The soundest parenting advice I've heard in years came recently by a fellow dad:
"I know longer stress over a situation purely because of the physical mess it will create."
It was a watershed moment for me.
Once I embark on a DIY strategy for the day - for instance re-wiring and hanging three lamps - I become obsessive about completing the job. Despite my wife constantly reminding me not to push myself to the brink of an aneurysm for the sake of a toilet installation, I can't help behaving as though I have something to prove, regardless of the friction it may cause between myself and a couple of preschoolers.
In my experience, stress begets stress. This is an effect which can manifest itself as increased frustration towards my kids throughout the day as I attempt to balance their discipline with my responsibility.
I find it's most prevalent on the days my wife is out of the house and I attempt to complete projects at home while expecting the kids to entertain themselves - incident free - for an extended period of time.
While all of us are forced to put an end to intense sibling bickering as part of our role as parent/police-people, it is another gift altogether to be able to not interfere when you are not needed.
When they are playfully interacting in the next room, or quiet and out of sight, don't go looking for trouble.
What's the worst that could possibly be taking place?
My kids know not to play with knives and matches; they're not cats peeing on the furniture or tearing apart a sofa; and if they were attempting to decapitate each other, I would know it; there would be screaming, and rolling heads.
If I don't hear any of that, but choose to investigate my children anyway, at worst I will walk into an adjacent room, and discover a mess.
The messes in my house would most likely be: marker on the floors or walls, wood chips scattered on the carpet as our guinea pig attempts to avoid capture; water on the bathroom or kitchen floor as my daughter plays "dolphin attack" in a sink; or jagged confetti collected in the Berber rug for some art project run amok.
Extra Paint by Emiko Hime
Will witnessing and trying to put an end to this disorder enhance or worsen my lamp-hanging experience?
The kids are happy, they're quiet, they're not flicking breaker switches while I'm busy splicing the wrong wires together.
I should just walk away.
As my Zen/guru/dad friend said:
"Worst case scenario, it'll involve a major cleanup. How long will that take? Half-an-hour? Forty-five minutes at most? Even if things are really bad, what does that mean; getting a paint brush and touching up a wall? Isn't that all that worth the peace of a happy child?"
I try to remind myself of that every time I look at an overgrown honey-do list. Using the "I was alone with the kids all day" as an excuse for procrastination only goes so far; especially when my wife ends up completing half the list while I'm away from home.
I just need to learn that while I repair our messy lives, I have to allow for life's little messes.
If I'm able to complete the project I set out to do, at least I'll have new lamp-light to vacuum by.