We have a new catchphrase around my house: you don't have to, you GET to.
It came after some preteen pouting about chores or schoolwork or something. I can't remember now. When things get to a certain point during our school day, I'll say, "we'll have to talk to Daddy about this when he gets home." It isn't a threat of punishment like the old fist-shaking "you just wait till your father gets home." It's more like "Wow, seems like we're at an impasse here and need some fresh eyes on the problem. We definitely a pep talk. Maybe some new perspectives? Some new alternatives? Daddy will know what to do."
I sent a text to Builder-husband: "[redacted] is struggling with attitude about his responsibilities. Can we talk about it when you get home?"
"Sure thing." This is Builder-husband's standard response.
That evening, while we made dinner, Builder-husband had two of the children following him around the kitchen: he let them exhaustively list their grievances for several minutes. When they were finished, he paused a moment and quietly ladeled soup into bowls for dinner.
"You know the real problem here? You keep saying 'I have to,' 'I have to,' with all your responsibilities. None of them are going to change: you still need to do your schoolwork, you still need to do your chores. But maybe, instead of 'I have to' you should start saying 'I get to'—'I get to be homeschooled.' 'I get to help my brother, who is also my best friend.' 'I get to help prepare food for my family so we can enjoy a nice meal around the table every night.' You're happy most of the time, right? You have a life you like and are happy with, right?"
"So then all these things you 'have' to do, you actually 'get' to do them, right? Pretty much the only thing we can control in this life is our attitude—can we work with a happy heart? Instead of reacting, can we respond to things with intelligence, kindness, joy? I think a lot of that starts with saying that all the things we have to do, and there will always be those things, we get to choose how we do them, we get to choose to do them with courage or curosity or silliness or determination. Does that make sense?"
"I think so."
Now, when we struggle—and I can tell you, we struggle daily—with reading lessons, with a new math concept, with a small cousin who has helped themselves to carefully guarded candy, with unexpected financial setbacks, with bad news, with disappointments, we look into each other's eyes and say, "you don't have to, you GET to."
All of us roll our eyes when someone says it to us, because it's never easy to accept the course correct when we'd like to dig in and have a nice little self-pity party right here, thank you. But like the attitude control in an aircraft, "you don't have to, you GET to" keeps us oriented so we can fly straight and not crash into the ground. That small reframe is effective in reminding us to be grateful. We get to be here. We get to live and breathe and love each other and the world. That's a gift. Every single breath. Every single day. All the work. Gift, gift, gift.
Even the days like Monday where I discovered a mistake and now we owe taxes on top of medical debt and the van breaks down and Builder-husband is traveling and everyone has colds and the spelling and reading lessons are tedious day-in-day-out slogs. I have so much work to do: managing a tight budget, nursing grouchy kids, teaching them. But also: there is so much work I GET to do: providing for them, loving them, watching them grow.
I get to.