Who needs the Dalai Lama, Bandura, a psych degree or self-help books when you have a toddler? Raising daughters through their first five years has taught me more about being a parent, and a human, than anything else. Here are some life lessons I've learned simply from the everyday existence of Olivia, 5, and Maya, 3:
1. Morning Routine I was fighting the clock to get everything ready -- the kids off to school and me to my office. Olivia was buckled in, the lunches were made and the car packed with five minutes to spare. I did a quick fist pump. Maya was inside putting on her shoes and was supposed to come right -- wait! Where was she!? I ran back in and there she was coming down the stairs, crying and -- what the bleep? -- naked. NAKED! Argh!!!
Life lesson: Always give yourself extra time to do something or get somewhere. It will help to be prepared for any unexpected nudity.
Parenting lesson: Toddlers require extra time, patience and fluid expectations. They are just figuring stuff out, which requires lots of mind (and clothing) changes. I suspect this will carry on through their teen years...
2. School Projects Olivia came home with a "card" for me. It was very sweet on one side, saying, "I love you, Mommy, you're the best." On the other side she proceeded to express how much she loves to poop from her butt (see picture). She is just learning to write and felt very proud of herself. Her cheesy smile disappeared fast when I started to address the poop first.
Life and Parenting lesson: Always celebrate the positive before teaching the lesson. And when you do, make sure you approach it in the most productive way possible. Big winner: Firm but loving language. Big loser: Shaming. There is never a good reason to shame (yourself or others).
3. Shopping Last holiday season, I went to Target with Maya, and it was crowded. I just needed diapers. All was going well, it was a pleasant trip. Then the sh*t hit the fan, because I wouldn't let her have a package of baby wipes. That's all it took. She began to lose her toddler mind. She was on the ground screaming and crying LOUDLY (Note: I have never known a child to cry louder). I took a peek down the very long aisle (it was a big Target) and every single person had turned to see what was up. I kind of waved, ducked back into the aisle, took a breath and waited. It took about four (long and precious) minutes and then she was happy again, forgetting all about those dang baby wipes.
Life lesson: Emotions are like waves and we need to move through them, regardless of the trigger (big or small). So, whether you stub your toe on your son's toy he left out again or have a major blow out with your partner, these emotions need to be processed out. As adults, we usually don't give ourselves permission to do that. But we really need to -- not necessarily in the middle of Target, but as soon as possible.
Parenting lesson: Children are very much in the moment. Until their brain is fully developed, they do not have the ability to rationalize or judge a situation or self-regulate, so they usually just let it all out. Just like adults, they need the emotional wave to pass.
4. Circle Time. I love my daughter's preschool. The teachers are fantastic, and the owner is a sweet and well-mannered woman in her 60s. So, when I opened an email where she quoted Olivia dropping an F-bomb during circle time I was pretty horrified (and humored -- come on, it's funny!).
Life lesson: We need to be accountable for the words that we release into the air. Whoever is in earshot will most likely hear what you say (whoa, that is deep), so shape up.
Parenting lesson: Children are tiny sponges with accountability badges (aw, little vigilantes). They will repeat what they hear and call you out when you say a naughty word to the well-deserved a-hole that just cut you off.
5. Silliness. My kids like to get weird and silly. They make up languages, hardly take a non-silly-face picture, like to dance as if they are being electrocuted and will sometimes chant, "Let's Get Weird!" Yesterday morning, they took turns mooning each other and sing-shouting," Watch out for my butt!" I am not sure who they learned any of this from...
Life lesson: If you allow yourself times to be weird and silly, and take life less seriously, you will be more confident and relaxed overall. Boom. Get weird.
Parenting lesson: Let your kids get weird and silly, especially in public. It will build their sense of self and move them away from the concept of having to be "perfect."
6. Shoe-Tying Olivia is just learning to tie shoes. She gets frustrated. I get frustrated. We breathe. I encourage. And we practice over and over and over again.
Life lesson: Life is about practice and repetition and it's important accept where you are in a learning process. Even if you started up a practice again (ugh, like exercise) -- give yourself some time to get back into it.
Parenting lesson: When teaching your child a new behavior, it's important to ground yourself so you can hold space for emotions that come when learning something new. And celebrate the milestones. When my daughter came to me with a half-bow, I exaggerated a "you almost did it" dance, which inspired her to keep trying.
Overall Lesson: There are constant opportunities to learn something profound from normal daily tasks. All of the above life lessons seem to funnel down to three things we really need to practice as humans and, especially, parents: Awareness, Patience and Flow. Awareness of what is doable and age-appropriate, Patience for the moment, and the ability to Flow with whatever unfolds.