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What’s In a Smile?

The other day, I was poring over hundreds of photos with my mother as we placed them in new photo albums. I ran across one of myself while out on a field trip with my sons.  They were 4 ½ to 5 years old, at most.  We were in a Moroccan restaurant and the boys were off with other children learning to belly dance, no doubt.  

As I looked at the face smiling back at me, I’d love to say I saw hope, and confidence, but it was probably more like relief that I had a moment to breathe.  You see, bringing up twin sons is not for the faint of heart and, certainly not for the weary.  Looking back, my real work was really just beginning.  We were way past the days consisting primarily of sleeping, bathing, eating, changing, playing….<repeat>.  They were busy now, soaking up experiences, deciding how the world works and what their place was in it (at the center, of course).  

Originally, I thought I could just physically power my way through and everything would fall into place. This approach occasionally worked in college and on the job, but at what cost?  How about physical and mental stress, errors that could have been avoided, and missed opportunities to absorb useful, new information?  For the task at hand, my boys deserved better.  This  was no short-term project and I had to work smart if I was going to last.  I didn’t know it that day, but help was on the way through valuable lessons that would come to me:

  1. “Ask for help.”  There seems to be a stigma about seeking help where parenting is concerned.  You’re just supposed to know how to do it.  We don’t feel that way about any other job.  As a parent, you are shaping a whole person who will go out into the world and influence it for good or for bad – that’s kinda scary when you think about it.  Lean on your spouse, partner, family members, or friends, for help if you need it. They’re usually waiting for you to ask. Think carefully about it.  My experience has been that if you know what you need, and can articulate it, people have a much easier time helping you, whether it’s a friend, family member, or outside help that you hire.  Being clear about what I needed also helped me figure out whom to ask.  Not everybody is good at everything. Plus, some people are only open to doing what they want to do instead of what you actually need done.  That was a weird lesson for me, but anyway….  
  2.  “There’s strength in the village.” I found that my personal connections expanded tremendously as our children become more active.  The parents of their friends become our new friends, even if for a season.  We had to be open to them.  I found they were sometimes wrestling with the same challenges we were having, and putting our heads together, we conquered them.  We were rooting for each other.  
  3. “Sometimes, you‘ve just gotta move.”  Once you figure out what has to be done, don’t deliberate too long.  As a professional organizer once said to me about tackling projects, “Good and done is better than perfect and none.” I was not totally immune to procrastination, but once I figured out what was important in the moment, I knew I had to get laser-focused on getting the job done. 
  4. “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you’ve gotta pay.”  This lesson applied largely to discipline and managing behavior. I learned that I couldn’t put off teaching the boys how to do the right thing.  I figured the longer I allowed bad habits to settle in, the harder they would be to change and I would continue to pay the consequences, over and over again. That’s exhausting.  In the short term, I had to ‘pay’ by taking extra time to teach and/or correct appropriate behavior, often in the face of their tears, tantrums, and tirades.  In my work and my personal interactions, I see some parents cut corners on discipline because confronting misbehavior would upset their little buddies children.  Please take it from me — “You can pay now or you can pay later, but you’ve gotta pay.”
  5. “It will all work out in the end.  If it hasn’t worked out, then it’s not the end.”  When my children were little and I was feeling overwhelmed, I learned to look to tomorrow for another chance.  Before the boys were born, I always looked forward to each new day focused on chasing the next thing, without a lot of consideration for what a gift it was to even see it.  Now, after tucking the boys into bed, I found myself thinking about how the day had gone and what I could do differently the next day.  I tried to pass this outlook on to my children and found that they often rebounded from disappointments a little faster when they knew they’d get another chance to do better or make things right.       

My experience as a parent has certainly helped me to become more creative and resourceful, as well as more patient with myself, and others.  Most of all, it has helped me to become more courageous, not just in parenting, but in other areas of my life.  I know I won’t hit it out of the park every time, but I’m gonna keep swingin’…and smilin’!   

*Excerpt from upcoming book, Mother’s Work:  Pearls of Wisdom and Other Gems from My Journey