Response training

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.

Inconvenient good times

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.

Pain without memories

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.


One way to think about getting fit is to invest in activities that contribute to better fitness. Going to the gym, playing a sport, taking a swim, and running are all activities that help us get fitter.

That said, investing in such activities takes time. And, there are phases in our life when other priorities take precedence. These priorities should ideally be few and far between but there are times when family and some crucial periods in our careers can take precedence in the amount of time they take.

In these times, I’ve found it helpful to double down on fitness-as-a-state. This means doing many little things throughout the day to be fitter – e.g., walking up the stairs, taking the scenic route to the bathroom, investing in and working with a standing desk, and replacing sitting meetings with standing and walking meetings.

In the ideal world, we’d be able to supplement such investments with activities too. But, if we find ourselves in a bind, fitness-as-a-state is a great place to start.

All that remains and It’s later than you think

Dr Jessica Brandes and J R Storment were parents of an 8 year old boy who passed away 3 weeks ago. They both penned beautiful posts this week about this very painful experience.

In “All that remains,” Dr Brandes wrote about the fragility of life and pushes us to take the time to spend time with those we love.

And, in “It’s later than you think,” Storment reflected on his regrets and reminds us to be very intentional in how we prioritize our time.

I hope you take the time to read it.

Reminders of the fragility of this life are a gift. And, I’m grateful to Jessica Brandes and J R Storment for sharing their notes with us.

Just one thing this time

I was mulling a new weekend project today. For a change, I shut it down before the thought germinated.

As unexciting as that might sound, it marked an important moment in my learning journey.

Over the past months, I’ve been working hard to simplify my life so I can focus on the two things that I expect will move the needle on my long term happiness – learning and contributing at work and being as good a partner and dad as I possibly can.

There are a list of things I’d like to do more. For instance, I’d like to find time to play more soccer. I’d also like to write more long form posts. But, in reality, for the first time in a decade, I’ve barely played soccer in the past months. And, I haven’t done any long form writing on tech and product management either. So, before I get excited about a new weekend project, it helps to remind myself that there’s an existing backlog for when I have more time.

Of course, I’d like to do more than just focus on working and being there for the family. But, I haven’t found a way to do that without sleeping less and messing with my health – that, in turn, would mean doing a sub par job on the two things that matter at the moment. So, we’re back to square one.

It took a bit of reflection after having our second child last year to arrive at this conclusion. I care deeply about being an engaged member of the family. And, after ~7 years of career finding, I’m finally 2+ years into a role that is a great fit and intend to make the most of the steep learning curve that lies ahead. I’ve come to accept that there’s little time left after embracing these constraints.

It is lovely to experience this sort of focus for the first time. I don’t spend any time on weekdays or weekends wondering when I can squeeze a bit of time to do this or that. I can just be – assured in the knowledge that there’s nothing else more important.

For many years, I gave lip service to the idea of fewer things done better. I’ve written plenty about prioritization over the years and did a passable job at it. My answer in the past was always to find some way to fit as much as I could in. But, as I realized in the second half of 2018, that approach doesn’t work with hard constraints.

One of my favorite ideas in the realm of prioritization is that saying no to things that don’t matter enables us to say yes to things that do. I’ve shared this many times over as a wishful note to self.

It is only now that I am beginning to draw clear boundaries, embrace trade-offs, and say yes to things that matter.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to make more progress down that road in the coming months – both at home and at work.

Floats, sea monsters, and tact

I was watching an exchange between a few kids in a swimming pool the other day. Three had originally brought a float to the pool that was now being occupied by three others of similar ages.

The original owners decided they wanted their float back. So, one of the float owners politely asked the current occupants to please move so they could play on their float. But, she wasn’t getting much traction.

Cue: tension.

Just as this threatened to escalate into a fight, one of the dads of the temporary occupants stepped in. He told the kids that he was a sea monster and would give the kids 15 seconds to get on the float.

This resulted in a lot of squealing. But, before you knew it, all six kids were on the float and having a great time.

Tact is powerful.

The patience regimen

The biggest lesson I learnt in my first year as a parent was flexibility. That year was a journey in accepting that few things would go as per plan. I’m now more flexible than I’ve ever been. That, however, was the easy first lesson as our first was still a baby.

The second year was all about realizing that I needed to curb my instincts to fight fire with fire. I’ve written before about my instincts and the challenges posed by it. I was also fortunate to read Marshall Rosenberg’s wonderful book – Non-Violent Communication – at a time when I needed it.

This third year has been about figuring out a path to dealing with the root of those instincts – impatience. When I take stock of my good and bad parenting moments, patience tends to be the common factor.

In the good ones, I demonstrated plenty of patience and approached the situation with a desire to understand as well as a willingness to be creative and tactful. In the bad ones, I had none of it, rushed too quickly to an attempted solution, and sacrificed effectiveness for a misplaced sense of efficiency.

So, I’ve begun to think of my experiences as a parent as my opportunity to get better at being patient. I have the benefit of having plenty of opportunities to practice every day while also being blessed by a partner/role model who seems to always have plenty of it.

I don’t expect to become the most patient person around. But, I do hope to become more patient and learn to channel my impatience better in the coming month.

Here’s to that.

Seek not to make them like you

In a conversation recently, I mentioned the challenge presented by an idea from Kahlil Gibran’s exceptional poem on children“Seek to be like them, seek not to make them like you.” 

On hearing that, this friend shared that their struggles weren’t in trying to make the kids like them – instead, it was in trying to make the kids an aspirational version of them. It was more pressure than both the kids and the parents could handle – until they sought help.

It was a powerful reflection and one that translates beautifully to many other relationships where the power dynamic at any given time is unbalanced in our favor.

It is tempting to attempt to control and force conformity.

But, it is in the “letting go” and in the ability to absorb the best of those around us where the learning lies.

Attention and Appreciation

I was watching kids interact with their parents at a play zone recently. If their basic needs (not hurt or hungry) were met, I realized that two words summed up most of what they asked for – attention and appreciation.

Just as I was about to file that away as a reflection on kids, it got me thinking about the root causes of issues adults I know face at home or at the workplace.

It turns out that attention and appreciation are just as important in dealing with adults as they are with kids.

The best partners, friends, managers, and leaders make it a point to never forget that.