some ways and in others not so much. She is currently six and I miss the days when she fit in my arms.

  9. Fawn Pender

    I live with my daughter, son-in-law, and two young granddaughters. I am still astounded by the way my daughter parents; she certainly has skills that she didn’t get from me! I will never get tired of watching her, learning from her, and loving those little girls with her as we all grow together. The process is delightful, and the product is pretty darn sweet, too!

  10. Caroline Starr Rose

    I love this image of four generations and the older ones looking on in wonder and joy.

  11. Lana Wilkens

    Wow, that last thought of the mothers of many generations weighing in – that’s a powerful picture! I fall mostly toward the process knitting type. But, a lot of things have winded down in my life recently and it seems like new beginnings are coming, but I am in a weird state of uncertainty. Our church closed down, my husband got a new job, we moved, remodeled our house and got pregnant all within the last year. It’s been a ride for sure and we’ve had a lot of fun in the process…but now nothing major is going on. We just slowed down and I am finding that’s really harder for me. I like the beginnings of things, not the ends. So we’re destined to start something new sometime soon, but in the meantime I guess I’m learning to “enjoy” the process of waiting and hopefully learning to be more present. Thanks a lot for your post – it was really helpful for me to ponder at this point in my life.

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