Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

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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I was a bit surprised to see an article about working and parenting in the Openers Section of this Sunday’s NYT Business section. I’ll admit, I thought there would be more pressing things to write about. But I appreciate the coverage of a topic that is, of course, close to my heart. There are three key issues that the article brought up for me.

1) Being highly involved with your kids and your career means that you sometimes have to temper your ambitions.
I read Baby Makes Three (and Book Makes Four), the story of Alexandra Levit’s joyful birth of her first baby and her latest book in the same month, with interest and empathy. I freqently find myself in situations were I feel I need to temper my career ambitions so that I can protect my time with my monkeys. And I’m frequently unsure if I’m doing the right thing. But, like Levit, most of the time I feel lucky to have a career I enjoy and a pair of loving monkeys who I get to raise. 

2) It is possible to create a good situation for juggling family and work before you have kids. But it’s about demonstrating your value, not setting a schedule.
Levit writes that the advice from her mentors was to not worry about juggling family and work until her children were born. Only then, according to the advice, would she know what she wanted. She ignored that advice and is grateful that she did. I think that the advice was partly right and that ignoring it was partly right.

It is true that you don’t really know how you’ll feel about working vs. staying at home until you’re a parent. I’d even go as far as to say that even once your kids are born, you may change your mind a few times over the course of several years.

Which is why it is good to partially ignore that advice. Clearly establishing your value to employers, clients, or anyone else who who matters before you have children will most likely buy you the flexibility you need to figure things out after you have kids. It doesn’t mean you’ll know what works. It just means you’ll be more likely to be able to figure out an arrangement that works.

3) It’s easy to focus all your energy on your work and your kids. But if you don’t spend time on yourself, you won’t be the only one to suffer.
I did start to get a little worried about Levit, though, as I finished the article. She writes that with limited time to spend with her son and limited time to work, she has to maximize every moment. That includes not going to the gym or grabbing a coffee. This worries me because what I’m reading between the lines is that Levit is making time for work and for her family, but not for herself. I think that’s an unsustainable bargain, and one that’s likely to leave her depleted. Instead, I’d recommend that she make time to also do things just for herself. And I’d bet that they’ll somehow end up energizing her work and her interactions with her son.

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Last week we were living in Whine Country. All week the monkeys were super whiny, and they’d freak out over basic issues.


One day they came home from school bawling. I sat with them on the couch and tried to talk to them about what happened. “Daddy ripped my fig bar,” was all I could get out of them. Later I learned that Mr. Daddy was trying to get them to share the one bar they had left over from lunch. And they didn’t want to share it. So they cried the whole way home from school. Both of them.


By Thursday I’d pretty much had it. After powering through bedtime, I sat down at the computer and Googled ‘whiny tantrum three year olds.’ No surprise, a number of sites had suggestions.


After reading a few, I started to get annoyed. Here I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the monkeys, and all the online resources were about how I could behave differently. This annoyed me. After all, I’m not whiny. Why did I have to change (ok, so maybe I’m a little whiny.) But really, this was about them, not me.


After reading about 100 posts recommending me to just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ I found one that made sense. Yes, it involved saying ‘I can’t hear you when you whine,’ but it surrounded that tidbit with a bit more context.


Kids don’t whine to be annoying, it said, they whine to get what they want. If you give them what they want, they’ll continue to whine. It reminded me to not get angry or frustrated. To try a tactic for a couple of weeks before giving up on it. And to make sure I’m specific about both the behaviors I want to get rid of and those that I want to encourage. Finally, it reminded me that I need to be constantly praising them when they talk in an appropriate tone of voice.


I printed out the page and talked the strategy out with Mr. Daddy. We agreed to try it the next day. On Friday we spent the day together, going out for pancakes, to the zoo, to the park, and to an art show at the preschool. We had a great day. And we were able to keep a handle on the whining, even when the monkeys were tired.


By Saturday night, we’d noticed a big change. Despite a night of throwing up and tummy aches the boys had both been whining less and were starting to be fun to hang out with again.


My reaction to all the parenting advice I’d been reading was not unlike the reaction some managers have when they’re trying to get their people to improve. When your people aren’t performing up to your standards, you start to wonder what’s wrong with them. And you forget that at least in part, their behavior is a reaction to the conditions that you set up with them.


You can’t, as many people recommend online, just say ‘I can’t hear you when you whine’ and expect behavior to change. You have to set the conditions for the behavior to change, and constantly reinforce new behavior.


And even though it’s your people who aren’t performing, not you, the only behaviors that you really have the power to change are your own. As a leader, your role in the situation is similar to that of a parent. If you want a different outcome, you have change the things that you do to set the conditions for that new outcome to occur.

It’s not rocket science. But it can transport you to an entirely new universe.





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If you search for women and domestic life and overwhelmed on Istockphoto you get a bunch of stereotypical parenting images. Like this one.  Funny.

Or Sad.

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The other day my yoga teacher was talking about how to go deeper into a twist during a standing pose. “Focus on your legs,” he said, “Root them. Strong roots will allow you more freedom of movement. Move your energy down to enable you to shift up.”

I know it’s a little cheesy, but it made me think of this effort we’re undertaking with our children. Raising them with deep roots, providing with structure within which they will hopefully be able to find their own movement.

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We went to Ikea for dinner tonight. (This time, we didn’t go just to get the monkeys to behave, but knowing that I wanted to go check some stuff out gave me a great way to keep those guys in line all day. A nice byproduct.)

After dinner, we went downstairs to get ice cream. We got the cones, but didn’t manage to get the extra cups and spoons we usually give them so they can eat their ice cream and not make a total mess. As they started to eat I realized that at 3 years old, the monkeys are actually old enough to learn how to eat an ice cream cone.

Being old enough to learn how to properly lick an ice cream cone is not a major milestone that’s likely to be found in any parenting book. But it’s another reminder that they’re growing up, and fast. 

Tonight, it was another reminder that we cling to the practices that worked when they were younger because that’s becomes the habit that we’re in. Assisted ice cream eating, sitting in high chairs at the dinner table, swinging in the baby swings at the park, and ‘bumping’ down the stairs are just a few of the things I can think of that we should probably be moving past soon. But they’ve become as much crutches for me as they are assists for the monkeys. The high chairs keep them stuck in their seats. When they bump down the stairs, I don’t have to watch them as closely (and they can carry things!). All these reasons keep me – and them – rooted in what’s comfortable instead of looking for opportunities to grow.

And to be fair, it’s not just me. Although they are getting to be ‘big boys’ the monkeys still love to be cuddled, coddled and carried – mostly by me. They like to play the baby role almost as much as they like playing the big boy role.

But there’s something exciting and fun about teaching your kids the proper technique for maximum enjoyment of ice cream with minimum melting all over your hands. And for them, there’s something exciting about developing new skills and doing things that the big kids can do. Even as we give up some of the positive benefits of old behaviors, we gain something from adopting new ones.

It’s not just our kids that we get into these patterns with, of course, it’s our colleagues, too.

It’s easy to limit someone’s growth by saying – she’s not ready, we’ll give her training wheels and then, someday she can do it on her own. It even sounds like you’re doing something nice. But you’re not. You’re limiting her growth. Because without trying, she’ll never really learn.

Often growth happens at work by accident. People get pushed into developing or demonstrating new skills and flexing new muscles when they have to – a particularly difficult project or a very busy day means that everyone has to step up and eat their ice cream without a cup. And that’s when you realize that they can. But it’s probably worthwhile to be more proactive about providing these opportunities, not just taking advantage of them when they come up.

But I am going to be so sad to get rid of those high chairs.


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I’m in a sophisticated phase of parenting called bargaining, negotiating and bribery.

I’m not proud, but I’ll do what it takes to ensure that the monkeys not only know that they shouldn’t pull their teacher’s hair in school but that they don’t actually do it.

A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of misbehaving at school. In a single day they were in and out of time out about four times each at school. I was unsure of how to handle it. But I knew that I didn’t really want to be the parent of the worst behaved boys at school. After all, our parent-teacher conference was just around the corner. So I tried a tactic I thought might work: bribery. 

At dinner, I set up the challenge: “If you can get through the day without getting into trouble tomorrow, we’ll go to Ikea for dinner.” By far, the monkey’s favorite place to go out to dinner is Ikea. I guess that’s what happens if you never take your children to McDonald’s. 

The next day I reinforced the bribe with a simple message. “There will be three rules for school today. 1) No crying when mommy drops you off. 2) Listen to your teachers. 3) Have fun. If you follow all the rules we get to go to Ikea for dinner.” For good measure, I let their teacher in on the set up. That way she could invoke the Ikea incentive if she needed to.

It worked like a charm. They were little angels at school and we had a fun dinner at Ikea. Easing my guilt on invoking the Ikea incentive was the fact that I am not the only mom at school that uses that particular motivation tool – we ran into another family eating there, too.

I was quite pleased with the result of the bribe. The problem, of course, is that I don’t really want to eat dinner at Ikea every night. This particular spate of bad behavior subsided without the need for another bribe, though, and we moved on.

Until this Monday, when the monkeys came home from school. “How was school?” I asked innocently. “Monkey #1 stepped on teacher’s toe,” reported Monkey #2. (No, they don’t actually call each other monkey). “On purpose or by accident?” I ask. “By accident and on purpose,” he replied. Turns out Monkey #1 stepped on the teacher’s toe a lot. Four times before he got sent to time out, in fact.

So I tried a new incentive – their favorite brunch place, Morning Glory. “If you behave in school all week, we can go to Morning Glory for lunch on Friday. You can have Monkey French Toast.” (Yes, it’s called Monkey French Toast. It is a delicious sugar bomb with fruit thrown in for good measure.)

I sent them to school with this great promise, only to end up with some very sad monkeys at the end of the day. See, they’re 3. And when Mr. Daddy picked them up from school, they wanted to go to Morning Glory for Monkey French Toast. They’re not really up on the days of the week and they didn’t understand that I didn’t mean tonight, I meant at the end of the week. And the end of the week looks a long way away when it’s Tuesday.

Morning Glory closes at 3, so I couldn’t make good on the promise they thought they’d heard. I talked them down, and explained everything, and they kind of got it, but not really. I had to keep explaining it and re-explaining it all week. They did behave in school, though, and we are going to Morning Glory tomorrow. 

The Ikea success vs. Morning Glory failure taught me something about incentives. The Ikea incentive works because there’s a direct correlation between their behavior and the reward. It’s timely for the way that they perceive time. The Morning Glory incentive might work for an adult, or even an older kid, but a week is too long long for 3 year-olds to wait for their reward.

The folks that I work with  are smart, overachieving people who generally do great work. We try to reward them for their work with salary increases, promotions, and recognition, but we don’t always do a great job. Often, I think, our incentives feel less like the Ikea incentive and more like the Morning Glory incentive. The connection to their particular contributions isn’t always clear. And we don’t always promote people and give them raises in a timely fashion. Of course, they don’t throw tantrums or hit me when I’ve missed the mark, but a lack of good incentives can still be a problem.

Sometimes I teach my kids. And sometimes, I learn from them.

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