About a year after my daughter was born, I decided that I was going to start scrapbooking. I could match together cute paper with the pictures and add a few stickers or embellishments here or there. It would be a good creative outlet and I would have albums that we could enjoy for years to come. I started off great, got all the stuff and enjoyed pouring over the pages for hours on end getting them just right. Slowly I started to fall behind. I thought if I group the holidays together I can do three years of Christmas all at once. While that helped, I now have 4 years’ worth of books in various states of completion. The photos, paper and supplies are neatly stacked and have not moved in a number of months. My desire is still there to get them done, we all love looking through the books and remembering. What’s been holding me back is this feeling that I don’t have enough time to do it – getting it all out, organized and put onto the pages is not something that can be done in an hour or two. I picture a day where I have a big chunk of time to lay it all out and get a bunch of it done, but until that day, the project sits and waits.
My scrapbooking project is a very simple example of a scenario that everyone can relate to. You would like to create a photo album/work out/make a new recipe/tackle a home improvement project/organize the junk closet/etc. but you never get around to it because you have subconsciously created expectations around the activity that are holding you back. You may think I’m being over dramatic, that expectations don’t have anything to do with it, but expectations are a sneaky thing and may be present without you even realizing it.
Expectations simmer under the surface of nearly everything that we do every day. We have expectations related to situations -if I go to a restaurant, I can get food. We have expectations related to friends, family, spouses, co-workers, fellow drivers on the road, our children and nearly every other person we come into contact with. And of course we have expectations of ourselves. Expectations can influence your mood, for better or for worse. When something meets your expectations you are happy and excited. When something does not meet your expectation it can make you angry, frustrated, disappointed, etc. Many times expectations lie dormant. You don’t realize they are secretly influencing the things you do, or do not do.
When I started thinking about the scrapbooks I realized I had inflated this expectation of the time I needed to the point where it was insurmountable. I also realized I had an expectation on the amount of effort and “bling” that had to be on every page, which also made the task seem more daunting. In the end, what is most important is that the pictures are in a book that we can all look at and enjoy. Once I acknowledged these points, I had an idea – why don’t I get the kids to help me? Will the pages look the exact way that I would have done them? No, but, they are old enough to do a good job and will be excited that they get to help…….at least that is my expectation.
A few years ago I was feeling “off”. Looking back, I’m not sure I could have narrowed it down to one specific feeling. It wasn’t that I was unhappy – I had a great life, great family, friends, job, house, etc. And it wasn’t that I felt like something was missing. I just had this feeling like there was something more. I started looking for things I could change, so I started looking for a new job. After a couple weeks, I felt totally uninspired and discouraged. It was the end of 2012 and I had just started following Gabrielle Bernstein after her appearance on Super Soul Sunday. She was offering a free teleconference focused on goals for 2013. I signed up and dialed in. Gabby is a fantastic speaker. Even over the phone, unable to see her, you could feel her energy and passion. After only a couple minutes, I grabbed a pen and started taking notes. Then, as if she were speaking directly to me, she said – “It’s not about the job, the title or the company. The most important question you have to ask yourself is how do you want to feel?” And with that one question, my life changed forever.
How did I want to feel? That was a good question. The question followed me everywhere I went – driving in the car, making dinner, drying my hair. I turned to my journal, my trusty old friend. I started writing and like many times before, the answer I was looking for appeared on the page. I wanted to feel the excitement and synergy of working as a team on a project. I wanted to feel less tired and less frustrated with my children. I wanted to feel supported. And I wanted to feel more connected with the people in my life that were so important to me. Boy, it sounds like I was a total mess! It certainly didn’t feel that way being in the middle of it, but when I finally slowed down enough to listen to myself, I could clearly identify why I was feeling “off”.
When you see someone and ask “How are you?” what are the responses you usually hear?:
“Busy! We’ve had a different activity every night.”
“Things are just crazy for us right now.”
“The weeks feel like they just fly by.”
Sound familiar? I’ve caught myself saying, one or all of these things multiple times. It’s weird because without even recognizing it, your routine, calendar and to do list start to take over the management of your days. Your entire day becomes one big checklist from morning until night. And then you wake up the next morning and do it all again. Despite all the technology gains and efficiencies, we’ve somehow managed to come up with more to do instead of less. In our frenzy to get everything done, we stop questioning why we are doing it all in the first place.
I had known that something was “off” for quite a while, but I left it on my to-do list as something to dig into at a later time. There’s always a “but”. I know I will be so much happier when I’m able to (fill in the blank) BUT…….. I’ll do it when school gets out or when this project at work is done or when baseball season is over or when the kids are a little older.
It’s hard. Really hard. I know, I’ve been there. First it’s hard to allow yourself to get quiet and listen. (I had originally typed that it was hard to find the time, but that’s not true.) The time is there for you, you just have to have the courage to face yourself, to ask yourself “How do I want to feel?” It is important to do this without judgement. You can’t be your own devil’s advocate and talk yourself out of why you should not want to feel that way. For me, this is why writing it out is so helpful. In my head I can get in this back and forth banter, but when I see it written out it there is more clarity – it’s harder to allow the other side to “argue” with your gut/heart instinct.
Deciding how you want to feel is just the first step, albeit a big one, you can’t just stop there. Once you know what the desired feeling is, you have to take action. You have more control of your feelings than you realize. For me, I wanted to feel more connected with my friends and family. Each morning, I told myself that I was going to do things to feel more connected. I set reminders in my phone to go off every couple hours in case I got too busy and forgot. I made small talk with the barista (not something I’d normally do). I complimented a co-worker on a beautiful blouse. In the middle of the day I sent a text to a friend, just to let them know I was thinking of them. Imagining their face as they read it brought a smile to mine. These all started out as small connections, but grew into something more.
I know these examples sound simplistic. The actions that you need to take do not necessarily have to be difficult. The challenge comes when you incorporate this into your everyday life on a consistent basis. You can’t act from a place of feeling and let your to-do list run your life at the same time. This involves creating a new habit where every day you commit to yourself how you want to feel and make small strides throughout the day to achieve it. Start today, set aside the but and ask yourself - how do I want to feel?
Our children are literally a piece of us and from the day they are born we are eager to uncover our similarities. It starts by looking for similarities in eyes, lips, fingers or feet. As the child grows, the link to similarities expands to their laugh, smile and curiosity. Once they start school the tendency to look for similarities is second nature. Grades become tied to the ability, or inability, of parents, grandparents or distant relatives. (Uncle Billy worked for NASA, so naturally Little Johnny is wonderful at science.) Written out in this manner, it seems like a huge exaggeration. Right? We can’t help ourselves from taking pride in our similarities. But, what happens when they are not like you?
Like many ten year olds, my daughter participates in multiple activities. Not wanting to be the “tiger mom” (forcing her to do the activities that I want her to), I’ve let her decide. A couple years ago when she said she wanted to play softball, I was excited. Softball was a major part of my childhood, so this was definitely a “she’s like me” moment. She enjoyed it, made lots of new friends and always did her best. I was happy when she decided to keep playing. This season she has become the girl who will try anything. When the two team catchers were going to miss the same game, the coach looked for volunteers. My daughter was open to trying it, put on the gear and ended up loving it. I was excited to see her excited about playing. We got her some gear and a great big bag to put it in. I dropped her off excited to see how she would do that night behind the plate. But when game time came, she was not behind the plate, she was on the mound. What was going on? She had never pitched a day in her life. It turns out two of our pitchers were out of town and one had the flu. No one else on the team had ever pitched before and without one we would have to forfeit. The coach asked her if she wanted to try and she said sure. And in that moment, she was not like me. Growing up I was very competitive and I liked to be good at things. I can’t imagine myself at ten years old going out in a game, doing something I had never practiced, in fear that I wouldn’t be very good at it. In this moment she couldn’t have been more opposite of me and I couldn’t have been more proud.
As humans we find comfort in people who are like us, who share our interests and who are understanding of our point of view. As parents we naturally look for similarities with our children in order to relate to them and guide them through familiar territory. What we learn is that through our differences, our children switch roles and end up guiding us.
As new parents we anxiously anticipate each milestone in our child’s life – eating solid food, sitting up, first steps and of course their first words. The first words lead to better communication which is so exciting because you no longer have to guess what your child is trying to say. It’s wonderful and so cute! Their vocabulary starts to build. You start to get a glimpse of what is going on in that little head of theirs, something that has been a mystery up until now. Children are full of natural curiosity, which now builds along with their vocabulary. In the beginning they match the nouns with the object, ball. Then they expand to identifying colors, shapes and sounds that go along with the objects. It’s so cute, you tell your family. They are really smart! They start to ask questions and become even more inquisitive. Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly and I can’t? Why are dogs different sizes? Why do I have to eat my carrots? Why do I have to brush my teeth? Why? Why? Why? Aaaaaaaaa, it’s a good thing they’re cute because all these questions start to wear you down.
Once the kids start school, the questions to the parents start to slow down. Now, they have a new source for endless answers, their teacher! They also have a group of friends who are eager to share their wisdom with someone. How I wish I could be a fly on the playground to hear the discussions the boys and girls have with each other. Around this age the parent also becomes the fact checker, verifying what was heard or said by another. Sometimes the parent has the opportunity to correct a statement that might be slightly off. Other times the parent is over-ruled as not knowing what is “true”. The questions start to get harder and we realize how lucky we are to have technology at our fingertips.
Another thing I’ve realized is that adults are really bad at asking questions - have you ever noticed that? It’s not only with our kids, but in our everyday lives. We are may be too busy to stop and ask questions beyond the answers we need for the issues at hand. Or somewhere along the line we developed this feeling that we were prying, so we hold back on all those questions that run through our brains for fear that we might offend someone. “How was your day?” is the standard question for many parents and kids when they are reunited at the end of the day, which then generates the standard responses. As a parent, I truly do want to know how their day was, but the question is almost too generic for the child. You can try more creative phrasing of questions, there are new articles shared on facebook weekly that try to help get beyond the basics, but you still risk a one word answer, possibly followed by an eye roll. The end of the day is hard. Even though we want to have a great conversation, often we’re both too tired and pushing too hard with too many questions results in the exact opposite of what we wanted.
What’s a parent to do? Last week a friend shared with me a wonderful idea called “The Key Jar” which is the brain child of fellow mom blogger Glennon Doyle Melton and her cousin Erin. They came up with 48 questions to be used with kids at the dinner table (or in the car, or wherever). I was excited to try The Key Jar. My son helped me to decorate the jar and cut up the questions. When we sat down for dinner, I explained what we were doing and why. The kids were excited to pick a question. The first question my son picked was “If you could switch places with one friend for a day, who would it be?” Interestingly, they both picked children in their class who were the complete opposite of them as they wanted to see what it was like to be so quiet for the day or so silly. The second question we picked was “What’s something that is hard for you?” This one took a little more thought to come up with, but the answers were interesting. We answered the questions as well, so that they knew there were things that were hard for mom and dad too. It was a great conversation and all of us are excited to do it again this weekend.
It’s easy to stop asking questions because you’re too busy, too tired or too wrapped up in your own “stuff”. Starting today, don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a true conversation with the people around you, including your little ones. Ask a question, see where it takes you and maybe you’ll learn something new.
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.