The Best Advice I Can Give to Parents

I’m not really qualified to give parenting advice.  Like, at all (at least the last time I checked…I don’t believe an Advertising degree counts…).  Which is why this post is called “The Best Advice I Can Give to Parents” rather than “The Best Advice to Give Parents”.  I realize, of course, that you didn’t ask, but much as it might disappoint you, I think this blog might actually benefit me more than it benefits you.  So perhaps this is more like “The Advice I Wish I Could Go Back in Time and Tell Myself or at Least Remember on a Semi-Regular Basis” (if you’re a grammar nazi, I don’t want to hear a word about my use of caps and/or italics in article titles).

So, here goes nothing.  The most I know about parenting (ha!):

Do things that make you happy.

That’s pretty much the foundation of everything, I’ve found.  I’ve heard a lot of versions of this before, like “don’t forget to do things you enjoy every now and then!” or “don’t forget to take care of yourself!”.  And these are great, too, but not quite as far-reaching as I think they should be.

Your happiness shouldn’t be an afterthought

I don’t think making your own self happy should be a secondary concern as a parent.  I think it should be right up there with providing for your children.  You have a responsibility to yourself and to your children to take care of yourself and show them how to live good lives.

Children learn by example

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I’ve seen far too many mothers (and on occasion fathers as well) give up everything they are, everything they want, everything they need for their children.  While it seems incredibly unselfish and wonderful to be so self-sacrificing, it actually does more harm than good, in my opinion (holy moly, did I just spell out “IMO”? How old am I??).  Because children learn by example.  So when you sacrifice your whole self for them, they learn to sacrifice their whole selves for everybody else.  And, in essence, they don’t chase after or accomplish what they want in life, rather they accomplish what other people want them to accomplish.    Bit of a Catch 22, isn’t it?

My theory

As usual, I have a theory as to why we are so keen to lose ourselves to our children (although I also like this theory).  Specifically in the case of women, I think this has proven to be a result of our culture’s pressure on women to be self-sacrificing, nurturing, and accommodating in all instances especially with children.  This supposedly comes “naturally” to us (easily debunked by talking to, well, almost any woman or man I know), or so we are taught.  This certainly is a major contributor to this problem.  Additionally, there is much talk around the world about how much more frequently we’re seeing cases of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.  My personal theory is that this is a result of our survivalist wiring.  We are wired to survive (or, you might say, chemically balanced to survive) – or at least many of us are.  To struggle.  To be in a fairly constant state of effort, fear, and concern.  In the 21st century things are *pretty* easy for many of us here in this first world country.  It almost seems to me like our brains are looking for something to struggle over.  We’re looking for a reason to survive.  And since we don’t need to survive anymore, our brains just don’t know what the hell to do!

Ironically, those of us who struggle with these things would probably fair quite well in a zombie apocalypse…

So when we have children it’s almost like our minds jump on the opportunity to have something work hard for, to sacrifice for.  Only we don’t have the emotional maturity for it because we haven’t had a lot of practice, so we end up WAY overdoing it and making ourselves miserable in the process.  Life is full of Catch 22’s isn’t it?

So what do we do with that?  We have to adjust.  We have to start teaching our brains to live in the 21st century.  I imagine it will eventually get easier for our offspring (assuming there’s no apocalypse, zombie takeover, or reckoning, in which case I’ll be the chick in the torn tank top with a machete and a crossbow), but we have to start that process.  So…

Start doing things that make you happy

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Don’t just give yourself permission every once in a while to be happy; start doing things that make you happy today.  Of course, of course, having children requires sacrifice.  You really can’t help that – in fact, in my life I’ve discovered that from a few months into pregnancy through the first year or so after birth, you’re pretty much in a constant state of “blaaaaaaaaaaag” (at least I am. I understand there are those of you that love this stage.  I’ve never met one of you…)  But as they grow older you have a responsibility to them.  A responsibility to show them how to navigate life as an independent, confident human being.  That could mean a lot of things: maybe they still choose to dedicate their lives to a nonprofit, a religion, or to stay home with their children, but it will come from a place of surety and confidence.  It will be 100% their choice, and they will do it because it makes them happy, not despite what makes them happy.

Plus, you’re just as important as your kids

You deserve to prioritize yourself.  I hope I’ve driven that point home enough on this blog.  If you’re one of those people stuck in a position of constant self-sacrifice and you feel you’d like higher self-esteem or confidence in your knowledge and love of yourself, try sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen – I mean iPad or smartphone!!! – and list out the things that make you happy.  If you’re at home with your kids would you rather be working? If you’re working would you rather be at home with your kids?  What hobbies do you enjoy?  What new things would you like to try?  Do you need a larger support system of friends?  Do you need more time to yourself?  Then select the ones you can start changing now.  Obviously you can’t change all of them right away, some maybe not for a while, but do what you can with what you have.  Work to make yourself happier.  And if you find yourself reluctant to implement an activity that you know would make you happy because you feel you must sacrifice it for your children…think again.

Think about how great it would be for them to see you doing something that makes you happy.  To see you being a human being.

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Demolish the Box

I hate boxes.

Actually, that’s not true.  At all, really.  I LOVE boxes.  I get lost wandering around Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and World Market just looking at all the various boxes and containers I could buy to store my….well, I don’t really have much to store actually, I just like boxes!  I get lost in the maze of unique and decorative boxes that magnetically pull me through the maze of thrift stores and antique shops.  I can spend hours buried in jewelry, paint, and fabric decorating the living shiznit out of a tiny little chest, taking it from bleak to chic.

The thing is, as much as I love boxes, boxes are for things.

Not people.

And so, I hate boxes.  I hate the walls of expectations, assumptions, and guidelines that permeate the psyches of my fellow humans.  I hate that it’s so natural to want to categorically organize the world in such a way that every person and every situation fits nicely into the designated column on the Excel spreadsheet of life.  Everyone wants so badly to understand.  To convince.  To control.  And building a box to safely guard the lives and choices of those around us is a great way to achieve that.

Except that it ends up feeling a little bit like this

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I refuse.  I refuse to conform to the box.  I refuse to accept the ruthless and often even benevolent borders built around me by the well-meaning members of the human race.  I reject assumptions about me based on my gender, my religion, my lifestyle, my personality, my friends, my hair color.  I’m tired of seeing very good, very brave, very determined people thrown into the “Shy and Reserved” box built by our society while their leadership gifts waste away into the unknown, unrecognized.  I’m tired of seeing insensitive people rewarded in the workplace because the most valued box says “you have to step on others to make your way to the top”.  I’m tired of the sales world in which I worked for quite a long time, that says you have to engender certain personality characteristics to be successful, when, in fact, the greatest success comes from building from the unique abilities of each individual employee.  I’m tired of the societal, religious, political, familial, and educational borders built around us that no one had the right to build in the first place.

I’m tired of the boxes.

And so, Real Girls, FORGET THE BOX.  When someone tries to build one around you, walk slowly away, or throw it off a cliff, or take to it with a chainsaw, or put the box on their head, don your boxing gloves and show them both how you feel about it.*

Poke holes in the box.  Climb passionately out from the box.  Demolish the box.  And see where your heart soars when the walls others have built for you no longer have any power.  Then teach others to rid themselves of their boxes and destroy those boxes too until we have a virtual landfill of unsubstantiated expectations, rules, and restrictions we’ve executed from our lives.  So we can then look up at that pile of weak, unstable walls and say “I was never meant to be so constrained.  I was always meant to be free.”

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And walk away.

Boxes are for things.  Boxes are for objects.  Not for Real Girls.  Not for you.

Come on out and join the real world full of real people.

 

 

And then build one of these:

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Seriously.

 

*These suggestions are meant to be metaphorical, not literal.  Please don’t attempt them in a literal sense.

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You Are A Greater Leader Than You Think

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Let me tell you ladies something about leadership: it is intensely skewed these days. From what I’ve viewed and experienced in my life, the MOST CAPABLE leaders in the world are often highly unaware of it, and highly underutilized. Leadership has, in recent years, taken a very unfortunate form. I’m aware of this because I have experienced it in almost every job I’ve had leading up to the current position I’m in (which, thankfully, has excellent leaders and a fantastic work environment).

Leadership today is largely defined by bad behavior. The people that yell, belittle, patronize, complain, and place impossible expectations on others are the ones that make up a large portion of management in the workforce these days.

If you are a Real Girl, and you believe in who you are, this can be rather discouraging. Because true leadership has nothing to do with these qualities. Being assertive is not the same as being overbearing. Being confident is not the same as being cocky. Being a delegator is not the same as being a dictator.

The latter of each example seems to be the norm these days, and it leads to very difficult work environments where it’s extremely hard for the TRUE leaders to stand out and make progress to the position that fits them best. And it’s especially difficult for you girls. Because both men and women exhibit these poor behaviors, but for women in particular, oftentimes being assertive is perceived as being overbearing. Sometimes when a woman is appropriately confident, she is said to be cocky. When she is effectively delegating, others call her a dictator.

Please understand that you have no less capability than anyone else in this world to find that line between being a dictator and a pushover. In fact, you likely have far MORE capability to be a great leader than most people in your life have ever credited to you. This is why it’s so important OWN and BELIEVE in who you are. Because once you reach that point, the interpretations of others don’t matter anymore, and you can begin to grow, interact confidently as your true self with others, and show them why they are wrong. The opinions of others may never change, but knowing who you are can give you the ability to make strides beyond the limitations presented to you by others.

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So focus your mind and your energy on positive leadership qualities. The ones likely already brewing naturally inside you, and which will simply take some attention and nurturing to reach their full potential.

One of my favorite bloggers in the ENTIRE WORLD is Erica Andersen who writes for Forbes.com. She is a brilliant leader and currently runs a consulting business where she works with other business executives to help them see how many of their more self-focused and bottom-line-focused behaviors are actually stunting the growth of their organizations. I find her perspective and insight to be a breath of fresh air.

In her recent post, “3 Qualities That Define The Natural Leader – Do You Have Them?”, she gives a short laundry-list of the top qualities of fantastic leaders:

Far-sighted
Passionate
Courageous
Wise
Generous
Trustworthy

Amazing, wonderful girls. There are those in the world that would have you believe that you cannot develop these qualities. That they are not natural to women, or to people at your level in the workplace, or to people with your income, or people your age, with your upbringing, with your level of education, blah, blah, blah…

IGNORE THEM

It is important to acknowledge to yourself when one of these people is attempting to limit you by one of these factors. Then tell them either vocally or to yourself that they are WRONG and remind yourself of all the reasons why you have the incredible ability to emulate every single one of these attributes. Then do it. Practice it. BE the person you dream of being.

And make some mistakes along the way. Every trustworthy person was once untrustworthy. Every wise person was once naive. Every far-sighted person was once impulsive.

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Begin your journey today. If you feel you are destined for leadership, or for mentorship, or for changing the world, embrace that courage and hold it strong inside you. No one else can take it away; they will only lose the opportunity to gain greater perspective, love, and confidence by underestimating a person willing to achieve their unlimited potential.

Be You. Be an Amazing Leader. Lead with boldness, courage, and passion. And don’t let anyone convince you that you are anything less than limitless in your endeavors.

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