10/24/2013 01:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Solve the Puzzle of Life in 6 Easy Steps (As Taught by My 4-Year-Old)

I keep thinking about a phase that my son was going through a few months ago. He was 4 and he was really into puzzles.

Solving puzzles. Putting puzzles together. He would sit for the longest time and really work a puzzle. I loved watching him to do this.

I learned so much about his little big personality.

And I decided that 4-year-olds really know how to live. They have it figured out, this puzzle of life. It is really not so difficult.

Just stop for a little while. Stop and watch the 4-year-olds. We might just find the pieces we've been missing.

There might be 100 pieces to this puzzle. 100 pieces is a lot. They are all different shapes and sizes and can be overwhelming when we open the box and look at everything that has to be accomplished. Today. Tomorrow. This week. Before the holidays. We can choose to just say, "Nevermind. This is just too much," and put the lid back on the box. And put the box back on the shelf.

Or. Like the 4-year-old, we can throw them all out over the coffee table and just pick up one piece to start with.

To the Mommas, all of those pieces, just laying around in a pile, might look just like a huge mess. We wonder if we can really do this all by ourselves. Put this all together in a way that makes sense.

And the Momma of the 4-year-old wonders just how long he will be able to keep up with all of the pieces before he loses one.

We wonder about this for ourselves, too. How can we keep up with so many pieces, so many things to be and do?

But what if we just pick up one, like the 4-year-old? Just pick up one to get started. Then find one to go with that one.

One by one, we can piece it all together.

From the 4-year-old, here is "How to Solve the Puzzle of Life in 6 Easy Steps."

1. You start with what you know. You focus on the important stuff.

You build the people first.

In the case of my son, the superheroes.

Watch the 4-year-olds. They will always put the people, the animal, the characters together first. They are the first things that get 'pieced' together. They stand out the most. They have the brightest colors, the expressions. They deserve to go together first -- they are in fact the most important part of the puzzle.

As the Mommas, we should follow his lead. He's right. Shouldn't the people in our lives, come... first?

Shouldn't we focus on the people we love, the people we care about?

Make the people in your life the center of your puzzle.

2. You start in the middle and work your way out.

When I was younger, my grandmother told me that you always start with the pieces with the flat edges. You find all of those and you build the frame first. I tried to pass that sage advice on to the boy child, but he had other plans. I don't say this often, but I think this time, she might have been wrong, after all. Sure, it is another way to do it. But the frame is not usually the most exciting part of the puzzle. Yes, it holds it all together, and it is needed for sure. But it is usually just the background pieces, the landscape.

The 4-year-olds intuitively know that the action, the real action, is right in the middle of the puzzle.

Why not start there and let the background fall into place as you get to it?

The action is where it is at. It is not the clean counter tops or the folded laundry in drawers. It is not the mopped floors or the perfectly picked up toys. We all know it is the Family Wii tennis tournament challenge in the living room. It is the squirt gun fight in the kitchen. It is the tickle monster chases down the hall. It is the belly laughs at the dining table.

As the Mommas, we will get to the frame. We will pick up the toys and put away the clothes and wash up the dishes. We will do that stuff because we are the Mommas.

The trick is not to miss the action in the meantime.

Our lives need to be lived from the middle... out.

Let's focus on the middle, the heart of our homes and lives. We can build the frame as we go.

3. It is OK to ask for help, but you want to put the piece in by yourself. You can't let someone else do it FOR you.

And it is. It is OK to ask for help. Ultimately, the 4-year-old is right again. As the Mommas, we can show him where a piece might go, but he has to figure out the direction. He has to be the one who turns it over, matches the shapes and colors. He has to be the one to determine if it is a good fit.

And if he gets frustrated, if a piece just doesn't seem to fit just right, he can ask for help.

As the Mommas, we want to help. We want help.

But just like the 4-year-olds, we have to learn that we have what it takes. We can do this. We can reach out and get some help, but ultimately, it is our puzzle. It is our life. We know how these pieces go together. We have to trust our instincts. Stop second-guessing. Stop comparing.

We know how this puzzle goes together.

4. You have to keep going. Take a break, sure. Have a little ice cream. But then keep at it. You will get faster, the pieces will come together easier.

The 4-year-olds totally understand this. There are sweet things in life that must be enjoyed. Sometimes, we have to stop. Take a breather and then come back at something with even more perseverance and determination.

The Mommas in us need to remember that it is OK to stop. It is OK to take a break. We deserve it. We deserve to call a time out, for ourselves, and then come back to the puzzle to start again.

5. But... sometimes, you have to get IN the puzzle to really make it all come together.


The 4-year-old said to me, "Ok, this top part... is the hard part. I have to look close." Isn't that true? When things get hard; when things are difficult -- you do have to really be there. Pay attention. Focus. Get in it and get messy.

Stop multi-tasking. Slow down and focus. When things get hard, we have to get into the puzzle to figure it out.

And if nothing else works, a little change your perspective can do wonders.

And last but not least...

6. Be proud of it. Leave it out on the table. Admire it. Brag about it. Call people from the other room to come and see it.
Life is made to be shared with others. Don't hide your accomplishments. Share your talents. Brag a little.

This puzzle of life is hard. 100 pieces is a lot. As the Mommas, we spend too much time trying to live small. Trying to keep the focus on others. Trying not to sound too proud or shine too bright.

The 4-year-olds know how to live. Jump up and down. Squeal a little. Celebrate the big accomplishments. Make sure everyone knows that you finished this puzzle and you are ready for the next one.

Because, Mommas... it is a big deal. It is OK to be proud of the puzzle you are piecing together.

Show it off a little.

Just like the 4-year-old, it is OK to say, "Hey! Look what I did!"

Let's all go do that.