I recently had to take our two year old to the Emergency Room. She was having breathing difficulties due to a viral infection. I had many reflections from the experience and I’m guessing a few will trickle down as part of “Parenting Saturdays” (the unofficial name of this series :-)) in the coming weeks. But, one concept I was struck by was familial responsibility.
But, before I go there, a quick public service announcement. One of our biggest lessons from the incident was to waste no time when children have breathing difficulties. Children move from “normal” to unconscious with surprising speed. Our nurse explained that delays tend to have serious consequences. We were lucky we didn’t have to deal with that.
Now, back to notes on familial responsibility. As part of her breathing difficulties combined with the strong retching reflex that kids have, she projectile vomited her day’s food in 4 spurts. 3 of them were when I was carrying her.
But, as we didn’t have a change of clothes or time, I just went with it for the next 3 hours.
Somewhat disgusting details aside, this is no big deal of course. Most parents/people will go through a lot worse for their kids/family.
That precise thought gave me pause.
Isn’t it amazing how much we’re willing to compromise, sacrifice, and endure for someone we consider family?
Why doesn’t more of that extend to the many human beings we encounter over the course of our lives?
And, perhaps more importantly, what if it did?
When we picture wars through history, we often picture two armies clashing against each other – i.e. a frontal assault. Frontal assaults rely on raw power and lose effectiveness over time because of their predictability. I remember seeing a stat that said <5% of all wars fought involved frontal assaults.
That makes sense. Force and raw power tend to be most effective when used sparingly.
You see this all the time in interactions between parents and children. Parents who employ the frontal assault strategy may win a few battles – but, inevitably, lose the war. The dominant strategy when faced with war tends to be tact (to look for ways to avoid it if possible) and surprise.
I’ve written about my struggles with tact from time to time here. I tend to impulsively fight fire with fire – a really bad strategy in any confrontation. Luckily, parenting a 2 year old has provided a great training ground to improve my skills.
As with most things in life, making the change is not about shutting down that rush of blood when my lymbic brain senses an imminent confrontation. Instead, it is channeling that rush of blood to work on a tactful response/creating a surprising distraction.
This is no different from the principle of separating reaction from response. But, then again, principles are easier said than done. And, making them second nature requires plenty of tactical experimentation.
Here’s to that.
A recent challenge I’ve been grappling with is understanding and then responding to our 2 year olds “triggers.” I define a trigger as a condition that results in an emotional outburst/completely irrational behavior.
Hunger is her most sensitive trigger – not rocket science in itself. But, I’ve come to realize that the part I find most challenging is that it goes from zero to one. As a result, I’ve been guilty of reacting to that emotional outburst with my own emotional outburst.
Needless to say, that doesn’t work out well. :-)
Observing myself in my attempts to respond and not react to her triggers has resulted in two takeaways. First, I do better when I’ve gotten sleep. And, second, I need to have better awareness of my own triggers if I intend to help her deal with hers.
Replacing reactions with responses is hard to do consistently. I’m hoping to make the most of these opportunities to get better – both as a parent and as a person.
I find myself reflecting frequently about the number of times I say no to our ~2 year old. It is the easy default response to the things she wants to do – explore away by turning everything upside down without any regard for her own safety.
After months of attempting to strike the balance, I’ve recently found a better approach that’s helped me make peace with this process. Now, I ask myself – Am I saying no because it is dangerous for her (e.g. playing with something very heavy or hot) or because it is inconvenient for me (e.g. something that will result in a mess that I need to clean up)?
And, when the answer is the latter, I do my best to stay silent.
As parents, we make many decisions on behalf of our children. We were feeling particularly stuck about a schooling decision recently.
As part of our process, we decided to pause on attempting to make the decision and solve for a different question – what shared culture did we want to create? After a bit of deliberation, we aligned on a first draft with 3 words/phrases – “hungry,” “thoughtful,” and “learning-focused.”
Hungry implies having the drive and desire to make the world better. The thoughtfulness and a focus on learning, on the other hand, hopefully balance that desire and make the journey a happy one. Aligning on this simplified our decision making – we didn’t believe this choice would help with the “hunger.”
We are still new to this and are figuring our way through. But, the lesson from this decision was to take the time to define the culture we wanted to create before we attempted to make what felt like the “right” decision.
It holds true for organizations, for families, and for ourselves.
Despite our best efforts, there is no guarantee results will go our way. But, focusing on process and letting go of the results is generally easier in theory than practice.
A practice I’ve found helpful is to commit to what I expect from myself as part of doing my best. And, the phrase that helps me make that commitment is “At least it won’t be for a lack of…”
For example, I approach most difficult situations with – “At least it won’t be for a lack of positivity, thoughtfulness, and a focus on learning.” Or, as a parent, “At least it won’t be for a lack of thought, kisses, and dancing.”
Framing it in this manner takes a lot of the pressure off the inevitable mistakes. It helps define simple cultural norms that in turn define how we approach what we do – i.e. our process. As long as we are thoughtful and learning focused, it will only take a while before our process becomes a good process.
And, in the long run, good results follow good processes.
The wonderful thing about the internet is that you get to learn from the many who’ve gone through experiences that are very similar to you. As we prepared for having 2 kids under 2 years, we knew what to expect. Or, at least we told ourselves we did. I have three reflections about my experience so far.
First, the best word that describes our reality right now is “cranking.” We are on – from morning to evening to night and from weekday to weekend. It is exhausting but being exhausted isn’t really an option when you have an energetic 21 month old. Our next break is when our parents visit end of the year. And, we dream of going over to our friend’s places on weekends, handing over our kids to them, and going to sleep. :-)
Second, someone I know made an insightful comment about the 2 young kid challenge. He described the effort as “exponentially hard (compared to having 1 kid) until you see economies of scale, i.e., when they start playing with each other.” That feels accurate. We’re roughly a year away from that.
And, finally, there’s a quote about a sense of humor being a major help in dispensing with minor troubles. That is so true. Humor helps keep these first world problems in perspective and reminds us to be grateful for all the blessings – and there are many. We frequently find ourselves reflecting on how challenging this journey would be if we didn’t laugh as much we did.
But, we do. And, I’m grateful for that.