When I was a kid, I used to roll my eyes at some of my mom’s sayings. She’d say things like, “Go as the way opens” or “there are many paths up a mountain” or “head, heart, hands.” I’d forgotten about this last one until a colleague said it recently. It was about finding balance in our busy lives. I keep thinking about it since the pandemic slowed us down so much.
I remember 16 year old arguing with my mom over piano lessons. She said something to the effect of “I don’t care what it is, but if you drop piano you need to add something else to keep the balance of head, heart, hands.” As a teenager, I was annoyed. Yet in hindsight I realize that she was teaching me important skills about finding balance our busy lives. Also, she empowered me to make my own choices.
What does “head, heart, hands” even mean?
In our family, it meant that we had to have these three concepts represented in our life and activities:
- “Head” referred to activities that helped us grow mentally. Typically that just meant spending time on schoolwork. But it also meant using some of our free time for reading, writing, or learning things of our choosing.
- “Heart” focused on serving others or helping bring more beauty and empathy into the world. This ran the gamut from volunteering, going to church, raising money for various causes, or other related activities.
- “Hands” was all about movement. My mom encouraged us to keep active whether through sports, exercise, or hiking. But could also be things like knitting, sewing, or other hand crafts.
If we honored these three concepts, we would be on our way to finding balance in our busy lives.
I don’t even remember which bin piano lessons fell into, but I remember the conversation with my mom and I remember the outcome. I hit the point where piano wasn’t my thing anymore. My mom created space for me to stop without a fight — even though I knew she wanted me to keep going. But by expecting me to do something for all three bins, she also created space for me to find something that was me – voice lessons. (Here’s a great local teacher— she does virtual, too!).
And no, I didn’t go on to become some great singer. Just like I was never going to be a great pianist. But those voice lessons helped me build confidence and try out for solos in chorus. And even though nothing more than ensemble pieces ever came my way, I still felt better about myself. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but it was as much the voice lessons themselves as it was that I had made the decision myself.
Shaping my own parenting for the future
As I look at this moment in time with many organized activities cancelled, it’s actually given me a minute to think back to “head, heart, hands” and the power of allowing our kids to define those for themselves. While that mantra was in my head, I hadn’t yet shared it with my kids.
So I tried to observe how they spent their time this spring and summer. I asked them what they thought about their activities being cancelled. My eight year old commented that she missed her activities, but she really liked not feeling so busy and having more time to read. My five year old has spent probably hundreds of hours building elaborate structures with blocks and legos that he previously rarely touched. We have more time to outside.
I don’t have the answers about what this will all look like going forward. Maybe this moment to breathe gives me space to make sure I’m not dictating their interests. Maybe we’ll end up scheduled to the brim again. Or maybe we won’t. And at least I hope that I’ll have given my kids more of the tools to make those decisions and define what “head, heart, hands” means for themselves. They’ll be well on their way to building balance in busy lives.