Posts Tagged ‘Parenting Wisdom’

After several hours of a rough morning with the monkeys, I found myself threatening thus: “I’m going to call your father.” To which the monkeys literally responded: “Why?”

And really, I’m not sure why I said it. They’re not afraid of him, and really, he was working at a cafe. What was he going to do?

I must have gotten it from my mom, who would routinely make the same threat. While it might have been somewhat more effective, because my dad was much more removed from the day-to-day  parenting than Mr. Daddy is, it couldn’t have really been that effective. After all, in the house where I grew up, my dad was the softie and my mom was the disciplinarian. It’s a good bet that had my mom called my dad, he would have been as likely to brush her off or talk her down from her anger as he would have been to punish me.

I can only guess that my mom was doing the same thing I was, using a threat that her mom used. And from what I know about my grandmother and grandfather, I’m guessing that the ‘I’m going to call your father’ threat was actually effective three generations ago. I think my grandfather could be pretty scary when he wanted to be.

This kind of passing on of tactics from one generation to another doesn’t just happen in households, it happens in offices, too. Just as I learned how to parent – both how to parent well and how to parent less well – from my own parents, I learned how to manage and lead from those people who have managed and led me. And I’ve got to say, I think I’ve had better role models in the house than in the office.

Either way, though, it’s really easy to find yourself parroting a voice that you heard long ago. We think of legacy systems as technology or organizational structure, but there are implicit ‘systems’ of leading and managing that get passed on in organizations, too.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the monkeys don’t resort to an ‘I’m going to call your mother,’ when they’re trying to wrangle their kids. And I think most parents are already pretty concious about not repeating what we see as our parent’s mistakes. As a leader, I feel like I need make sure that I’m equally concious of not repeating the mistakes of mediocre or bad leaders or managers that I’ve encountered during my career.


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Brazen Careerist, is one of my favorite blogs, and I especially liked Penelope’s recent post on how to be a good manager. Her mantra: be generous. Which I love, of course, because it’s not only something that applies to being a good manager, it applies to being a good person in general. Life is not a zero sum game. Surprisingly, giving more to other people doesn’t leave you with less. It leaves you with more. So yes, generosity is critical, in management and in relationships outside of work.

This post got me thinking about what I think it takes to be a good manager. And I think it’s simple: be empathetic. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes, seeing a situation from their perspective is critical. It allows you to assess the situation better and therefore respond to it in a more appropriate manner. It also helps you win the trust of the people who you are managing or leading, so that even if you have to tell them some stuff that’s hard to hear, they know that you’re coming from a place of understanding and appreciation of their position.

I learned a little bit about empathy this week from the monkeys. Monkey #1 was really sick: pneumonia. For the second time in three months. Poor guy was a mess, with a fever and a hacking cough. To make things worse, his cough kept him from sleeping for very long. So, I had a sad, feverish, phlegmey, tired kid on my hands for several days.

His brother was equally sad, whiny, and clingy. But not sick. Initially, I’ll admit, I was annoyed with monkey #2. Couldn’t he see that I had my hands full with his brother?  Didn’t he know why I couldn’t pick him up?

But then I looked at the situation from his perspective.

Here he was, deprived not only of a lot of my attention, but also deprived of his playmate and his best friend. Realizing that Monkey #2 was reacting not only because he was jealous but also because he was lonely and, of course, bored, helped me help him. I sent him to school without his brother. I made sure that he got plenty of park and play time with Mr. Daddy. And I made some room on my lap so that he could get in some snuggles, too.

It was still a pretty rough week, but at least I didn’t feel like I was ripping Monkey #2 off.

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It’s been a tough couple of weeks with the monkeys. We’re in one of those phases where hanging out with them is sort of fun, but sort of a pain in the a** because we keep finding ourselves having to work really hard to get them to follow directions.

The other day I had to put them both in time out just to get them to stand still for long enough to get dressed for school. Lots of fun, really.

I know that this too shall pass, but of course both Mr. Daddy and I are trying to figure out what we can be doing differently. The other night, as we were discussing it, I suggested that we explicitly spend a little bit more of our time with them really playing with them on their level, so that at least the ‘management’ is interspersed with actual fun.

Mr. Daddy has been pushing the idea of encouraging them to spend 20 minutes or so a day hanging out on their own, without us around. This would give them a chance to assert their independent spirits and us a chance to get stuff done around the house.

I told him my idea, and he agreed. He told me his idea, and I brought up all the reasons I thought it wouldn’t work. Finally he interrupted me – can’t we just try it? Sure.

On the train back from New York the other day I was reading Group Genius, by Keith Sawyer, an excellent read on how to get groups to innovate well. While reading a chapter on how to get smart outcomes from groups instead of dumb ones, he reminded me of the rules of improvisation, the first of which is to build on ideas by saying ‘yes, and’ instead of ‘yes, but’.

As a consultant whose job it is to help teams develop new insights and translate them into new ideas for their businesses, I facilitate brainstorming sessions all the time. I know how important ‘yes and’ is not just to brainstorming but to any great collaborative work. Yet in a mini-brainstorm with Mr. Daddy, I forgot to judge his ideas forward and started to, well, judge. It’s not a great way to problem solve or an endearing way to talk to your husband.

We’re going to try out some of our new ideas this weekend to see if they work. If not, we’ll be back to brainstorming early next week. This time, I’ll try to remember the rules.

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I just finished watching 3:10 to Yuma, which was a completely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Like all Westerns, it was a story about What It Means To Be A Man wrapped in a plot involving horses, guns, and manhunts.

What was particularly interesting about this one was it’s emphasis on parenthood – well, really fatherhood, but I’ll take it.

In the story, the good guy, Dan Evans, is escorting the bad guy, Ben Wade, to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison after watching him hold up a stagecoach and helping capture him.

The reason Dan takes on this foolish and likely lethal assignment is to save his family farm, ensure that his young son with tuberculosis has a healthy environment to grow up in, and show his older son, Will, that he is honorable and heroic. For the sake of Providing for His Family and Being a Good Role Model, Dan is willing to die.

Now this might be a stretch, but it made me think of something I hear a lot of working moms tell themselves and others to make them feel better about missing a soccer game, bed time, etc. “By working, I’m being a good role model for my children.” It’s something I tell myself on a regular basis.

Just as I take issue with what most Westerns tell you about What It Means To Be A Man, I take issue with this idea that Being A Hero and Being Honorable the most important lessons you can teach your children. Are they really more important than the many tiny lessons you could teach them every day if you were there to watch them grow up?

I know that working hard and having a successful career isn’t quite like dying to make a point, but it made me think. Are we really trying to be role models or that just a nice excuse that seems less selfish than the real reasons we work? And if we are trying to be role models, what exactly are we modeling?


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At school and at work, we learn to build on our experiences.

In fact, the older the get, the longer we’re supposed to remember information. When you’re younger, you get tested on what you’ve learned that week, or that month. By the time you’re in college or graduate school, you may only get tested once every few months, on information that’s supposed to accumulate in your brain over time. Professional careers build on knowledge that we’ve built up over even longer periods of time.  We’re valued for having wisdom and expertise, which comes with years if not decades of practice.

And then we have kids. And they have bad days.

After half an hour of whining, not listening, hitting, and other merriment, my monkeys will suddenly want to snuggle and cuddle and play nice with me. They seem to have forgotten everything that’s happened over the course of the past hour and are ready to resume normal hanging out. But not me. I’ve been trained for years to build my knowledge over time, and I can’t just forget the bad behavior, even if it’s already been addressed.

Tonight, I’ve decided that it’s time to unlearn years of conditioning and start forgetting.

In fact, I’m trying to get myself to consciously re-set my attitude every 1/2 an hour or so. The past few days with the monkeys have been very trying, and I find that if I don’t consciously try and reset my attitude, I easily spiral into a frustrated, angry, yelling mom. And I miss opportunities to cuddle, play and generally hang out because I’m still annoyed about what happened a short time ago. But I’ve already punished the act, and so acting out my frustrations with this ‘phase’ (god I hope it’s a phase) doesn’t really do anyone any good.

I recently read a great Parent Hack, called Pause Your Nose. It’s a brilliant fun and physical way to inspire the behavior I’m looking for, and I already use it all the time on the monkeys. They think it’s really funny.
I’m going to try a similar trick on myself: pressing Acupoint 11 when I need to do a hard reset. Best case scenario, I’ll forget about the fighting and arguing, and once again become a patient, calm, fun, and engaged mom. Worst case scenario, I’ll think it’s funny.

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I’ve written before about the power of emotion, and about the importance of leaders not hiding their emotions but using them to motivate and inspire others. The Heaths say that good ideas and good messages, too require emotion. 9 out of 10 dentist agree that a healthy dose of emotion helps get your message across – and helps people remember it.

In the workplace, one way to get that emotion across is by showing folks the actual people that their businesses impact. We do a lot of social research, and we video tape the research so that we can go back and analyze the data that we collect. We also use video of our research participants in our presentations, because they tell stories so much better than we do when we paraphrase people. Just last week we presented findings that were controversial and surprising to our client. Normally, we put 3-4 clips in an hour long presentation. This time we put 8. The more controversial the ideas, the more important it is to use multiple tools to bring emotional resonance to your words.

We don’t use a lot of PowerPoint presentations at home, but emotion does show up in a couple of places. First, I let the monkeys know when they’ve hurt me. I’ll yell ouch, or sometimes even tear up if they’ve really bonked me. I think that showing them that they can hurt other people by showing emotion is a really powerful way to teach them not to hit and to roughhouse with caution.

I think it also has to be OK for them to show emotion – and to let them experience emotions, even if they’re not comfortable ones, to make a point. They cry when I get angry, and so I try not to get angry over little things. But sometimes, I’m angry and I do let it show. In a store, for example, when they’re not listening to me and playing hide and seek. I get angry. That kind of behavior goes beyond just being annoying, it can also be dangerous. I let them experience the emotion that my anger causes, so that they’ll remember the lesson I’m trying to teach.

This works both ways, of course. When they’re behaving well, being nice, getting along, engaged and curious, I make sure to hug them and kiss them and tell them how much I love them and how much I love being with them. Hopefully, the positive emotion will reinforce those behaviors, too.

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It might surprise you that the second principle of stickiness is unexpectedness.

According to the Heaths, the element of surprise is a way to keep people engaged with an idea long after the first telling. Unexpectedness can drive repetition, turning an idea from something you heard once to a legend that continues to be told over and over again.

The Heath’s give the example of Nordstrom, communicating their message of exceptional customer service within the company through telling stories of exceptional and unexpected acts. These serve as models for how its done that people can remember, retell, and get excited about.

My husband (Mr. Daddy) has used unexpectedness to get the monkeys excited and motivated. In fact, he does it almost every day. When he first started picking them up from school, they didn’t want to leave. It made pick-up drag on, and was demoralizing to boot. What kind of dad was he if his own kids weren’t excited to come home with him after a long day of school?

It turns out, he is the good kind. After a few days of the monkeys reluctantly going home with him, Mr. Daddy started bringing them a new ‘surprise’ every day. He’d bring a snack that he knew they would enjoy to pick-up and leave it in the stroller. At school, all he’d tell them was that he had a surprise for them. Knowing that there was something fun, unexpected and delicious waiting for them, the monkeys began happily leaving school every day.

Sure, you can call it a bribe. You can also call it adding in an element of fun and surprise into every day, luring them with the promise of something unexpected.

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