Leading by Example

When I picked Brogan up from the sitter’s today, he was in one of those moods.  He was running all over the house, talking (obnoxiously and intentionally) loud while the sitter was taking an important call, picking on Beckett (like, literally trying to pick his nose), and not listening to anything I asked of him. And then it was time to make it to the car. Now this daily ritual is always a fun one. Beckett demands to “walk!” (one of his new words), he screams when you put in him his car seat because he wants to turn on the overhead “light!” (another new word). Then he wants to help buckle himself in. Meanwhile Brogan is typically running around the car, ignoring instruction to get in. He’s typically picking up rocks or acorns, or he’s taken off to ride the lawnmower parked in the carport. But today, he decides he’s going to drive my car. Which means he’s in the driver’s seat, turning on my lights, honking the horn, blaring the radio, buckling himself in and locking me out. And while I’m equipped with the keys, the very act of him hitting the lock button and starring at me through the window with the nah-nah-na-na-nah grin is enough to send my blood boiling.  Breath.

I finally negotiated him into his car seat, but by this point, my nerves were shot and I was highly aggravated.  Then Brogan asks (because the sun was in his eyes), “Mommy, can I wear your sunglasses?” “No.” I responded. “When you don’t listen and you misbehave, I don’t do nice things for you.” This was not the first time I’d given him this response. Previously it felt right, like a justifiable response. In the moment today, it felt good too. It was like, Ha! You don’t listen to me, I’ll show you! But after that fleeting moment of vindication, another thought occurred to me… what am I teaching him? Am I teaching him that acts of (my) kindness are dependent on him acting a certain way? Am I teaching him that when someone upsets him, he too should resort to pettiness? Am I teaching him that some part of my love is conditional? I thought I was teaching him that there are consequences to his bad behavior, but that was not the message I was left with today.  I began thinking about the parallels with a marriage. I believe that a marriage is a 100/100 proposition – each spouse should give a 100% regardless of what the other is giving. It is not 50/50.  But I felt like in this tit for tat I had going on with Brogan, I was not giving him my all.  Shouldn’t I be leading by example? Shouldn’t I show him giving, and consideration despite his rough attitude? After all, that’s how I try to live my life in other arenas. Why does my maturity wane when I’m tested by a three-year-old?  Maybe it’s because it my non-mom world, people don’t relentlessly aggravate me until I’m shouting four-letter words under my breath (typically), but it’s really no excuse. I’m the adult. It’s really mind over matter, and I should learn how to deal. In this circumstance, I was not wearing my sunglasses, the sun was legitimately in his eyes, and they were within my reach. I simply said no because I was pissed, and I wanted to make him mad too… and somehow teach him a lesson. Well today, I was taught the lesson. I need to be the example of a caring and calm adult who does not let her emotions dictate her behavior.  Funny how I get on to Brogan about not being able to manage his emotions, but I can’t always manage mine.  Funny how I tell Brogan to share, to be nice to his brother, to calm down (and take deep breaths), and to lose his smart-mouth attitude, but then my go-to response contradicts all those things I say. The good thing about today was that I had a moment of clarity that reminded me I have to show him.  Trying to be a good parent is a daily mission and I’m coming to believe it’s a perpetual work in progress. But I’m going to keep on working.

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What five years of marriage have taught me

Five years ago, it was a cool fall day in Georgia and I married the love of my life. Like many others, my marriage is not perfect – but I don’t expect it to be. It ebbs and flows but I am lucky that there are more good days than bad. I’m lucky to be in a healthy (again, not perfect) marriage where we respect each other (most of the time), love each other and most days, really like each other. This five-year milestone has got me thinking about all I’ve learned about love and marriage along the way; advice and perspectives that have made us work, and that if only I (we) could actually do day-in and day-out, would make us even better…

  • Marriage is 100/100.  I read a book soon after I got married called Love and Respect. It is an awesome book. One of my favorite pieces of advice from it is that marriage is not a 50/50 deal – it’s 100/100.  Because 50% only gets you to 100 if your partner is also giving their 50 at the same time you are… and how often does that really happen? But if you look at it differently, like your commitment to marriage means you give 100% to your spouse no matter what, the results can be amazing.
  • You can’t be selfish.  Learning to be truly unselfish can be a very difficult thing.  It is really hard in a “me, me, me” society to take you out of it and just do what’s right for your spouse.  Especially if they aren’t pulling their “100.” It’s easy to go down the path of, “well he’s not thinking about me in _____, so why should I think about him!” But this is dangerous. This will get you on the Crazy Cycle (also from Love and Respect).  I think to really make a marriage work you have to spend more time focusing on what your spouse needs or wants, and less about you. And you know what? An interesting thing may happen – your spouse may start to be less selfish too. Win-win.
  • Let the past be the past.  This one is hard too. But if you want to move forward with your relationship, you can’t be consumed with the past. You can’t bring it up every time you need it to win an argument/make a point/make he or she feel bad because you feel bad. And while I don’t always follow this one, my logical not in-the-moment brain thinks that you have to look at issues in the past in this way: is it a deal-breaker? If it is not, you move on. If it is, well, then that’s a whole ‘nother story. It’s like the ole adage, “shit or get off the pot.” And by the way, when was the last time bringing up the past actually helped you win an argument??  It usually doesn’t. It usually puts the other person on the defensive and closed off to work things out. So leave the past in the past and focus on the future.
  • Be on the same team.  This one is particularly hard for me. Blake and I are naturally competitive – and in particular, we compete with each other. We try to one-up, prove each other wrong (for the sake of each of us being right), and sometimes we will disagree just because.  But when we get going down this path, we have to recalibrate and realize we are on the same team. This is easy on the big stuff – we’re each other’s cheerleaders when it comes to careers, passions, etc. – but it’s the little stuff that has us fighting like brother and sister (okay, maybe that’s a little weird, but it’s really that type of rivalry).  So when we can step back, be less selfish and less worried about always winning (individually) and realize we are on the same team, it can make a world of difference.
  • Speak kindly to each other. When you’ve been married/together for a long time, sometimes the niceties go out the window. You’re comfortable, and therefore you say whatever is on your mind with little regard to your spouse’s feelings. I caught myself doing this more often than I’d like to admit and so I started asking myself the question, would I talk like this to one of my co-workers?  And often the answer was no. And it made me wonder, why is it that I take the energy to be polite and appreciative at work, but at home, I don’t show the same respect for my husband? I don’t know the answer, but I’ve tried to use this question as the litmus for how to speak to the hubs.  It really can be quite baffling how the person who means the most to you in the world sometimes gets the worst of you just because we get lazy and inconsiderate.
  • Make each other a priority.  Make the time for each other, even when there isn’t much time. Think of all the other things you’d sacrifice for, and then do a little sacrificing for your spouse. Because if the job needed you to work late, you’d do it, and if the kids needed you for something, you’d be there. But sometimes the needs of a spouse can be silent, and so it’s easy to put them on the backburner while you give all of your attention to the other squeaking wheels in your life.  So go on dates, buy each other gifts, take trips (with no kids), and maybe let the dishes sit every once in a while.  Think about what’s most important in your life and adjust your energy accordingly.
  • Respect.  So Love and Respect focuses on a husband’s need for respect. I don’t disagree, but I really think that respect goes both ways. And while for a man, it may be their main source of happiness and validation, I think when it’s a two way street it flows easier both ways.  Respect in a marriage is as important with the little things as it is with the big things. It’s important to respect each other’s ideas (big and small), each other’s passions (career, family, personal goals), each other’s quirks (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay) and each other’s faults. Especially the faults. When you build people up it will come back 10-fold. Because when you feel appreciated and understood, your natural reaction is to reward the person who made you feel that way. It’s a chain reaction that can go on and on.
  • You can’t change your spouse.  It’s cliché, I know. But sometimes a cliché got to be a cliché because it’s true. This, to me, is one of the hardest things about marriage.  If you didn’t discover this before you said “I do”, you will likely learn within at least the first five years of your marriage that your spouse is not perfect.  Well crap. What do you do now? Nothing. You live with it. You respect it. You don’t try to change them. If this imperfection is not a deal-breaker, that’s really all you can do.  You have to realize that you really only have control over you. And so all you can do is change your way of thinking about your partner’s imperfections. And maybe they will feel loved and supported and want to make a change themselves; or maybe they won’t. The outcome is actually irrelevant.

And there’s my two cents. I know it, but I don’t follow it all the time. My husband is going to read this and think, man, can the lady that wrote this please be my wife?? Well babe, I’ll keep trying.  It’s easy in theory and hard in practice.  It’s marriage – one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And like parenting, there is no owner’s manual. We are all imperfect beings, most of us trying to be the best spouses we can be. And most of us will fail miserably at times. But the important thing is that we keep trying; that we never give up. A marriage is what you make of it; your happiness is relative to your effort and your expectations. Get both of these in check and in my opinion, things will be just fine.

And so I hope in my next five (or fifty) years of marriage that I will continue to learn lessons and keep trying to improve. I want to be less of a nag and be more supportive. I want to be a good example of a loving marriage to my kids. I want to not be lazy. I want to be more in love each and every day. I’m up for the challenge.

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I love you babe – happy anniversary.

Never Lead with Fries and Other Lessons from the Day

Every day as a parent is a day of learning – the subject is typically a surprise, but you can always count on a lesson.  Today my boys taught me…

1.)  Never lead with fries – No matter how good of an eater you’ve got, don’t lead with the fries.  It will be hard to near impossible to get them to eat anything with any greater nutritional value once they’ve got a yummy, greasy, salty fry in those chompers.  You want some chicken? [shakes his head no] You want some broccoli? [shakes his head no] You want a fry? Yeah!  Well crap.

Dont lead with a fry

2.)  Sometimes you have to break the rules – So if you’ve read my posts about food, you may have gathered that I don’t like highly processed artificially flavored food colored anything.  I don’t buy it, I don’t eat it myself, I don’t feed it to my kids.  However, sometimes you’ve got to break the rules. Perfect example – the haircut.  Beckett is still not too thrilled with the whole idea, especially when they have to hold his head to use the clippers.  If his mood is not right, the kid will freak out.  Solution? A lollipop.  Not the all-natural real fruit ones that the mom I was when there was just one used to carry around, but a good ole fashioned bright red DumDum lollipop.  Well, rules were made to be broken, right?

3.)  Miracles happen every day – Just when I thought it wasn’t possible, my boys proved tonight that miracles do exist.  They actually spent 20 minutes playing happily and quietly together.  There was no hitting, no biting, no hair pulling.  No screaming, no crying, no whining.  Just two little boys playing at their work bench.  I was folding laundry in my room when I had that eerie feeling that things were too quiet.  I walked to Beckett’s room and there they were being so sweet it actually put a lump in my throat.  I stood at the door for a couple of seconds and they didn’t even notice I was there.  So of course I had to go get my phone to document the event (the real camera was downstairs and I really didn’t want to miss this!).  So don’t give up hope – even if it’s just for a short time, miracles do happen and the kids can get along.

Its a miracle

4.)  Keeping calm is contagious – I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always keep my cool. It’s not always anger – sometimes it’s stress, sometimes it’s frustration, sometimes it’s anxiety.  But I’ll tell you, the kids pick up on it.  They can be like little sharks sniffing out blood and then attack when you’re at your weakest.  It’s brutal.  Now on the other hand, keep cool and they sense that too… and catch on.  It is amazing what a nice night you can have with your kids when you make an effort to stay calm and don’t stress.  It’s like they magically turn into loving little children who want to please and behave.

5.)  Be nice or the kids will tell on you – Backdrop to this conversation… I would not turn around while driving to get Brogan’s milk that he was tired of holding.

Brogan: I’m going to write you a note home because you’re being mean!
Me: Who are you going to send it to?
Brogan: Daddy.

Well that changes everything.