Living guilt free through the messy seasons of life by embracing the 80/20 rule

Embrace the mess. Parenting guilt free. |
A few years ago, when I shared here on the blog that I was feeling overwhelmed by pregnancy, life with small children, and trying to get through the solo parenting season at our house that is income tax time, a kind reader gently reminded me of the 80/20 rule.

To paraphrase, she basically said that it was okay that things were a little bit crazy at my house 20% of the time, because the other 80% things were normal.  The majority of the time, things are fine around here.  When I realized that she was right, I was able to let go of the guilt.

A messy season of life won’t define their entire childhood.

Things around here haven’t been up to my ideal lately.  It has been a bit chaotic, if you want to know the truth.  This is a busy time of year for my family, a season I know is coming every year, but one that often finds me a little on the frazzled side by the end of it, clinging loosely to our rhythm and routines but mostly just letting things go and focusing only on the essentials.

In the meantime,  there are paper plates on my table, we’ve had cereal for dinner more than I care to think about, and the last time we went to the library I’m pretty sure we checked out more children’s videos than books (and we won’t even mention the Netflix marathons).

We’re in “survival” mode right now.  And I don’t feel guilty for doing what I need to do to get through it.

At the end of the day we’re happy and we’re healthy, and that is enough.

The 80/20 Rule of Parenting |

My hands are full. If meeting the needs of my kids and myself has to come ahead of time in the kitchen making meals from scratch (or washing dishes) and my older kids are watching more Arthur than usual, well, that is just fine with me.

This isn’t how we live all the time.  This is just a break from our normal.  This is the twenty percent. (One could even argue it is less than 20% of our year, so we’re ahead of the curve.)

The bottom line:  I’m okay, the kids are okay.

The case for a little bit of screen time. Guilt free parenting with the 80/20 rule. |SimpleKids.nte

Pareto’s Principle

To put it another spin on it, and look at it from another direction, I can also apply the original 80-20 Rule, aka Pareto’s Principle to this season of life:  20% of what we do is vital, 80% is trivial.

Therefore, as long as I’m hitting the most important 20% of every day (food, shelter, love) the rest of it is trivial (if we’re still in our pajamas at noon, how many times we’ve had popcorn and apple slices for lunch, whether or not the kids have the Signing Time theme song committed to memory, etc.)

Another way to think of it is to work smarter, not harder:  focus 80% of your energy on the most important 20% of the things that need to be accomplished.  For me and my household that means that the kids feel loved, we eat three meals a day, and the house is still standing at the end of the day.

The children aren’t suffering, they actually are enjoying this break from routine.   I’m okay with being a little loosey goosey with the rules since I know order will return soon and I know the most important things, that vital 20%, are being done each day.

Again, the bottom line is  I’m okay, the kids are okay.

In some ways, I think this time of year is good for us.

Would I want life to be like this everyday?  Well, no, I wouldn’t.  For one thing, I much prefer it when my husband is around and the whole family gets to spend time together.  Also, I’m kind of sick of eating popcorn.

But, I recognize that it won’t be like this forever.  I know that even a month from now things will look very different.

If I have to make a few concessions on how things are normally at our house in order to keep from feeling overwhelmed, than I’m giving myself permission not to feel guilty about it.

How do you get through the messy seasons of life?  Do you have a take on the 80/20 rule that you apply to your own family life?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Thank you. Just thank you.

  2. As a Registered Dietitian (and mom and person!) I use the 80:20 rule for making food choices. 80% of the time we eat really well – we make the healthiest choices possible – 20% of the time we take it a bit easier and have a few treats here and there. It’s a lovely balance that works will for food choices.

    I hadn’t thought to apply it to other sorts of choices – what a brilliant way to look at life with kids – and how to take some of that (usually self-imposed) pressure off ourselves. For example, this weekend we had an ice storm and a broken van – we were housebound! A lot of Lego Harry Potter Wii was played. A lot. I think I just stopped making myself feel guilty for that. Thanks, Kara!
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s latest post: Our Menu Plan: April 14th to 20th

  3. Your house in tax season sounds a lot like mine during seeding and harvest! It does help to remember that is is only a season. Even though it is a whole lot more work for me, I try and make it special for the kids by meeting their dad out in the field as often as possible since they don’t see him nearly as much during those times. And I’ve really learned to love the slow laziness of winter!

  4. As a fellow tax season widow (and one who still has a few weeks to go!), thank you so much for this post! It’s good to remember that this is truly a season and if things are crazy right now then that’s OK. Such a good reminder….especially with the next 2 weeks of true craziness looming!! (and popcorn and apple slices sound like a good lunch….I need to remember that!!)

  5. Wonderful! I recently had a similar “aha” and had to reassess my home/work balance. I reset my priorities in this order: God.. Marriage… Family… Home… Community… Self… Work. The opposite of the way I was doing things. Things fall into place when you put the right things first.

  6. Oh. my. goodness. I totally know where you’re coming from. My husband works so much as a nuclear engineer we will hardly see him for months at a time. I feel like a single parent 90% of the time. I feel like I don’t have it together 80% of the time- I seem to shine only 20%. A book that helped me more than anything was “Large Family Logistics”. I only have three kids, so I don’t consider us a large family, but the principles still apply. She has a section in the back called “Survival Mode”- it has helped me through rough patches more times than I can count. Then there’s another section called “Moving Beyond Survival Mode”. Then you go back and read the rest of the book to establish a routine. I’ve been in Survival Mode more times than I care to admit. 😛
    Jennifer Campbell´s latest post: Esme Maternity Top by MadeleineAndCo

  7. oh kara. how i needed this. today. oh, today of all days, i needed this. from God’s heart to your keyboard, a message of grace to me today.
    thank you, friend.

    nursing at keyboard hence lack of capitalization.
    Megan at SortaCrunchy´s latest post: The Baby Companion: A Review and Giveaway!

  8. I totally understand this. Married to a cancer doctor, we have a two week period every month that is pretty rough, when he’s on call (which basically means in the hospital all weekend, all days and lots of evenings). So he works hundred hour weeks sometimes. I have adapted as much as possible with batch cooking and freezing, strategizing meal plans and shopping. I only have 2 kids but when the only adult in the house for so long it can make you loose your marbles! 80/20 is a good principle! We go into survival mode on call weekends. I even drove through a fast food drive through in desparation one day, and it has to get pretty bad for that to happen. But I know that we are eating healthy, whole foods made from scratch most of the time, so that survival mode occasion can be permitted…
    sarah´s latest post: A Tidy Desk and A Clean Slate

  9. Happy April 15th! As a CPA myself, I am READY for life to return to normal!

  10. Excellent post – will be sharing! We mothers especially put pressure on ourselves usually to deliver 100% of the time and it is important we allow ourselves the grace for these periods where we need to cut ourselves some slack, letting some things go (like plates that need washing xx) and making sure the most important needs are met
    Deb @ Home life simplified´s latest post: 7 tools to boost an intentional life

  11. It’s a necessity to take a break once in a while. I can’t imagine a life of a mom who’s giving it 100% all of the time. I bet that would be very exhausting and might even lead to a really unbalanced life. Give yourself a room to breath and you won’t find parenting that difficult. :)

  12. I needed this today. Thank you.

  13. A wonderful way to look at things. I’m glad I’m not the only one that goes through seasons like this. Thanks so much…
    Gina @connectingfamilyandseoul´s latest post: 8 Essential Board Books for Toddlers for Your Home Library

  14. Thanks you! I needed to remember this. I’m just curious if you have suggestions for how to return back to normal when we’ve been in survival mode. My husbands work can get very busy for a few weeks, and then back to normal, and then busy again. So I feel like I’m often going between the normal and the survival. But it’s such a challenge to get back into it! Maybes that’s another blog post- or maybe you have ideas or place to go to read up on getting back into routine? Thanks!

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, I needed to hear this. We are in a time of transition in our family (moving to a new state) and currently my husband has moved to start his job and I am back at our home waiting for the new house to me ready for us to move/selling our house. It is also planting time which means my husband is extra busy. We are in survival and this was a perfect article.

  16. This is a great reminder. I have to tell myself I can only do what I can do. Last week I had a very busy week at work, this past weekend I did not do very much of anything but relax. when I felt guilty I told myself it was good for our mental health.

    I also remind myself to not compare to others and not try to do what they can do. I get somewhat annoyed with people who are married and their spouse is busy or away and they say things like “I am single now.” No, you aren’t. I really am single. I don’t have a second income coming in or one that makes it possible for me to stay home. I don’t have another body to watch my child when he is sick, or if i want to run to the store, or anything like that. I don’t have someone else to feed the dog or take out the trash or run a load of laundry. I don’t have someone to do the yardwork. to bounce ideas off of when my son is sick or needs extra help educationally, etc. Even if a spouse is busy or away for a bit, you have that respite on the horizon. When your kids are sleeping, if your spouse is home, you can run out and do things. I don’t have that luxury and I’m fine with that, I love being a mother to my amazing son BUT I cannot do what others can do. Its just not possible. And someone who says “I’m single” when they have those luxuries really are being thoughtless towards those that live it day in and day out.

    Frankly, we have all made choices in life to be where we are. If you didn’t want your life that way, you would change it. If it was just too much and you didn’t want a busy season, you and your husband would work it would so you didn’t have that. BUT I was talking to my stepmother about my job. Its a great job, state job, good hours, good benefits, but not much money. but it gives me more time with my son whereas another job with more money would give me less. what is more important to me? time with my son. so I give. and she said she was listening to an interview with Margaret Thatcher who said the hardest part of her job was how surprised she was from missing time with her family but she just learned, you can’t have it all. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL. If you think you can you will spend your life being unhappy. so I have less money, I have time with my son – worth it to me. Your husband has a season of business – worth it to you for what you do get the rest of the year, right? so, along with giving ourselves a break I think we need to focus on why we’ve chosen to be where we are. if we don’t like it, change it. and if we don’t…grin and bear it, right? :)

  17. Yes to the freedom to do what works for now. love it, friend.
    Jamie~Simple Homeschool´s latest post: My best dozen pieces of homeschooling advice

  18. For Mother’s Day 2 years ago, I asked my husband to hang a vinyl in the kitchen (from etsy) that says “Where there are no oxen the manger is clean” Proverbs 14:4. I cook from scratch mostly …which means with little children my kitchen is a wreck most (80%+) of the day. One day my house will be clean (and quiet!) and the oxen will have all found homes of their own. I pray to find joy in the messy manger in these days.


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