The magical car door

We were pulling into a parking spot when the back door of a car swung open. The owners were getting closed to it and had opened it with their remote.

Our 3 year old exclaimed – “Look, it’s opening magically.”

“Ah, that’s not magical” – I explained. “It’s just the remote working.”

He explained that he knew that. We could do it in our car too after all. But, that didn’t change the fact that it was magical in his mind.

It took me a second to gain some perspective.

A button was pressed somewhere and a door just opened.

Duh.

Of course it is magical.

But that’s how I did it

When we started teaching our older kid to bike, I started with the assumption she’d do it as I/we did – start with training wheels and take them off over time.

My wife did a bit of digging and shared that there was a new approach to teaching kids to bike that was making the rounds these days. This involved starting her out without pedals as a “balance bike.” My response to this new piece of information was something along the lines of – “But, that’s how I did it!”

As I had more conviction in my approach (she hadn’t tried it yet after all), we started with the training wheels approach for two weeks. We then decided it was time to give this new method a try. By the second day, it was apparent her attempt was beginning to work. She had our 3.5 year old pedaling without training wheels within a week.

This was a memorable experience for me. Being proven woefully wrong has that effect on many of us. As I shared that experience last year, I remembered an older post of mine hypothesizing that the training wheel approach to learning isn’t a good one.

Ha. I’d written about this idea. But, when it came to applying it, it took me two weeks to get over my bout of “But, that’s how I did it!”

The good news is that there was no debate with our second. Recently, he made the jump to pedaling at the ripe old age of 2.75 years. I didn’t think it to be possible. But, I’ve learnt a new trick and will be recommending the balance bike approach to any curious parent.

This experience has made me more conscious about how often I use variants of – “But, that’s how I did it” – as a parent.

Experience is a useful tool in any toolbox.

I just have to be careful to make sure it isn’t my only tool.

Patience, flexibility, and tact

I made it past my four year mark as a parent a few weeks ago. I was reflecting on the biggest lessons I’ve learnt/attempted to learn over the past years. The three words that came to mind are patience, flexibility, and tact.

It is fitting that patience was the first area that popped to mind. This is an area I frequently come up short. The good news is that I’m far more aware of how impatient I am. The bad news is that I still lose my patience a few times a week. I’ve made progress from “Always” losing patience to “Often” to “Sometimes” over the years. But, there’s a chasm I need to jump to get it down to “Rarely.” That’s the goal for 2021.

Flexibility is the area where I’ve made the most improvement. I started our parenting journey hoping to juggle parenting with a bunch of other things I wanted to get done. I am under no such delusions now. I understand now that work life balance is a myth. Instead, we just have work life trade-offs. These trade-offs are real and are best made consciously. I’ve become better about making consciously conscious trade-off decisions and then making peace with them.

Finally, tact. This is an area I often come up woefully short. I’ve shared an analogy a few times over the years – “When you try to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department uses water.” The challenge with tact is that it runs counter to how I solve problems (I run toward them). That turns out to be a horrible way to solve problems with kids. As my wife frequently demonstrates, there’s often a creative detour you can use to diffuse the situation.

The good news is that I have become more aware of this. But, if I had to grade my progress – I think I have graduated from “Always” lacking tact to “Often” lacking tact. My hope is to get to “Sometimes” in 2021.

Here’s to making progress.

The first time parent advice question

I’ve spoken to many first time parents since we had our first kid four years ago. First time parents, as is their wont, typically ask for advice. I say the same thing to all of them.

When we were expecting our first child, the one idea that helped us the most was – “expect it to suck.” Go in expecting the first couple of years to be a nightmare. No sleep, no rest, no husband-wife time – the works. Definitely avoid any expectation of the fabled “miraculous” bonding experience.

It inevitably ends up being better than that. :-)

Our day-to-day happiness is a function of reality over expectations. Expecting a better reality means saddling your poor new born kid with the pressure of being a good sleeper, healthy eater, etc.

Just lower your expectations and embrace what life presents.

It works. Beyond parenting too.

Recomitting to NVC

Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication (NVC) was among the most impactful books I read in 2018. It came at a time when I needed a reminder that my default setting of attempting to “fight fire with fire” wasn’t working with our 2 year old.

While the lessons grasped from the book served me well in 2019, I’ve been feeling a resurgence of that familiar impatience with our kids in the past months.

It is clear that I haven’t learnt them yet – a good reminder to recommit to NVC. It was time to summon more patience, observe more, and raise my voice less.

Habits that matter take time to build. And, building them is an exercise in reminding ourselves to recommit.

Here’s to that.

Nailing it and trying hard

We’ve been attempting to teach our kids to ride scooters/bikes recently. While there are a few experiments in progress (read: reflections to follow once we have experiment results), there was an interesting recent ritual where we’d come back home after a walk/ride and our older kid would ask – “Did I nail it today?”

I answered “yes!” unconsciously for a few days before realizing that the question and my response was making me feel uneasy.

I realized that she’d picked it up from my unconscious reaction on one of the days. And, she figured this was a great way to get some validation for the progress she made.

Once I came to this realization, I began switching my response to – “Did you try hard today?” And, if the answer is yes, then that’s great because it is the effort that counts.

A few days in, this re-framing is slowly beginning to become the default question/self talk.

Long may that continue.

Permanent confidence and challenges

I was reminded of a passage about confidence from Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” recently.

“Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence—like a gift—by praising their brains and talent. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong.

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”

I had two reflections as I re-read this. The first is that this is just as applicable to adults as it is to kids.

And, the second is a reminder of how grateful I am to this blog (and, by extension to all of you) for continuing to inspire me to write about my own challenges, mistakes, effort, and learning. It has been, and continues to be, a life changing experience.

Spoiled

I came across a link to a well reviewed parenting book recently about not raising spoiled children.

From the reviews, it looked like the author had done a good job sharing a path (well off) parents might take to ensure their kids grew up grounded and fiscally responsible.

It made me wonder – is there a possibility that kids in a household will grow up to be grounded and fiscally responsible if their parents are not?

My guess is no.

And, if there isn’t any such path, perhaps that ought to be the simple premise of such a book – culture, after all, flows from leadership. And, it doesn’t matter what we say – our kids will take cues from what we do.

Work-life balance – 2 anecdotal observations

2 anecdotal observations about work-life balance post kids –

1. There isn’t work-life “balance” or “harmony” or whatever other nice-sounding word we choose as a substitute for balance. There are only work-life trade-offs… and those trade-offs are real and best made consciously.

2. When we find folks with young kids who seem to have their stuff together, we can deduce with 30%-40% certainty that they have a thing or two they can teach us about personal productivity. However, we can deduce with 80%-90% certainty that they have either a) an amazing childcare support system, b) an incredibly supportive partner, c) both or d) a great ability to appear as if they have their stuff together. :-)

The TV decision

We had an interesting discussion about whether or not to buy a television recently.

I’ll admit to being the person who suggested it – the thought of watching a Manchester United game (primary) or a nice show (secondary) on a large screen vs. an iPad was rather appealing. So, the idea took hold and I began researching TV models, best times to buy (thanksgiving), etc.

Luckily, I’m one half of a partnership and my wife pointed out that we barely have the time to watch anything these days. This sounds like a simple observation. But, despite not having watched a single game end-to-end for over a year at home, I fantasized about watching said Man United game once the TV appeared. How our mind plays tricks..

And, second, she reasoned that we’d be adding unnecessary pain to our parenting journey as we’d have to try to set boundaries for kids at an age where they don’t still understand them.

I don’t think I appreciated this at the time we discussed this. But, after 2 weeks away from home in AirBnBs with a TV, I am a convert. At home, we run on a ~5 videos/week-watched-on-weekends diet. But, the difference between enforcing such boundaries when there are no screens easily available and when there is a giant TV in the room is night and day. Even with a much more relaxed vacation TV diet, we still needed some creative negotiation and patience to deal with a few tantrums.

It is fascinating to see the hold a television has on little kids. They just sit transfixed at the colors – even if they don’t understand what is going on.

I think of most big expenses/investments with the lens of values. I realize now that the gap with the TV was that it wasn’t meant to be entertainment for the family – not just yet. In that sense, it conflicted with values I hold dear.

There will come a time when we’ll invest in a television for our home. That investment will come at a time when we’re all able to understand boundaries and enjoy the entertainment the box provides… together.