Last week was a little rough. My youngest daughter is brilliant...funny and smart and socially adept. She has always been the more organized of my two children. If we lost something around the house, we would say, “Ask Cici!” and more often than not, she would know exactly where to find the lost object. When she started preschool, without being asked, she would lay out her outfit for the next day in the shape of a flat little human, often complete with jewelry and other accessories. Recently, though, she has regressed. She’s not a morning person, so simply waking up can be challenging. She eats extremely slowly, which is a problem with every meal, but it’s especially frustrating at breakfast when our time is limited. The worst problem in the mornings, however, is socks. First of all, we have a very active sock monster in our house, so finding matching socks is nigh impossible. But Cici is also extremely picky about her socks. They can’t be too big, too small and definitely not too itchy. If the toe seam is too intrusive, forget about it. If they slump down in her shoes, she’s been known to sit down and cry about it. So even on the rare mornings when we are running on time and getting out the door without issue, socks become the bane of our routine and we spend precious minutes running around the house trying to find socks that fit. Then we are all flustered and annoyed and snippy and the morning is off to a less than ideal start.
Monday of last week was particularly bad. While I don’t think my daughter was consciously trying to make us late and drive me to the nuthouse, it certainly seemed that way. Everything was a struggle and all of my reminders and time checks fell on deaf ears. The result was a conflict-ridden morning and a walk to school in which I lectured about halfway and we all felt crummy about it, including my older daughter who had been on top of things that morning but got caught in the slow moving wake of her younger sister. “We are only as fast as our slowest person,” I said with a pointed look at Cici, who was by this time feeling extremely sorry for herself and visibly pouting and yes...walking even more slowly...to show it.
Not a pretty picture and certainly not one of my shining mom moments. At the door of the school, we gave hugs and said sorry and promised to figure things out. In fact, as part of my lecture series on pleasant mornings, I asked for ideas about what might work. We came up with three: 1)Set out clothes--including SOCKS--the night before. 2)No books at the breakfast table. 3)Cici will take it upon herself to check her attitude in the morning and try to be more pleasant upon waking.
I’m currently taking a Family Life Coaching class, and after that rough morning, I met with my peer group. Our task was to take turns coaching each other on a family life issue. I decided to bring our chaotic mornings to the group. It helped to process and solidify my plan of action. My coach agreed that putting in some more systems was a good place to start. I felt better and ready for the next morning.
Tuesday started well. Cici woke in a good mood, put on her pre-decided outfit with socks, ate her breakfast quickly and was on track to leave on time. At some point between taking her dishes to the sink and going to the bathroom, our well-laid plan started to unravel. I was again doing time checks and Cici was again mostly ignoring them. At one point, she was sitting on the kitchen floor and it seemed to me that she was brushing one strand of hair at a time.
Try as I might, I once again lost my cool. Cue the replay tape of the previous morning walk...lecture, pouting, grumpy faces, no fun, hug at the door, guilt and frustration for the rest of the day.
What the heck? Wasn’t our plan a good one? Hadn’t I done everything I could do to set us up for success? And yet....the morning ended in shambles.
What now? I know and I often tell my clients that if you keep doing the same things you will get the same results. So even though I thought the plan should work, it didn’t.
“I’m out.” I told my husband. “I’m done micromanaging the mornings. I’ll wake them up and make breakfast, but that’s it. They can tell me when they are ready to leave.”
I threatened to set an alarm to completely remove myself; that’s how done I was. But once my annoyance softened a bit, I decided I would continue to wake them up gently. I also made a chart that outlined the timeline of the morning. 7:00 Wake up. 7:15 Breakfast, etc. I showed it to the girls, told them the plan, felt a bit dubious that it would work, but knew it was worth a try.
Can I tell you what a lovely morning we had? Cici was a bit hard to wake up and she wasn’t exactly a ray of sunshine, but she came down dressed, ate breakfast, did what she needed to do and we were out the door at 7:45 sharp. I even sat down and had breakfast with them. We talked and smiled and I didn’t feel the need to speak one sentence of lecture.
The next morning was the same. It had snowed, and we even left early enough to swing by the sledding hill for a try. We made it to school on time and with our sanity.
What’s the lesson here? Well, first of all, it reminds me of one of the golden rules of education: “Keep standards high.” If you raise the standards and ask the students to step up, most of the time, they will. Likewise, I put more responsibility on my child and she stepped up. This is a bit counterintuitive, right? Doesn’t it make more sense to help her out and soften her load so that she can get out the door? Well, that didn’t work. She became reliant and then ultimately resistant to my frequent reminders. On the contrary, when I stepped back and gave her some independence, she took it upon herself to get everything done and we all benefited.
Secondly, I had to be creative. On Tuesday, I had a plan in place that felt right. I was confident it would work. And it didn’t. Part of me felt like a failure. How can I be a life coach if I can’t even help my own children get to school on time and in good spirits? (Yes, that thought actually crossed my mind). After our second crummy morning on Tuesday, I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to assist the situation. I had to shift my whole mindset to decide to walk backwards on my morning involvement. Again, it wasn’t intuitive, but it made all the difference. I had to change it up to get a different outcome.
I do not share this to brag or flaunt superior parenting skills. Believe me, for every moment of success, I have multiple moments that felt like failure. Parenting is the hardest and sometimes most demoralizing job on the planet, and I say this understanding full well that my children will someday be teenagers, so I ain’t seen nothing yet.
But I think that one thing we understand better as parents than we do as human beings is that failure does not mean we stop trying. As parents, we have a bad day or show poor judgment with our kids and we don’t give up being parents because we can’t. Fortunately, our obligation to and emotional bond with our children ensures that (most of us) will keep parenting despite the fights, despite the trainwrecks of mornings, despite the public meltdowns. We keep doing it and eventually, (most of) our children become respectable adults.
As parents, we see that each day is a new day. Heck, each moment is a new moment to try something different and to be a better parent. If we could translate this to our health, relationships and business endeavors, imagine how that “I have no choice but to keep trying” mentality could serve us! Didn’t get your workout in? Try again tomorrow. Ate 5 donuts in one sitting? Eat better tomorrow. Failed to land a client? Reach out to another client tomorrow.
Even if you aren’t parents, I imagine you can relate to this. In what areas of your life do you try again no matter what? In what areas do you give up too easily? Where does failure become a lesson, and where does failure become an excuse to beat yourself up? We do not treat all life endeavors equally. Some of us are great business people but struggle with intimate relationships. Some of us have great relationships but don't put effort into self care.
Take a moment to think about an area of your life where you have let perceived failure slow you down or halt you completely. What are you not doing because you are convinced you can’t? And then think about an area of your life where you have experienced success. How did you have to think, feel and act to reach those triumphs? How can you apply that process to the weaker areas of your life?
You have the capacity to be successful in all areas of your life. It just takes some perseverance, creativity and thought control.