Most parents I talk to are worried in one way or another if they are doing things right - Am I giving my child the right food? Am I playing with them enough? Are we playing the right kinds of games? Am I disciplining them the right way? The list goes on and on. Where does this come from? Most of us know parenting is a huge responsibility and we don’t want to “screw it up”. We want to give our child every opportunity to succeed. Our desire to do the “right thing” is ultimately about their well-being, right? But in the quest for our child’s well-being, we sacrifice our own by being stressed out and by questioning our every move.
I read an interview with author Anna Quindlen where she was asked “what are 5 things you know for sure?” One of her answers was “Motherhood is not a test.” What a beautiful answer. No one ever tells you outright that Motherhood is a test, but we sure act like it is.
If motherhood is not a test, then we would never worry whether we are doing things “right”.
If motherhood is not a test, it would not matter if you are a stay-a-home parent or a working parent, we’d all just be parents.
If motherhood is not a test, we would not spend hours scouring the internet for the exact diagnosis and holistic remedy for the sniffles that came home from school.
If motherhood is not a test, we would not beat ourselves up, replaying in our minds something “bad” that happened. Instead we would look at it as an opportunity to learn and do better next time.
What we don’t realize is that we spend most of our lives approaching every facet of our lives as if it is a test. It starts in school where “passing a test” means we’ve studied hard and earned the right to go to the next grade. In sports “passing a test” means you’ve accomplished your goal by winning a game, a championship or even a gold medal. In the workplace “passing a test” means you earn a promotion or raise. For many of us these three examples, school, organized sports/activities and career, make up a large part of our childhood and early adulthood. It is easy to see how ingrained this becomes in our daily life and how we unknowingly develop the perception that everything in life must be a test.
Our babies try to help us debunk this myth from their first days on the earth. They show us every day is going to be different, what worked this morning may not work tonight. But we don’t listen. We instantly think we must be doing it wrong, because we don’t see anyone else struggling. Everyone else’s Facebook and Instagram are filled with perfect pictures and cute stories. Rarely do you see a post with a picture of the baby crying, the mom’s status update of “feeling hopeless, tired and defeated”.
Motherhood is fluid. It changes and evolves. It’s not a linear path, but a winding journey for which there is no map. This is not something we are accustomed to – no map? No book? No internet to help me along the way? The tools are there, they’re just different. Relying on your intuition, those around you and the reactions of your children will give you all the direction that you need.
So the next time you find yourself wondering, “am I doing this right?” remind yourself this is not a test. Choose the answer you think is right and go for it. Unlike a test, you can always go back and change it along the way.
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Originally posted September 2013
When I first thought about what it meant to be a parent, I thought about all the wonderful things I would get to teach my children. How to walk, ride a bike, how to read and write were some of the major milestones that crossed my mind. I also had thoughts about how to raise a “good” kid, which at the time I defined as one that didn’t throw tantrums in public, didn’t make a mess while eating and was polite.
Oh, how much I had to learn…..
Of course, we all know from the start we have the big responsibility of helping this little being grow and preparing them so they can survive and thrive in the world. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than knowing how to ride a bike to survive.
I was not prepared for fourth grade. My daughter has had her core group of 3-4 friends for the last couple years and all in all they appear to be very sweet girls (when I watch them interact). But lately the cattiness and drama have stepped up a notch. Most days I hear a recount of she said, I said, she said. Feelings get hurt, “lies” are told, and at least one girl get ignored. I suppose this is “normal” girl drama, I just didn’t realize it started at 8-9 years old. I did my best trying to provide advice on how to handle these situations, even though I really wanted to scream “Friends don’t make you feel bad - stop playing with them and find new friends!”
Then one day as we were talking, almost by accident, I invented “The Drama Scale”.
One day as we were driving home she wasn’t being very talkative, so I asked “How much drama was there today?” She wasn’t sure what I meant, but I had her attention. I said, “On a scale of 1-10, 1 being little drama, 10 being a lot of drama, how much drama did you and your friends have today?” She replied “Oh, well I think it would be about a 5.” From there it gave us a starting point to talk about what had happened and how maybe to handle the situation differently when it came up again.
The next day when she got in the car, she was excited to tell me what the day’s score was on the Drama Scale (4, by the way). Little did I know when I first mentioned it that this idea would be something she could so easily relate to. It’s become a daily check-in for us and a really good starting point for some important conversations. What caused the drama that day? How did it make you feel when she said that? How do you think it made her feel? What did you all do to “become friends again” before the end of the day? By getting her to retell the story, if nothing else, it gets her to think about it again and see if there is anything she can do differently next time.
After a few weeks, something totally unexpected happened. “Guess what the drama scale was today? 2!” she said proudly. I saw this as my chance. I said “Didn’t you all have so much more fun together without all the drama? Wouldn’t it be nice to have more days like this?” We had a great conversation about how much more fun the day was and what they could do to have more low drama days.
Is it working? Is it sinking in that the cattiness and meanness is unnecessary? I will never know for sure. But I do know that for now, the Drama Scale is helping us start the conversation. Growing up is going to be hard, for both of us. All I can hope is that some of these conversations stay in the corners of her brain and help her when she needs them the most.
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Read this sentence "I'm doing the best I can" How do you read it? Did you add an exclamation point to the end and read it with a touch of anger? Or maybe when you read it you had a sense of sadness or defeat or exasperation or hopelessness or frustration. Or maybe you had the feeling that no one around you appreciates what it takes to do what you do. We have all been there, feeling one (or all) of these feelings. Chances are we will all be there again. Let's take a minute to break down this simple sentence.
I'm: A contraction for I am. On its own this is the shortest sentence in the English language, however, rarely do we end the sentence there. We usually add more words after I am to describe ourselves but in reality nothing more is needed.
Doing: This is where people often get caught up. Everyone has a long list of things "to do" and no matter how hard or how fast you work, there is always something else to add to the list. We need to stop, and ask why? Why are we doing all of these things? For whom are we doing them? What are the things that I can stop doing? It is an all this "doing" that we get run down and exhausted. We believe we are doing all these things for everyone around us and when they don't appreciate our doing, our emotions flood in. My coach has said to me "You arendoing so much, but how are you being? How are you showing up?" Often in our hustle, we take on an almost frantic energy to get more done and frantic is not how most of us want to show up every day.
The best: Culturally we are taught that we want to be the best. It may start in school or in sports. It may be in the work you do, the car you drive or the way you want to be perceived as a parent. Even if we are not striving to be "the best", we are always striving to do better.we are critical of ourselves and what we are doing currently, to the point where we strive to do better. But one thing about trying your "best" is it implies that what you are doing right now is not good enough. Think about that for minute. Of course there are times when you may feel you are on auto pilot, but is that all the time? Give yourself a break from achieving this elusive best that is always just a fingertip away. And besides, who defines what best actually even means?
I: I means it's only you. Don't forget there are people and resources around you to help you. Things do not only fall on your shoulders to bear the weight of your entire family. When you act alone, your actions are limited, but what would happen if you asked someone for help?
Can: Can means able. You have the ability to do this and do it well.
There is a great Maya Angelou quote "When you know better, you do better"." I believe we are all doing the best we can every day. Very few people show up in situations and try to perform poorly. In that moment, of that day, maybe your best involved yelling at your kids and frustration. In hindsight, you know that is not your best and you want to do better, but in that moment, shouting was all you could muster. Now you have to move on. That moment is over and you get a first chance in this new moment. Now when you reread the sentence, do so with confidence and I believe that it is true - I am doing the best I can.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for millions of people. Heavy rains and flooding in Houston. Wildfires in California, Oregon and Montana. A major earthquake in Mexico City. Hurricanes (plural) off the coast of Florida. Even someone like me who does not watch the news, can’t help but read the posts, updates and images of what is going on throughout our country and beyond. It’s such a mixed bag of emotions, empathy and fear for what these people must be going through and gratitude spiked with guilt for all that I have and the safety of my family.
I grew up in Southern California where it was normal to practice earthquake drills throughout the school year. An announcement would come over the loud speaker, we would immediately stop what we were doing and dive under our desks. We’d stay huddled under our desks, trying to stay quiet until receiving the all clear. When the signal was given, we’d climb back into our chairs and pick up where we left off. Each student would also bring in an “earthquake preparedness kit” – usually consisting of a bottle of water and some snacks that were meant to tide you over if your parents couldn’t immediately pick you up. Thankfully we never had to do one of those drills during a real earthquake, but we were as prepared as we could be. Because despite all the planning you do, you still never know when an earthquake will hit. It reminds me a little bit of bringing home your first child. You are prepared. You have all the supplies, you’ve done all the drills and now here you are. The first few days might go ok but then out of the blue there is a crying spell that never seems to end or an odd rash or cough that you’re not sure how to handle. Your world is rocked. The early years are a series of aftershocks where at one-point things are literally flying off your shelves if you turn your head. No matter how prepared you thought you were, you could never have anticipated the magnitude of the impact of this little human in your life.
On the other hand, technology has given us multiple tools that allow us to measure and track the path of a hurricane. We know it is coming a week or more ahead of time. We can see the probable path it will take. We can prepare our houses with sandbags and board up the windows. We are as ready as we can be to hunker down and ride it out once the winds and rains touch down. If newborns are like an earthquake, then teenagers are like a hurricane. You know the teen years are hard and you know they are coming! You know the social and academic pressures, combined with biological changes, create a perfect storm of chaos within your child. However, in spite of all this knowing and all this preparing, in the eye of the storm we forget it all. At the first sign of a “disrespectful” response, we lash out and get frustrated with our teen, all patience for their inner hurricane blown away in a gust of wind.
The photo above was taken by my friend Peggy a couple months ago. There is no filter and no Photoshop involved. In the dark clouds, you can see the outline of a heart. This is not about finding a silver lining, but seeing that even in the darkest part of the storm, love will get you through. We’ve seen it in the stories from Houston, neighbors and strangers coming together to do whatever is needed to help each other. Our children are a force of nature. Love brought them to us and love will help us weather whatever storms come our way.
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If you use Facebook “First Day of School” posts as a gauge, I’d say the majority of kids are now back in school. And while the relaxed, lazy days or summer are fun, there is something nice about getting back to the structured, scheduled days the school year brings. Along with structure, the school year brings more social interaction with peers and of course, homework, tests and studying. We’ve been fortunate enough to have great teachers who have engaged our kids in the classroom and have made learning fun. School has been something our kids have always looked forward to and for that I’m grateful. But even though they are excited and eager to learn, the pressures to do well have not escaped them.
The modern public-school system is set up to build on what they’ve learned in previous years. From their earliest days in Kinder, kids see success in the tasks and worksheets they submit. This builds their confidence to do more, learn more and take the next step. But at some point, the child is going to reach a point where the work is a little more difficult than they are used to. Mistake are inevitable, but how they handle these mistakes will impact their future more than anything else.
In last week’s blog, I introduced you to Julie Lythcott-Haims and her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”. In one of the later chapters, she references a 2006 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. He says, “We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. [But] if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.” The phrase “frightened of being wrong” is heart breaking because we’ve known (know) at least one person(s) who can totally relate to and identify with that comment.
On this week’s Atomic Moms podcast, host Ellie Knaus interviewed author Sarah Ockwell-Smith about her new book Gentle Discipline. At the end of the podcast, Sarah closed with this thought “I’m learning as much as they’re learning and when you learn, you mess up. You don’t get things right, but that’s alright. It’s alright to make mistakes. It’s alright to slip up. It’s alright to have bad days. It’s alright to yell. It’s alright to do something wrong. It’s alright to mess up, as long as you realize you’re learning and you keep trying.”
After listening to this the first time, it really stuck with me, especially the part where she says, “when you learn, you mess up.” How many of us fully embrace that belief? I think most parents would agree that it rationally makes sense, but do our actions support it? It makes sense that when we are learning we should be trying new things, seeing if they work and trying again. Learning should be messy. But is it? Are we so worried about grades, test scores and how they will impact our child’s future, we forget mistakes are part of the process? Are we so worried that our child is falling behind or not performing as well as their peers, that we forget that everyone learns and processes things at their own pace? Even though you may not express these thoughts out loud, your children will instinctively pick up on these feelings.
While school is still a place to learn, it is also a place to achieve. Grades, school rankings and standardized tests are often more of a focus than learning and exploring new things and ideas. In the quest for the test, learning is no longer about learning from our mistakes, but learning to do it right the first time. It’s easy to say, “we learn the most from our mistakes” but are we showing our kids what that looks like in our daily actions? How will things change if you embrace the idea that learning is messy and mistakes are just part of the process?
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.