"Are you the adult you want your child to become?" Brene Brown
👋🏻 Helen here with our weekly Sunday newsletter. This week, I’m talking about being intentional in how we show up to our kids as they go through the trials and tribulations of growing up. For context, Adam and I are parents to two wonderful elementary school girls.
10-day family food challenge 🍱🧀🍳🥕
We had a family goal (part of the 23 for 23 list) to each pick a food we don’t like for 10 days to see what happens. This week we have completed this challenge. For the curious, I picked blue cheese, Adam chose seaweed, our oldest (9-year-old) picked eggs and our youngest (5-year-old) first picked blue cheese, but she liked it too much so she switched to carrots. TL;DR - our oldest still hates eggs though she is willing to eat French toast (yes, that’s basically dessert for breakfast), Adam can now tolerate sushi, carrots were a wild success (but our 5-year-old eats mostly everything) and I can tolerate gorgonzola but not full on blue cheese.
I had two reflections on this experience:
Finishing what you started was as important (and at times more so) than the outcome. Adam and I had a chance to model this behavior and show persistence and discipline despite the fact that it wasn’t always convenient or easy to live up to this commitment
Our family is a team. Having a challenge united us in a meaningful way. We took pictures of each other eating foods we didn’t like, read the comments on social media of followers of our challenge, and in general, had a great sense of joint purpose.
Friendships and team sports 👯♀️🏊🏻♀️
My 9-year-old daughter is on a swim team and had a tough practice this week. She had a miscommunication with a teammate and handled it poorly. She felt hurt and betrayed and proceeded to be visibly and audibly upset about this during practice. After the intense emotions of betrayal passed and her friend apologized (she did not realize what was happening), my daughter’s feelings progressed from anger to embarrassment and shame about her outburst. Adam and I have both spent time helping her move forward.
My reflections on this experience
Watching my child suffer is worse than any pain that anyone can inflict on me. And yet, as a parent, I had no luxury to take care of my pain as this actually wasn’t about me, but about my daughter. So I comforted her (a hug, a book, and a goodnight's sleep went a long way), and talked about what the appropriate next steps are (should she apologize to her friend - if so how). And then I reached out to my “mom tribe” for support and validation. I had to remind myself that just as my daughter is not alone, I too am not alone.
The small things add up and define character in the long term - I know that this incident is small in the grand scheme of things and a swim practice is a “safe place” to learn hard lessons. As a parent though, I wonder how to not miss these teaching moments. In this case, I am preparing myself for the conversation next week on why she needs to stick to her swim team commitment in case she wants to quit because of this event. I know she will persevere and find her way.
As our kids are getting older, I find myself wondering how I model being brave to my kids – in the day-to-day and in the small and big moments.
1) Being a family is a team sport
Whether it is doing a food challenge or going on a family bike ride, it is so clear to me that we are our kids “first team” (Adam has also written about finding your first team at work here). As we succeed and (sometimes) fail together, I want my kids to know that we are on the same side, working through life. I remember this also being true in my childhood - I could always bring my happiness and sadness home and we worked through it together as a family, no matter how awkward and hard that was at times.
2) Are you wanting or are you willing?
When I was frustrated about not losing weight and becoming fitter, my coach used to ask me the above question. I see this with our oldest daughter who thinks she wants to become an Olympic swimmer and yet is slower than many of her teammates – I point out that attending every practice is the one thing in her control and if she is wanting to get better, she needs to be willing to put in the time. Z now goes to every practice she can with much fewer complaints and while she isn’t the fastest kid in her cohort, she is noticing her times consistently improve.
3) If you start, you should finish
It’s easy to give up when things get hard. So the lesson I teach is that if you pick up an activity, you should see it through the period you signed up for and then decide if you want to keep doing it or not. This so far has applied to gymnastics, swim, sports camps, dance classes and now piano. I listen deeply and carefully to my kids and try to meet them where they are in terms of their interests – but the deal is that when I do, they have to give it their best shot.
To that end, our youngest decided that piano is not for her, so we found an “end date” that she had to get to before she could stop. For swimming, there is a “de-commit period” every quarter and our daughter has an opportunity to opt-out during that period, but if she decides to stay, then she is committed for that period.
4) Own mistakes, apologize, and model correcting the behavior
I wish I could maintain the ruse to my children that I am perfect. However, the days are long and I lose my patience and temper like the rest of us. When it happens, my kids are usually visibly shocked and run off crying because they got scolded. I do my best to come back around quickly and give context to why I lost my patience and apologize (if I mean it) and clarify what I’ll do next time to do better.
Just the other day, my oldest daughter was teasing her sister with a new lava lamp that she got - so I asked her sternly to not be mean about it. With a quivering lip, she asked me if I thought she was a mean person. I clarified that she is not a mean person, but at this moment she was acting mean. So we discussed what the difference is between being a mean person and being mean in a moment.
5) Practice self-care and ask for what you need
Adam and I try to show our children that while they are incredibly important to us and a huge part of our world, we also have needs and hobbies. We actively talk about our interests and make time for those. Candidly, I have learned how to do this from Adam more than I was ever taught to do this from my upbringing. I have watched our children ask Adam why he is writing (for example) and not spending time with them. He calmly answers that it is because his hobby is important and he will be available to play in x number of minutes after he is done writing.
Asking for what one needs is really hard if you do not train yourself to do it. So we both try to model this to each other as well as to our kids – actively asking each other what support we need, thus creating the space to work out, write, go out together as well as recharge alone as needed. I knew that I needed to reach out to a friend to talk about what happened at swim practice last week - and that too is a form of self-care.
I love this quote from Glennon Doyle:
“There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent.”
― Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Summing it up – a friend once told me that it is a privilege to raise awesome humans.
That comment stuck with me. Being a parent has taught me more about life than any job I’ve ever had. Every day, good or bad, I have to show up for my kids and put whatever successes or failures from yesterday behind me. I have 2 pairs of eyes watching and learning from me – how to be and not to be. It is humbling, daunting, and amazing all at the same time.
Here are some relevant parenting and leadership books:
How do talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber
Raising children other people like to be around by Richard Greenberg
Thank you for reading and giving me a voice to share my journey as a parent. If you would like to check out our other writing on parenting, please click here.