The fourth secret of happier parenting: Your kids aren’t you (thank goodness)

photo-320My baby is just over 3 months old. That means that he got his start in life almost exactly a year ago. I weighed him the other day and had the sudden thought that “Wow! My body has produced 15 lbs of human in a year!” He’s made up of raw material supplied by me (and one cell from my husband) but it is already clear that he is entirely his own person. He is just the most contented little dude, but with a distinct interest in making sure that people notice him and take his feelings into account. He wants to be changed immediately in a way the other kids didn’t demand. He loves his baths. Perhaps I have a little Marie Kondo at my house.

I’ve got several crystalized moments in my memory when the other kids have showcased their individuality too. Which makes sense. They are all their own little people. One of my secrets of happier parenting is realizing that parenting is like most other interpersonal interactions. You’re better off understanding that other people aren’t like you. They are interested in different things, respond to different incentives, and have different temperaments. But when you do interact with them on their own terms, and value them for who they are, you can relax and enjoy life so much more, especially when the kids bring new things into your life that you otherwise would not have experienced.

I suppose this secret — your kids aren’t you, thank goodness — should be obvious. And yet when it comes to dealing with kids, it’s pretty much a cliche that it’s tough to separate our own egos from them. People who are not content with their own lot in life can project all sorts of expectations on their children that may not be healthy. When you settle up with yourself, though, you can appreciate their quirks and enjoy what they bring to the table.

Some of my favorite quirks… My daughter exudes a word that Sheryl Sandberg tells us not to use. So let’s just say she has executive leadership skills. At 21 months, she went on a boat ride with the rest of us around Seattle. The captain let my boys “steer” for a bit. She started shrieking. What was wrong, was the baby cold? Was it too windy for the baby? Of course not. She wanted to steer that boat too.

Or my now 5-year-old, who approaches the world with an aggressive physicality I don’t have (and neither does my husband, who was never into contact sports). He launched himself over the bars of the goat cage at the zoo once, doing a loop-de-loop that resulted in a huge gash on his head and multiple staples. He didn’t freak out during the staples. He didn’t cry when they were removed. He’s just tough. He wants to try everything, which is why I’m now a T-ball mom, a soccer mom, a swimming mom, and an art class mom.

My 7-year-old’s obsessive interests have brought all sorts of new facts into my life. I never would have expected I’d be tracking down old editions of Guinness Books of World Records from used book stores, but comparing the records in 1971 to the records in 2015 turns out to be quite a fun way to spend the time after he must be in his bedroom (he goes to bed around midnight and wakes up at 7:30 a.m. I’m not kidding. I go to bed at 10:30). I think the fact that I once interviewed Ashrita Furman, the person with the most world records, is to my son the coolest thing I have ever done. He shares his interests with others too, which is why several folks in my life informed me when various oldest living people expired over the past few months (“Does he know??”). He recently thought he would do his biography report on Sacagawea, and was quite taken with the concept of a birth date being “circa” something, and why we might not know when someone was born. Then, alas, the class learned about Sacagawea in their history unit, and he didn’t want to report on her, since he wanted to teach his classmates something they didn’t know. This seemed like a logical explanation, so I told him it was OK to tell his teacher he wanted to switch (to Ulysses S. Grant, incidentally).

I’m looking forward to seeing where my kids’ fascinations will take me. Because they aren’t me, as they become more able to build and choose their own lives, there will no doubt be all kinds of new things brought into my world. With four of them, there are four different avenues to explore. That makes me very happy.

For those with older kids, what new experiences have they brought into your life?

In other news: Links! Here’s my pre-order page, with details about the I Know How She Does It book club. I’ll be hosting 2 webinars in June for people who pre-order. If you like this blog, you’ll like my book! It’s me, but with professional editing to get rid of excessive adverb use.

I wrote a piece for Fortune on how companies have drastically reduced email use. I became an inadvertent subject of this story when I emailed a consulting company CEO on a Sunday asking to interview him (during the week). He complained about this. His point was that since everyone has smart phones, email is no longer asynchronous, so you should treat it like phone calls. I wouldn’t have called him on a Sunday with something that wasn’t urgent, so I shouldn’t have emailed him (though he was happy to be in the article). What do you think?

I wrote a piece for Fast Company with advice from Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson, SAP CMO Maggie Chan Jones, and Nixon Peabody managing partner Andrew Glincher on how to give more feedback to team members.

I also wrote an essay on why it’s true that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Hint, it’s not just that busy people have good systems to avoid dropping balls. The equation goes both ways; reliable people get lots of opportunities, and hence become busy.

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