Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Parenting Strengthsfinder 2.0

Arranger (of playdates)

Responsibility (for driving the minivan)

Harmony (on the children’s music)

I just passed the one year mark on my tenure as a stay-at-home parent.  Thus I figured it’s about time for my first annual performance review, something I had the pleasure of doing on a yearly basis before I “retired” and something I’m sure a number of you are familiar with.  Now I haven’t actually had an official performance review on how I am doing as a stay-at-home parent, but if I did, it would likely be conducted by my wife, who of course is the boss.  There was a news headline a few weeks ago that suggested that spouses should actually do some form of performance review with each other as a form of relationship building.  While that seems good in theory, I’m guessing not too many couples have started the practice.  

Of course every performance review has a self appraisal component, where you inform your boss of how you think you are doing with your job responsibilities.  I usually approached these sections with some general restraint, usually giving myself mostly 3s & 4s on the 5-point Likert Scale.  Downplay how well I thought I was doing, which would typically lead to one of two scenarios:  1. My boss informing me that they thought I was doing way better than what I thought I was doing, which lead to some nice ego-boosting.  Or 2, (and usually more common) where my boss would agree with my assertions that I was doing pretty middle of the road work, which in reality meant that I was actually doing pretty piss poor work and should probably get my act together.

So, how is it going or how do I think I am doing on fulfilling my responsibilities as a stay-at-home parent?  I’d still give myself some 3x & 4s on that 5-point Likert Scale.  Like any other job or responsibility, I tend to have my good days and bad days.  I had a lot of lofty goals, and despite this being my “year of do”, I only accomplished a handful.  On the positive side, I haven’t lost any of them yet, we haven’t broken anything too valuable, and I don’t believe I’ve unintentionally introduced them to any curse words.  That is not to say that we haven’t had our fair share of bumps along the way.  Just this week, Jess came home from work to find a very noticeable bruise and bump on Gus’ forehead to which I had absolutely no explanation for.  Later that evening, I found Havi applying appliance epoxy to the exposed part of her skin.  Can you tell us about a time when you don’t feel as though you were able to completely execute the duties of your position? 

Part of doing a self review for a job is identifying your strengths and weakness, or areas of improvement in more friendly verse.  I certainly have my own strengths and weaknesses as a parent, like most others do.  I could egregiously tell you that my weaknesses are that I love my kids too much, or I try too hard to engage and keep them happy all the time.  But of course that isn’t true, and that type of answers if probably why most people think performance reviews are a waste of time, as we’re never really honest during them.
Kids are honest though, sometimes brutally.  I suppose I could do a performance appraisal with them, but I think I already know what the feedback would be – you don’t let us watch enough tv, you should give us more candy, sometimes you get lazy while giving horse rides, etc.  A few weeks ago, Isla told me that I was bad at brushing hair.  It’s a very valid criticism; I’m not very good at brushing hair.  I have limited experience, and my personal need to brush my hair has been on the sharp decline since having children.  While I understand that there are some safety concerns ensuring that your child’s hair is adequately brushed following a bath, I will be the first to admit that “hair presentation” is definitely a weakness of mine.  I can put in a pony-tail, not a good one, but one that will hold the majority of the girls’ hair back or at least five minutes.  I also claim that I can braid hair, but not any of my children’s.  Only the hair of inanimate objects that sit completely motionless, can’t feel pain and don’t talk back. 

My lack of finger dexterity will almost always guarantee that any diaper changes I do will take considerably longer and involve many more tears than they should.  I’ve never understood why the buttons on children’s clothing need to be so small (or why buttons are needed at all).  I’ve also learned that for anyone over 6 feet tall, there never seems to be a comfortable position to change a diaper of a squirming baby.  Invariably you are hunched over in the most awkward, permanent back-pain inducing position for much longer than you’d like trying to get the damn buttons on the onsie to match up.  While I recognize these weaknesses, I’m probably not going to do much to try and improve on some of the arbitrary ones.  Sure, one could make the argument that I can practice and work on getting better at styling my girls’ hair or become more efficient with my diaper changes.  Consider those weaknesses though the next time you hand me a jar of salsa to open or ask me to get something off the top shelf.  I know what my strengths are and how they can be best utilized.

I’ve always considered patience to be one of my strengths in life in general.  Being a stay-at-home parent has definitely tested this patience, and I’ve certainly found a number of times when I’ve really struggled to keep a level head when interacting with my kids.  I’m reading a great book right now called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and it has been a much needed refresher on how to stay calm and patient during those particularly trying times.  Kids can certainly add a significant amount of stress to our life, but parenting does not have to be a stressful experience.  As Dr. Markham points out, kids act like kids because they are kids.  It doesn’t do us any good to judge their behavior.
It also doesn’t do us any good to judge other parents or other children, but this is something parents seem to be horrible at.  Even for me, as non-judgmental as I believe I am, it becomes all too easy to watch other parents and their children and compare them to your children and your parenting style, as pointless as it is.  I remember our pediatrician once commenting that all kids develop differently; physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  This is something I try to keep in mind when I see my children interacting with other children, and wondering if my kids are smarter, healthier, more socially mature, and better behaved than their peers.  What I’m really measuring through that valuation is if I’m doing a better job at parenting than my peers.  

This is absurd because we don’t, at least we shouldn’t, parent our kids for the recognition of other parents.  We parent our kids to foster connection and sustain a meaningful relationship with them.  To provide them the unconditional love and support so they can go out and be successful in the world.  And the best way to do this is to create a peaceful, loving environment.  The irony is that while we probably claim we don't like to be judged (hence the reason we probably hate the performance reviews), our behavior seems to suggest just the opposite, especially today in our social media filled lives.  Every time we post something about ourselves, our children, or the company we keep, we're really looking for judgement from the broader public on our behavior and viewpoints.  In monitoring the various likes, shares, retweets, page hits and comments provides we are looking for validation of ourselves.  Obviously I can't claim to be above this as I'm utilizing a social medium right now to express my opinions to be judged by others.         
Our kids will always find ways to get on our nerves, and because we are imperfect humans, we will inevitably have moments with our kids that won’t go as well as we’d like.  I’ve experienced this first hand; a lot.  As parents we get to choose how to react to those moments.  As an old colleague liked to remind me when a situation arose at work that created some tension, “they don’t pay us enough to stress out.”  Undoubtedly I’ll never get to the point on any “parental performance review” of tallying all 5s on that 5-point scale, as the hair and make-up will probably always be my "areas of improvement".  But if we work on trying to ensure that we are parenting consciously and mindful of our own emotions and actions, we should hopefully consistently meet expectations (the 3s), if not occasionally exceed them (the 4s).  It may not get you a promotion or a pay raise, but it will at least keep you employed.

Of course this was not my doing.

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