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What reading Dear Abby every morning taught me about myself

by Heather Caliri on March 26, 2014

This post is by Heather Caliri, regular contributor to The Happiest Home and blogger at A Little Yes. Heather writes about saying “yes” to little things that scare us. You can read all her posts here.

I have a morning habit that grounds me and strengthens me every day. I look forward to it, and depend on it to give me some equilibrium. I manage to make it a priority, no matter what.

What is it?

It’s reading advice columns while I drink a cup of tea.

You thought I was talking about yoga, didn’t you?

My habit doesn’t sound very productive. I spend fifteen every morning reading puff pieces in the Washington Post. I shush my kids and half-answer my husband and–you know what?

It really does me good.

I’ll be honest: I have mixed feelings about this habit of mine. Mornings are precious; I want to be present for my family. I could be using those minutes to cultivate habits related to my writing, or my faith; I could prepare for my day of homeschooling. Heck, I could simply empty the dishwasher. I could be doing so much more.

The only problem? I don’t want to.

A few years ago, this habit was less of a choice, and more of a problem. I’d start the morning with advice columns, move on to blog posts, Facebook, random news articles, and an hour and a half later, I’d look up to a house of chaos, whining children, and a guilty conscience.

I resolved to quit Dear Abby, Ask Amy and Carolyn Hax post-haste.

I knew needed to quit because it was a lousy way to start my day. It wasn’t worth my time. It was lazy, and unmotivated of me. It was a terrible habit, and I was terrible for not being able to do without it.

I tried, and I tried, but I never went more than a few days without indulging. And I resented the effort. I’d think, it’s such a small thing. Why I can’t I do this small thing?

And so I’d go back to indulging, guilt, and chaos.

A year ago, I decided on a radical experiment: I gave myself permission to read them.  Real, honest permission.

The only caveat? I would just read one or two (okay, three), and then I would shut off my phone, and move on. No browsing endlessly. No going back through Dear Abby archives to the year 1999 (yes, I really have a problem).

It wasn’t a big, formal decision or anything. I just shifted my thinking a little bit. I thought, You can’t do without this silly habit? Then go ahead, silly or not.

 Suddenly, the struggle stopped.

I started being content with fifteen minutes instead of ninety.

I stopped feeling resentful when I needed to cut the columns out on busy mornings.

I started noticing that I move slowly in the morning, but that after those fifteen minutes, I get in gear.

I started noticing how much more patient I was with my kids if I gave myself time to be silly first thing.

Most importantly, I started thinking of advice columns as a lavish gift for myself that I gave myself permission to enjoy every single morning.

Look, my reality isn’t yours. As a homeschooler, I have the luxury of moving slowly in the morning, but I get less time alone during the day. I have more flexiblilty  then you working moms, but perhaps less autonomy over when I go to the bathroom.

Whatever: all of us must decide what our priorities are.

Our days as mothers can be marathons. Whether it’s work, or school, or educating our kids, our energy has to stretch far. We have to know ourselves in order to thrive. And we have to be just as gentle and patient with ourselves as we are with a stubborn toddler.

Too often, my strategy for improvement is to berate myself. I want to be fast when I’m slow, or slow when I’m fast. I want to be less forgetful or more organized, or more patient, or more fun.

But the truth is, things work a lot better if I pay attention to who I really am. I must ask over and over: What makes my heart sing? What practices actually make me feel grateful? What habits play to my strengths?

It’s not always obvious. Maybe we have to experiment with more discipline or less, with getting up five minutes earlier, or shining our sink, with journaling every night, quitting a “silly” habit, or indulging ourselves. Maybe it will take us a while to figure out what our hearts are  asking for.

But it helps to start with the assumption that our hearts know what they need. It’s worth practicing the art of wholeness, instead of just productivity. It’s worth accepting ourselves, quirks and all, as completely as we can.

Image Credit: aj_jones_iv

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen March 26, 2014 at 8:06 am

This resonates with me on so many levels. I get my fix of email and Facebook, both of which lead me to various articles/videos of both serious and frivolous nature, shortly after waking up in the morning. And then I’m done and usually won’t check back until after lunch so I can focus on the things I really need to focus on — my work, my kids, household stuff. It’s means I can shut off from the media so much better.


Heather Caliri March 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Exactly, Maureen! I tend to label certain things “bad”–surfing the Internet, TV, whatever–instead of paying attention to how frivolous things can bless me, help me relax, and give me a sense of spaciousness. I’m finding much more balance when I stop labeling things so negatively.


Nina March 26, 2014 at 10:38 am

I used to have this irritating habit of trying to be ahead of the game when it comes to productivity. Oh, I have five minutes to spare? Let me dice the kids’ food. Then with the time I saved down the line for having already diced the food, I ask myself again, What can I do that’s productive to fill *this* time? And on and on.

I realized early on that this was unsustainable. It’s okay not to fill each minute with something productive. Otherwise, whatever time you saved later on will only be filled again with yet another productive act.

This could be a good thing… if I were a robot and didn’t require downtime. So now I tell myself it’s okay to relax, even if there’s a chore to be done. That chores can and will be done later, and that’s okay. There’s no race to finish everything, because, well, it never finishes, right? If only putting the dishes away could be a one time deal. But it’s not—it’ll pile up again, and they have to be washed and put away again.

So now I allow myself the pleasure of not doing anything, or of doing something I like that has zero productivity whatsoever. It truly does a heart good.


Heather Caliri March 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Have you been watching me at my house? :) This hits home for me :) I am such a productivity/efficiency nerd. Meagan’s post earlier this week about how household work is a practice, not a project really resonated for me because of that–the object is not to be efficient–it’s to take care of myself and my family in a joyful way.


Katie @ The Surly Housewife March 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Glad I am not alone! I really enjoy a silent house in the morning before all the chaos starts lol. Knowing that about myself and trusting that I knew myself best, has helped make mornings smoother. At least til the time change. Everything is out of wack now but we will be back on track soon :)


Heather Caliri March 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Oh, time change–you are my Nemesis. :)


MomofTwoPreciousGirls March 27, 2014 at 10:25 am

This is what I have to tell my husband every day when I get my cup of Starbucks. I tried drinking the crap we made at home and it did me no good. I was cranky and miserable. We each get an “allowance” to do what we choose with. Most of mine goes to my daily cup and I don’t have any apology for it. Plain and simple, it is the ONE thing that I do for MYSELF. I spend every waking moment (and often the sleeping ones too!) taking care of my kids, the people I support at work, their clients and my husband. My cup of delicious iced coffee is MY ME TIME!


Heather Caliri March 27, 2014 at 4:24 pm

It’s funny how that one little habit is like finding a key to a better attitude. Having a spirit of generosity with myself is really changing me :)


Naptimewriting March 29, 2014 at 3:32 am

Wait…did you just say we’re supposed to be patient with toddlers?

Uh-oh. That’s two people I have to go be nice to now.


Enjoy your fix, Heather. 15 minutes is a very small price to pay for selfhood and sanity.


Heather Caliri March 31, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Amen! I’m amazed at how hard it is to give myself permission for that :)


Graham September 17, 2014 at 8:20 am

Outstanding story there. What occurred after?
Take care!


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