work in progress

One of the oft repeated phrases in our house is “be patient, he/she is a work in progress.”

The idiom is usually preceded by someone making a mess, throwing a fit, calling someone a name or just generally acting human. Growing up is hard; being grown up is hard. I believe it’s important to remember our mistakes do not define us.

You may have heard the metaphor comparing a family to a construction site (I first heard it from my beloved friend Catherine). To build something wonderful, you need to make a mess: dig holes, pour cement, create sawdust and paint splatters and all kinds of debris. Building a family includes all kinds of messes, both literal and figurative. Good parenting requires a certain tolerance for disorder. Not a tolerance for bad behavior– but an awareness that we are all a work in progress.

Every one of our children rages through an angry phase (or several), a forgetful stage, a defiant stage. If we, as parents, focus on that behavior, we freeze them, making the anger/defiance/forgetfulness their primary attribute. I’ve always been adamant on criticizing the behavior, not the child.

My belief was validated by my friends, a married couple, both child psychologists. I met them in lamaze class and spent many afternoons at playgroup and swim dates when their two kids were babies. At a recent reunion, they told me, “We took everything so seriously back then: attachment, toilet training, defiance… now we’re tempted to tell 90% of our clients, ‘It’s just a phase.'”

Almost every building phase creates chaos, but some are worse than others. Because some of my children are more advanced, they become impatient with their younger siblings. I repeat over and over, “I know. I’ll talk to him/her about it. But remember they are a work in progress.”

I’m not the architect of this building, or even the contractor. Only God creates on a grand enough scale to mold a human soul. I work only as a foreman with a limited time and stewardship to teach kindness, responsibility, how to clean a toilet, mow the lawn, eat your fruits and vegetables, use gentle words and don’t hit your brother.

Raising children isn’t about how much they respect me– though I’ll teach them respect; or fulfilling my dreams– though I’ll teach them to dream. In short: it’s not about me.

All this brings to mind C.S. Lewis words, which he borrowed from a parable by George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I cannot comprehend what God will make of my children; I cannot comprehend what he can make of me.

I pray for patience and forgiveness along the way.

I am a work in progress. I hope friends forgive my past mistakes and I pray to forgive others. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, last month, last week.

The only people who don’t change are those who don’t believe they can.

Have you ever spent time with someone who knew you during a difficult time and still treats you as someone foolish or broken? In contrast, have you spent time with someone who loves everything about you, who believes you have done and will do incredible things? People who see the best in us are true gifts.

And that’s the gift I want to give my children– loving them for the wonderful people they are right now and the glorious men and women they will become.

October 14, 2014
October 23, 2014



  1. Anne Marie

    October 19, 2014

    Michelle, this is such a beautiful philosophy to parent by. I just love your compassionate soul. Thank you so much for sharing wisdom and inspiration here. I consider you a very important mentor (blogging has miraculously given me a chance to learn from a beautiful woman who lives hundreds of miles away ). Thank you for all the time you invest in sharing pieces of your life here. You have remarkable gifts of insight and love.

  2. Heather Conger

    October 19, 2014

    Thank you so much! That was beautiful and exactly what I needed to read today, thank you.

  3. Kit

    October 20, 2014


  4. Grandma Honey

    October 20, 2014

    “Be patient. He/she is a work in progress.” I really like that! I will start using it with my grandchildren. Some of your posts are so profound I find myself still thinking about them months later.

  5. ellen patton

    October 20, 2014

    You have a way with words. 🙂

  6. Michelle

    October 22, 2014

    This brought tears to my eyes. If there is anything I have come to feel about God, it is that He understands the process, the work in progress. He is so, so patient and gentle with me (while also being direct — but there is always so much love that it doesn’t even feel that way). Coming to know and understand His love for me is helping me understand what you have talked about here. The work in progress stuff is why we are here. Messy, messy mortality. Thank heaven for an Atonement.

  7. Heather Stallings

    October 22, 2014

    Anne Marie said it perfectly! I’m so blessed to learn from someone who lives hundreds of miles away and that I’ve never met.

    I’m going to adopt the “work in progress” philosophy, as well. I love the C.S. Lewis quote you shared. This whole post helped me think about how I define my children. Your compassion and frequent forgiveness given to your children are inspiring. So glad I stopped by here today!

  8. Cath Arvy

    October 22, 2014

    Oh Michelle, I needed this today. I needed the work in progress reminder. See my recent post in which I reference Ali. Going through a hard phase right now. Our mistakes do not define us. Repeat. Repeat. repeat. I love you. See you Friday.

  9. Laura

    October 23, 2014

    I stumbled on your blog a few weeks ago and spent time reading some of your archives. I appreciate so many of your thoughts on motherhood and parenting. Sometimes I feel like I expect perfection from my children and I forget that we are all a “work in progress”. This was a great reminder of the bigger picture in life. Thanks for sharing it!
    P.S. What beach is that? I’m guessing Laguna, but could be wayyyy off. Looks fun!

  10. PC

    October 29, 2014

    Thank you for this, I needed this reminder. Absolutely beautiful.

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