Five Percent

November 12, 2012

By Amy Hackworth.

I’ve been thinking about those seemingly small parenting moments that turn out to be more memorable than we expected ever since I read Tracy Grant’s post. She suggests that the really sweet, significant moments might be just 5% of what we do as parents. I’m not ready to concede that it’s such a small percentage, but I’m going with it because her numbers make a good point.

Immersed in managing daily life — say, the other 95% — we’re sometimes tempted to forego the extra effort of that 5%. I’m definitely guilty, and Grant shares my justification almost verbatim when she writes, “Could my kids live full, complete, successful lives without ever seeing Finding Nemo in 3-D?” When the answer is yes, I rationalize that we have plenty of other family fun, and we can skip fill in the blank with a fun family adventure for now.

On one hand, this is wise parenting. I’d drive myself and my kids crazy trying to squeeze in every good thing that crosses our path. But Grant’s point is that when she did take her 16-year-old twin sons to see Finding Nemo in 3-D, it was a rich and meaningful experience for all of them.

And this is the idea I’m most intrigued by; that the 5% moments have the potential to make us significantly happier, to bring noticeably greater joy into our lives. They’re unnecessary by the most practical measures, but essential for a full life. They’re things like museum visits, kitchen science experiments, art lessons, star-gazing long past bedtime, living room dance parties.

Children are naturally good at this — playing with the box the toy comes in as much as the toy seems like a perfect example — but I can definitely see room for improvement in my life.

I can’t wait to hear what you think. What was the last small moment with your family that turned out to be bigger than you expected? And do you think an extra 5% of living can make life exponentially more beautiful?

This would be one of those 5% moments.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Audrey Gebhardt November 12, 2012 at 8:35 am

I love this philosophy… I very often find that what I expect to be super meaningful isn’t as meaningful as a simple every day dinner/conversation/activity.


2 Rachael November 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

This is such an interesting thought. It really is “the little things” that take life from ordinary to special. I’m going to try harder to focus on that 5% with my children. Thanks!


3 Gina November 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

Interesting, I would not have guessed 5%. But with some things we are doing lately I can see that is correct. We have to mentally set aside the time to balance family and life. That being said, apparently knocking snow off a tree branches is the most hilarious thing you could show a 2 year old. :)


4 Sharna November 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

Made me think of this quote I heard recently:
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length. by Robert Frost.

And somehow it all averages out.


5 Ellen November 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Thanks for sharing this quote. It’s so beautiful!


6 sara November 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

For me it was this

worth the 15 minutes it takes to get 2 little boys bundled up in snowsuits, hats, boots, and the 10 minutes it takes to get it all undone when we come back inside.


7 Bérangère Bouffard November 12, 2012 at 6:14 pm

This made me laugh till I cried! LOVE IT! :D Kids are easy to please. We just have to pay attention to what makes them smile and go with it. Even if it’s just running in circles.


8 Carol F. November 17, 2012 at 10:39 am

So, sooooo sweet!


9 Nan November 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

For me, and only me in this case, it was 20 minutes or so sketching the still life of harvest veggies sitting on my dining room table. Similarly a box of crayons and paper left on the table for spontaneous sketching grabs kids as if by magnetic force.


10 Janet Meyer November 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hi Gabrielle,

Just wanted to let you know that I am unable to get to the link for the Thanksgiving Kids’ Table. I’m anxious for ideas :) Thank you.


11 Janet Meyer November 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Thanks, got it!


12 Koseli Cummings November 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

This was beautiful, Amy. This is something I agonize over, which is a total catch 22. When my son was one month old, I have the sweetest memory of nursing/sleeping with my son in our warm bed in the late morning with rain pouring outside. I distinctly remember hearing my oldest sister’s advice to enjoy the little moments and telling myself, Stay in bed and treasure this. I did and I’ll never forget those few hours. I’ve written about them so my son will know too.


13 Jennifer November 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

Thoughtful and beautiful post, Amy. Thank you for the reminder to look for — and cherish — those 5% moments. I take comfort in the thought that even though I often feel like we’re downing in laundry, homework and piano practice, it’s those 5% moments that my children will remember most from their childhoods. Hopefully, those are the moments I will remember, too.


14 Joanna Legerski McCormick November 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

We drove two hours and jumped through a number of hoops to take our two year old to see Sesame Street’s Elmo production. I kept complaining about the cost, time, and that I thought a 2 year old would never remember it. I mean he’s never seen Elmo as we don’t have TV. Finally my husband sat me down and said, “Look, this is important to me. Maybe he wont remember it for long, but I will. I want this memory of watching our son discovering something new.” And that is what happened…a good moment.


15 Maria November 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

My two year old daughter LOVES airplanes and here in Ottawa we have an aviation museum that I had been trying to take her to for a couple weeks. One day my other daughter was sick. Once we went and it was closed. A couple other times something else came up and it just kept getting pushed back. Last Thursday we were finally able to make it there and SHE LOVED IT. I mean, I knew she was going to love it, but wow her enthusiasm surprised me. She was squealing with delight and saying LOOK MOM LOOK MOM LOOK MOM over and over. It was one of those moments where you just think, “heck yeah, I just nailed that!” It was fantastic. The thought of it still makes me smile!


16 Maria November 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

Oh, I forgot to mention that she was dressed as an old fashioned aviator too! I had the get up together for her Halloween costume but at the last minute (after seeing her sissy in a dress) she wanted to be a princess. Adorbs.


17 Wendy November 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Yes! Dance parties in the living room, taking my daughter & niece out to a movie in full princess costumes, picking my daughter up from school for a “doctor appointment” and instead taking her to a movie she wanted desperately to see, playing board games & dancing with flashlights while waiting out Hurricane Sandy. I LOVE my 5%! Thank you for prompting me to take the time to notice it and of course now I want more!


18 Susan-Lise Vintage Lighting November 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I loved your post and have a retrospective comment. It’s WAY too lohng and I apologize in advance but it supports your own musings from the perspective of a mother of college-aged daughters. Because of their age I take enormous pleasure in simply having our family of four together for an evening. I cherish hearing my daughters’ now almost ritual “remember when” stories, just as so many of us share with our own siblings. My observation however is that the memories they cherish most are of “5% moments,” but that 5% moments have less to do with logistics and expenditure and everything to do with our being fully present with our kids when we are with them.

Still only 19 and 21, my girls have already made my heart smile many times with their walks down memory lane. The memories they most often dust off and revisit are ones of childhood traditions evolved from those seized moments that we might not have nurtured along for them had we not been present and attentive. Moments that would mean nothing to other families but that resonated, took root, blossomed and eventually became part of the fabric of ours– quirky bedtime routines, made-up father/daughter games for which treasured “game pieces” are now tucked away in memory boxes, beloved family movies, holiday traditions and family-favorite dishes cooked together by mother and daughters. Had we not been attentive and present with our children we would not have been able to help our girls nurture the memories they found most meaningful. We had the same struggle to carve out time when long-work hours and what “needed to be done” pressed on us as well. Trust me, I feel the same guilt that we may have missed many such moments as we “multi-tasked” our way along. Knowing what I know now however, I have no guilt wor worry that our children were deprived having never been exposed to even one Disney theme park. More than theme-park vacations, they needed for us to be fully present during the regular moments we did share with them, when became even harder to accomplish when they became teens. A fond memory now, during their teen years we had non-negotiable, Sunday evening FFFT (Family Fun Time, bestowed with a now-permanent F for “forced” during one of their more charming moments…) which emphasized regularity over spontaneity and was downright tempting to skip at times… Instead, we counted on even sulky teens eventually having to laugh and let their guard down, which they did. When no one was looking…

This year marks the establishment of our newest family tradition based on fond memory. With virtual smiles we have texted back and forth to plan next weeks’ “Thanksgiving-eve FFFT” together, just the four of us for now. Dinner followed by game night “for old times’ sake” has won hands-down as the agenda of choice and served to further convince me that planned or un-planned, our job as parents was to be present and attentive on a regular, though not necessarily choreographed or on a grand basis. It was then that long-lasting and SPECIAL kinds of memories and traditions took root.


19 April Louise November 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

This is such a beautiful photograph!


20 Bérangère Bouffard November 12, 2012 at 7:41 pm

This is great timing. Today was one of those days where I felt short and cranky and struggled till the last goodnights. Guilt was chewing at me. I know I have tomorrow to redeem myself and this motivating article helped me realize that we’re doing ok.

A few days ago our 5 yrs old daughter was feeling down and frustrated and wanted to be held before bedtime (something that her 2 yrs old sister gets more of) so I did and started to sing “Fly me to the moon” (it’s her favourite bedtime song since I placed an old music box in their room that plays that tune). I started to sway and turn as I sang (even though she felt heavy in my arms) and wiped her tears. It didn’t take long for the 2 yrs old to be vocal about wanting to be held too so papa who was present grabbed her and started to sing along in harmony :) It was quite the performance and our 5 yrs old said that it was very nice but that it would be even more beautiful if we cranked the music box to play along! :D So we did. Next thing we know, we were all singing and waltzing with our girls in the glow of a nightlight that just so happens to be shaped like a big yellow moon. It made everybody smile and made us realize that it was a very special moment and worth the delay in saying goodnight.

Later this weekend we had a spontaneous tea party with our daughters except we filled the pots with hot chocolate and coffee instead. It was my girl’s idea and I could have said no (I really didn’t feel like it) but she really wanted to surprise her father and baby sister who were about to come back from some errands (and doughnuts). After trying to get out of it I realized how lame I sounded and just went for it. It only took 15 minutes. She was so excited and wrote a list (in her ‘pretend’ writing) to check all the things that we would need. She asked me if we could use the cups I made in a pottery class. A bowl I made for sugar. If we could use the new cool teapot I purchased but didn’t use yet among other little things that were obviously special to her. She helped me set the table too. It made her so happy (it was nothing really) and her baby sister was delighted as the whole family sat down for a chocolate/coffee party with doughnuts. It wasn’t perfect and the table was cluttered with things that simply got pushed to the side but the girls could see passed that and enjoyed every minute of asking “may I have more chocolate please” over and over and over! :)


21 Jessica Poelma November 12, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Looking for my 5% moments!! Loved this post.


22 Captain Crafty November 13, 2012 at 8:53 am

I have twin boys. I knew in my heart that all our lives would change greatly when they started Kindergarten in the fall. So, I took the whole summer off and spent everyday teaching them to swim at the pool, getting ice cream and taking long woodsy hikes… I felt like it was worth the investment for all of us. It was a fabulous summer to remember and build on as our lives get more scheduled and frantic.
It’s too easy to forget that love, shelter and food is all we really need – when I can, I let go of all the lurking “should’s” , sit on the floor and build lego ships with them … they are over the moon!


23 Victoria Larson November 15, 2012 at 5:15 am

What a beautiful and thoughtful post. I have been trying just be more present to “catch” those little moments. No more multi-tasking for me while the girls are around. I can already feel my 11-year old twins pulling away and enjoying their independence. Thank you for the lovely reminder.


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