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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
Many of my most profound moments of learning as a parent have come from reflecting on times when I would have done better replacing my emotional reaction with a measured response.
They came from times when our first child was hungry/sleepy/tired/sick and inevitably irrational. Faced with ten of these situations in 2018, I would react with impatience in every five. After a lot of reflection on my tendencies to respond to fire with fire (instead of using water) and on lessons I took away from Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non Violent Communication,” I think my hit rate on responding instead of reacting has increased to 8/10 in 2019.
That’s still two situations out of every ten that I’d love to avoid. And, as I head into the final 6 weeks of the year, I’m hoping to continue strengthening my response muscles at every opportunity.
I expect the impact of response training to continue to be far reaching. It continues to bring to light the many situations outside of interacting with our older child where I would do well to avoid unnecessary reactions.
But, it also continues to be hard. It is tempting to give in to impatience as an excuse, tempting to emotionally react quickly, and tempting to always attempt to have the last word.
Replacing reactions with response is among the most challenging skills I’ve had to learn. I thought I had made significant progress (and I had compared to my previous low standards) until I became a parent. So, I’m grateful to this experience for revealing just how much more work there is to be done.
Here’s to making more progress in the coming month by making the most of this intense training regime.
Kids often seem to choose the most inconvenient times to express their love. This may be right when you plan to brush your teeth, carry that box across the room, or better yet, poop.
They also often refuse to do so in more normal circumstances.
There’s a life lesson in this pattern. It is hard to plan for good things to happen.
So, all we can do is keep plugging away and be willing to keep our eyes open for the opportunity for something good – even in the most unlikeliest of places.
One of the most fascinating things about kids is that they manage to experience pain without burdening themselves with the memory of it.
They may be crying one moment and then laughing the next. No big deal.
Most adults, instead, tend to go through difficult experiences and accumulate baggage. And, with that baggage, we lose the emotional flexibility that enables us to recover quickly from setbacks.
Much to learn, we have.