What IS the Small Stuff?

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Photo by Bart Everson via Flickr
Photo by Bart Everson via Flickr

Sandra had a great comment on my post, “Trust.” She said exactly what I’ve been thinking today: I wish there was a crystal ball to tell us what’s worthy of concern, and where we can let go.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But what exactly IS the small stuff?

I was trying to get ready this morning when Boy #2 came in from outside to inform me that Boy #3 didn’t have a helmet on while riding his scooter. Shortly after that, Boy #3 came in and said that Boy #2 called him a dork.

Small stuff, or big stuff?

On the one hand, I don’t have time to deal with their every little squabble. That’s the reality of life with four boys. And even if I DID have time to deal with every little squabble, I don’t think I should. Part of childhood — part of life — is learning how to deal with situations as they arise.

Plus, I could tell the boys were in tattle-mode. They weren’t nearly as concerned with the behavior as they were with seeing whether or not they could get each other in trouble.

But on the other hand, both offenses violate family rules and values. Not wearing a helmet is a safety issue, and while I allow the boys a lot of leeway to play and explore, they know that helmets are an absolute necessity when bike riding, scootering or skateboarding.

And as for calling someone a “dork,” well, that goes against our treat-people-with-respect rule. If there’s one value I want to instill in my children, it’s treating people with respect.

So — biggie or smallie?

Some things are easy to figure out. If my son comes downstairs with mismatched clothes, it’s a smallie. I probably won’t even say anything, because I’m just happy he put his clothes on all by himself. If we’re going somewhere, I may comment, but if he resists, I’ll probably let him wear the mismatched clothers. (Depending on the occasion — if it was my brother’s wedding and there were going to be family pictures afterward, I might insist on helping him choose appropriate clothes.)

If we’re at the grocery store and I notice that one son has his shoes on the wrong feet, it’s a smallie. Again, I’m just happy he put on his own shoes and I’m confident that sooner or later, he’ll learn his left from his right.

If my son wants to eat leftover pizza instead of the casserole I made for dinner — well, here I get hung up. It’s a smallie, right? But what about when he wants to eat the leftover pizza in the morning for breakfast? And then again for lunch? And at that point it’s been 24 hours straight with no real veggies (the smattering of tomato sauce on the frozen pepperoni pizza notwithstanding) and a diet that consists of pizza, water and candy? Is it still a smallie?

Parenting is not as easy as it seems.

This morning, I let the offenses slip. I didn’t have to time to deal with it and my gut instinct told me that intervening would make things worse, not better. By the time I went outside to load the boys into the van, both incidents were forgotten. (Except by me — four hours later, I sit here blogging about the whole thing.)

So what do you think? What’s a smallie and what’s a biggie? When do we need to worry, and when can we let go?

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