17 Mar

Three Parenting Beliefs that Kill Your Child’s Creativity, Joy, and Potential (and How to Turn Them Around)

We all carry beliefs that shape our parenting behavior. Many of these beliefs were formed in early childhood and are deeply lodged into our brains.

Some of these beliefs are helpful in our quest to raise kind, compassionate, resilient and responsible children.   

Some of these beliefs are not. These are killer beliefs because they kill creativity, potential, joy, and relationship.

Let’s start with one of my favorites . . .

“If I don’t nip this (fill in your child’s unwanted behavior here) in the bud right now, my child will end up homeless, forever lonely, a sociopath, or (fill in your worst fear here.)”

Have you thought something like that before? (I have.) When you have that thought, how do you feel? Maybe worried, fearful, or a bit panicky? And when you feel worried, fearful, and a bit panicky, how do you respond?

My response usually sounds something like this:  “That’s it! No more (thing my child most wants) until you can get your act together! I can’t believe you (did that thing that makes me crazy)! Shame on you!”

And now the turn-around belief that can change everything:

“The child in front of me is not the person they will be as an adult. They have lots of time to learn and grow. I can help guide them to become a respectful, responsible, kind and independent adult, but this is a long term process.”

How do you feel when you have this kind of thought? Are you feeling a little more calm and confident, patient and thoughtful about what to do next? In 99% of cases, your child’s behavior is not an emergency. You can almost always take some time to calm down, reconnect to your creative brain, and find solutions that might actually be helpful.

I remembered this turn-around thought about 6 hours after I read my son’s report card a few years ago.

My first reaction after reading it was despair, then anger:  “Oh no! Missing assignments again? And a lousy grade in science? But how could this be? We got him a tutor, we created a new homework routine, I put Post-It Notes on his planner . . . he’s clearly too wrapped up in his computer games! That’s it!  I’m throwing that laptop out the window! And no more iPhone, either!”  

My partner was completely on board.  

But later, I caught myself in the doom loop. I remembered that my child is still learning and growing and I did not need to react right then out of anger and fear. This was not an emergency; I could accept what had happened without catastrophizing and focus on what to do next.

Which is what I did. I accepted the report card for what it was in that moment. And then together with my son (the next day), we brainstormed solutions for the future. With this more calm, future-focused approach, my son was more open to problem-solving. He suggested that he meet with his teacher weekly to stay on top of material and missed homework. We also got more disciplined about putting his phone in the phone basket (out of reach) during homework time.

The result? Our relationship stayed strong, and his performance in science class improved. But even if his grade had not improved, a more even-keeled response increases the odds that he’ll be open to problem-solving in the future.  

Now here’s another belief I carried for years without knowing the harm it was doing:

“Parenting is a series of challenges to overcome.”

This one is popular. Is it yours? People who hold this belief tend to feel like parenting is hard work, serious, and full of responsibility. They believe that they must constantly be on the lookout for possible problems. They feel driven to find the best solution, as quickly as possible, for the good of the child.

I didn’t realize how damaging this belief was until my then four year-old daughter called me on it. One evening while getting tucked into bed, she said, “I don’t want to be a Mommy.”

I asked her why not.

She replied, “Being a Mommy is so hard. There’s always so much to do. You have to take care of everyone and everything. It’s awful.”

Yikes! What a wake-up call! My belief that parenting was basically drudgery not only sucked my own joy from the process, it stole some of hers, too. While it’s true that the parenting rollercoaster feels excruciating at times and can literally make you sick to your stomach, there are other times too:  beautiful, heart-warming, deeply satisfying times. 

Now notice what shifts when you replace this belief with something different:

“Parenting is a mystery to explore*” or “Parenting is an adventure to enjoy.”

What shifts for you when you choose one of these mantras instead? As for me, I feel lighter, more excitedly curious, at peace with the unexpected, and more open to the joy along the way. What mantra helps you enjoy the journey? I’d love to hear what you come up with! (*Thank you to Maria Antoniadis, PhD, for suggesting this new perspective to me in 2010.)

When parenting is a mystery to explore I could become curious rather than disgusted when my daughter came home from school, refused to clean up her mess, cried and then fell to the floor like uncooked spaghetti. Rather than, “My child is a whiny mess,” I can choose to think, “Hmmm, I wonder what’s going on for her today?”  

Then I might look in her lunchbox and notice that nothing was eaten. A-ha! Curiosity in this case might lead to putting a bowl of peaches in front of her (which I did, and the whining disappeared.)

Now here’s a belief that many of us hold, but don’t like to admit:

“If my child doesn’t get straight A’s and go to a top ranked college, she will be unhappy forever.”

This belief has us check over homework every night, make sure flash cards have been neatly created, and avoid giving children household responsibilities due to their jam-packed schedules.  

Not only is this belief untrue (check out Madeline Levine’s Teach Your Children Well or Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be), but it also gets in the way of children learning many important long-term life and social skills like:

  • recovering from failure
  • standing up for oneself
  • finding creative solutions to problems
  • and even how to cook a basic meal

When we hold this belief, we value results over relationship. We push our children toward ever greater achievement “in the name of love” not realizing that love is the greater achievement.

The Harvard Grant Study, which is the longest running study of human development, charted the physical and emotional health of more than 200 Harvard alumni since 1938. The study found that the most important influence, by far, on a flourishing life is . . .  love (George Vaillant, in Triumphs of Experience).

The alumni who felt more connected to other people were not only the happiest, they were also the most successful at work and at school (Christine Carter, The Sweet Spot).

So I invite you to be curious about your parenting beliefs. Are they helpful? Or hurtful?

Beliefs become behaviors and “thoughts become things. So choose the good ones.”  (Mike Dooley, www.Tut.com)

To read more about how thoughts drive feelings and behavior, read this short article:  The Power of Perspective in Parenting

Like what you’re reading?  Subscribe to our (mostly) monthly newsletter here.

05 Dec

What sweat up my nose and parenting have in common (for me, anyway)

Click below for the audio version of this message.  

Let me start by saying that yes, a drop of sweat dripping up my nose during Bikram Yoga is a metaphor for parenting. Let me explain . . .
Bikram Yoga is the hot, sweaty, often smelly kind of yoga that can make you feel dizzy and nauseous or strong and alive and often all of the above.  It’s an intense 90-minute workout and meditation that has taught me so many things about myself and my parenting.
discomfort zoneOne thing I learned from Bikram Yoga is that in life, I would do just about anything to avoid discomfort:  both physical and emotional.  If it was chilly, I would turn the heat up.  If my child started to cry, I would try to stop it.  Or if, while in an inverted pose, a drop of sweat started to run into my nose, I would wipe it away.  Makes sense, right?

One day during yoga class, as I bent my head over in an uncomfortable inverted forehead-to-knee pose, I felt a drop of sweat begin to roll from my upper lip toward my nostril.  Oh, it’s an uncomfortable feeling!  In the past, I had always wiped that sweat away, knowing that water in my nose was definitely something to avoid.  Water takes the place of air.  I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  It would taste bad.  At minimum it would be irritating.  It was enough to wipe that drop away.
On this particular day, however, I felt the sweaty drop getting closer and closer to my vulnerable nostril, and I just let it go.  Right in there.  I did nothing.  And do you know what happened??
Not much.  No catastrophe.  No gasping for air. I sniffed it up and it was gone.  Poof!
Ok you may be wondering where I’m going with this story. I’ll get to the point now (thanks for hanging in there!)
The drop of sweat represents discomfort.  My kids are also capable of making me very uncomfortable.  Like when they cry incessantly over stupid little things.  Or when they get a “C” when I know they’re capable of better.  Or when their friend says something unkind to them.  My instinct is to wipe it away — to do something to remove the discomfort — both theirs and (maybe mostly) mine.
But I have learned something by tolerating the discomfort and allowing it to just be there:  It’s almost never as bad as I think it will be.  The tears eventually stop.   The natural consequences teach lessons that would otherwise go unlearned.  The hurt feelings dissipate.  My kids learn coping skills — they bounce back.  And so do I!
I’m not saying that as parents, we should never step in and do something.  Not at all!  In many cases we should step in.  But many times I think we step in too quickly, robbing both ourselves and our kids of the lesson that whatever it is, isn’t as bad as we thought it was, and that we are both stronger than we think.
Can you think of a time when you didn’t (or did) step in and “wipe away” your child’s discomfort?  What did you/your child learn?  Please share your thoughts!

30 Jun

5 Tips for Work / Life Balance (whether you work for pay or not)

“Balance” means something different to everyone.  But we all know how it feels.  And have you noticed that when you feel it, parenting (and everything) is so much easier? 

Balance RocksTo me, “balance” does not mean having equal amounts of things.  Rather, it means having as much of something as you need, in order to feel a sense of peace, fulfillment, and general well-being.

For example, some people need lots of challenging work; others need just a little.  Some people need lots of social time; others need plenty of alone time.

Your recipe for “balance” is unique to you.  What does your recipe call for, and in what amounts?  What “ingredients” have you been short on?  And what ingredients have you been adding, simply because that’s what someone else’s recipe calls for?

I would love to help you get clear on what’s in YOUR recipe.  Contact me to explore coaching.

In the mean time, here are 5 tips to get you closer to “just right.”

1. Let go of perfection.  Someone once said, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” Well, I don’t agree! There are some things that are worth doing very, very well. But not everything. Some things are worth doing “good enough.” When we put pressure on ourselves to do everything well, it takes up an awful lot of time and energy, and there’s little left for other priorities.  (What’s more, perfectionism is a leading cause of anxiety in both children and adults.)

As a person, letting go of perfection may mean stopping yourself from re-reading your email for the 5th time to make sure it’s perfectly said.  As a parent, it may mean frozen pizza for dinner some nights so that you have time to play with your kids or read a book for pleasure. As a professional, it may mean that you delegate to someone more junior even though you know you could do it better.

2.  Ask for help.  If you feel like you’re doing too much of the work (in your home, team, community, etc.) it’s probably because you are.  Ask for help!  It may be true that your partner/direct report/child/mother/nanny/etc. will not do it as well as you will . . . Maybe that’s OK!  (see tip #1 above.) It may be true that everyone else is also busy. . . They can tell you if so.  Or maybe you are assuming that others don’t want to, or can’t help. . . They may surprise you (especially your kids.)

When you ask for help, you are not only freeing up your own time, but you are also giving others an opportunity to learn and grow, to be helpful themselves, and you are sending them a message that you believe they are capable.

3.  Do less.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  You are talented, competent and capable of doing a lot of great things.  You want to be thoughtful, helpful, productive and kind.  When there’s something to be done, you may feel like you should jump in and do it.  Well, not necessarily!

When you say “yes” to something, recognize that you are saying “no” to something else.  What are you saying “no” to?  You might be saying “no” to much needed alone time, exercise, conversation and connection with loved ones, or sleep.  Do you really want to make that trade-off?  Sometimes the answer will be yes.  The point is to be conscious of the trade-off.

4.  Ask for what you need.  This sounds so simple but I assure you, for many, it is not!  I see client after client who knows what s/he needs, but is afraid to ask.  Why not just ask?  Of course you’ll want to ask tactfully, but don’t be afraid to be human, have needs, and make them known.

For example, if you want to work out during the work day, let your boss know and negotiate a win-win.  If you need some time alone in the evening to read or take a bath, ask your partner, “Hey Honey, this is something that would really help me feel like a balanced human being.  Will you please _____ so that I can do that?”   You might just get what you ask for.

5.  Let go of guilt.  Very often, busy parents don’t take care of their own needs because they feel guilty doing so.  But if you often feel exhausted, pushed to your limits, irritable and resentful, it’s a good sign that your guilt is not serving you.  It’s taken me a loooooooong time to appreciate this fact, but I now whole-heartedly believe that self-care is your most powerful lever for balance.  This includes sleep, exercise, and even plain old pleasure.

I know, in the chaos of getting through the day, it’s incredibly hard to prioritize yourself.  However, chronically sacrificing your own needs for those of others will leave you depleted and resentful.  The airlines tell you to “put your own oxygen mask on first” for a very good reason:  you can’t care for others if you’re dead (metaphorically, of course!)  So how do you make time for self care?  Re-read the top 4 tips!

I know you’ve already figured out a lot about how to achieve balance.  Please share your ideas for everyone (including me) in the comment section here!

Would you like some support in finding your balance? Contact me to set up a free 30-minute sample coaching session via phone.


Click here to subscribe to newsletter and blog