The Case for Average

“What’s average? Happiness first” tweeted Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte, back to me. I had asked her “Who said average can’t also be awesome” in a previous tweet.

Schulte_Average_TweetsI love social media (but I have no idea why her tweet is showing up so blurry in the image, #sorry).

I love the instant gratification from chatting with a reporter about the remarkable, insightful and important piece they have in the paper. In this case, I’m talking about Schulte’s piece “Pushing for a Course Correction” on the front page of today’s WaPo Style section. If you haven’t yet read it, I insist you do.

In case you have no intention of reading it, here’s why it matters. Because she’s talking about pretty much all of us. She features the McLean (VA) High School PTSA president Wilma Bowers who is doing something important, something brave and something I fear is falling on deaf ears – pushing for parents to ease up on the hyper-competitive parenting environment. She is asking us all to look at authentic success instead. And she’s doing this from a place where a quality college like James Madison University is considered a college you “settle” for instead of the Ivy Leagues.

Here’s the thing people, this is a line of thinking that doesn’t happen overnight, it starts from a very early age. You see it in kids who are over-scheduled, who have no time to play, who are expected to perform, achieve and deliver, sometimes from the time they are in preschool.

And if you’re anything like me, a part of you is smugly thinking that this won’t be you or that it isn’t you;  you aren’t this kind of parent, you love your child for who they are and what their natural born abilities are.

But the truth is, be honest with yourself, are you lying to yourself just a little bit?

Example – the constant testing of early elementary school aged kids feeds into heart of our our need to tell ourselves our kids are better than average. Right now my oldest is nearing the end of second grade, which in Montgomery County means they are being tested for the gifted and talented program that begins in third grade.

She’ll come home and tell me they were tested that day and I’ll find myself asking her multiple questions about how she think she did, did she find it hard, what sorts of questions were on the test. These questions aren’t just innocent curiosity. I am trying to get a read on her performance. I would be totally lying to you if I didn’t want to hear she excelled and is a brilliant mind.

And then I kick myself.

Me around age 9 - rocking the awesome, right?

Me around age 9 – rocking the awesome, right?

She is EIGHT YEARS OLD. What the hell was I doing when I was 8 years old? Obviously because I declared 2012 the year of being Awesome, I’m pretty sure I was busy being awesome when I was 8 years old – but beyond that – was I doing anything remarkable? Here’s what I can tell you I was busy doing when I was 8:  Counting my tummy rolls next to my sister at the pool in the summer (she was always so much thinner than me), kicking around the soccer ball, maybe a little uncoordinated roller skating and avoiding helping my mom take care of my little sisters at all costs.

Yep – destined for greatness, was I, at 8-years-old.

A hand-made Halloween card I sent my Grandma, probably around age 9. Clearly I was a true prodigy. Also, the fact that my mom has all of these saved is probably a discussion for another day. #Hoarding?

A hand-made Halloween card I sent my Grandma, probably around age 9. Clearly I was a true prodigy. Also, the fact that my mom has all of these saved is probably a discussion for another day. #Hoarding?

So really – I need to ease up on the questioning of my daughter and just let her be. How about instead ignoring the questions about the tests and instead ask what she did at recess, the reasonable voice inside my head tells my crazy self.

Which is exactly why Schulte’s feature is important; she’s getting to the heart of the hyper-competitive parenting and pressure cooker it creates for high school aged kids. But it’s too late for them – she mentions kids who are asking their parents for Ritalin. Umm…hello?!?!?!?! Red flags, anyone?!??!

If we parents of younger kids don’t read this and take a long, hard, look at ourselves in the mirror and then start correcting our course to stop the madness, then there is definitely something very very wrong with us. In fact, I’m done writing about and talking about whether women can “have it all” and our quest for balance – forget it – what I want to know is what kind of behavior we are modeling for our kids. Are we letting them have it all? Are we letting them just be kids? And how about that average question.

Are we letting them just be who they are? I have never forgotten an interview I did with Meghan Leahy, local parenting coach, back in 2012 when she noted there’s a bell curve for a reason and most of us have average kids. Most of us are average. To Schulte’s point in her tweet, “what’s average, happiness first.”

I dug up that old interview with Leahy and was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon some irony, the interview was spurred by my negative reaction to a Brigid Schulte piece about American parenting. Am I destined to always praise or attack Schulte? It seems so. Anyhow, the interview is 2 years old but it still applies perfectly here, so I’m pasting it:

WM: You know that I’ve themed 2012 the year of Moi Loves Moi on my blog because I am just so tired of women beating themselves up. It doesn’t do anyone any good, starting with their own confidence and how that spills over into their  kids. What I did appreciate about Schulte’s piece was her discussion towards the end about our pursuit of happiness and being an achievement-centered culture.
When we last worked together on a post you made a point that really resonated with me – you commented that there is a bell curve for a reason and most of our kids are average – and we should celebrate our kids for who they are. Can you say some more about this because I think it’s
relevant here. Do you agree that we are a culture that pushes perfection on kids to the detriment of the kids as they grow up? And if studies are finding achievement does not lead to happiness, how does this concept that pushing kids to work hard and celebrate their diligence – instead of heaping empty praise – fit in here?
Meghan Leahy Response: Interesting questions here…I am thinking that achievement IS good for our kids, except I would rephrase achievement as “Giving back” or doing something significant.  Something tangible in the world.  You can achieve great and amazing things, but
if as a person, you feel that you have no impact, no human to human contact, no acknowledgement, you often feel empty. So the question for parents is not if achievement leads to happiness (which I prefer to call contentment), rather WHOSE achievement is it…and how do we balance our dreams with our kids own desires, passions, and talents.  We want to inspire INTRINSIC motivation in our kids to achieve, work hard, etc. Threatening, begging, REWARDING, stone-walling can all push our kids down the path of achievement, we see it every day.  But there is a cost.  There is always a cost when the body does what soul does not want.  I don’t know if parents are living out their unfilled dreams, their insecurities, or if they see a talent in their child and, out of pride (dangerous emotion), push and push.  But some, not all, parents make their children into achievement products rather than helping them enter into the world understanding the value of hard work and failure.
WM Question: Excellent insight. I think it’s really important that as parents, we do take the time to acknowledge what our kids want instead of what WE want them to want. Schulte interviewed some experts who noted that we should be parenting for happiness first and then achievement. But it seems to me these things are not mutually exclusive. If American parents are pushing achievement on their kids by over scheduling them with activities – then do you think instead of focusing our energy on seeking the elusive work-life balance for ourselves – what we
instead should be prioritizing is teaching and guiding our kids to find the right kid-balance? How does a parent strike the right balance in activities and free time? This seems to be a common critique of American parenting styles lately.
Meghan Response: Wow, great questions.  So, if you promote balance in your children’s lives, but you yourself are running around like a maniac, never taking care of yourself, martyring yourself at every turn, allowing your mental health and body to suffer…your children see all of that.  So, like the child who is lectured to be honest and good and then sees his parents cheat on each other, lie to others, be dishonest in their business dealings…what lesson remains? Hypocrisy, for sure, and the child will almost always follow the role model, not the lecture.  As I learned at PEP (The Parent Encouragement Program), children are “keen observers and poor interpretors”; meaning they are WATCHING their parents for how to live. Do you kiss your spouse?  Do you see friends?  Do you work in something that brings you joy?  Are you responsible with money?  So, if you want your children to value being quiet in themselves here and there, being creative, NOT constantly being entertained, living stress-free, the PARENT is the only person who can model that and create the home environment.  We cannot inundate our children with activities and then wonder why they are stressed.  The same is true for us.  If we accept every volunteer opportunity, work opportunity, party invite, etc. what are we modeling?  “I say yes. To everyone.  Above my family.  Above my spouse.  Above myself.”  This is a “slow-death” life, pick-pick-picking away at you. So, the balance MUST begin with the parent.  They cannot model what they do not live, they cannot give what they don’t have.  And beyond wanting your child to live according to his or her own values, every parent is a human and deserves to not run around like a wild person.  What is  the point of life?
WM Question: Really excellent perspective, I appreciate it.  Final question: Schulte’s experts say that the cortex of fear for American parents is around achievement. And I admit, I regularly have to check myself with just my kindergartener. She’s reading a grade level above yet I don’t think she is in the most advanced reading group in class – and I often have to have a conversation with myself that I am being ridiculous. Do you see this and what is your advice for parents to keep themselves in check? I can obviously see how this grows deeper as the kids age and the stakes are higher.
Meghan Response: Oh, it’s hard.  Parents are constantly being told to relax or be vigilant.  We are told that kids develop on their own and in their own way, but watch (like a hawk) so the kids can get early interventions (just in case). We are given pre-natal care out the ying-yang, but are dropped like hot-potatoes when we leave the hospital (which the following weeks are some of the most harrowing ever in a woman’s life).
We are successful, career-minded women who gave up “something” to sit on the floor and color and so we watch the child. We watch our new investment, our new project, our new career.  We wanted to be good students, good lawyers, and now good mothers.  But it doesn’t work out that way.  No one gives you grades, there are no job reviews, no raises, and no corner offices.  Hell, the kid throws food in your face when you have puree organic mango.  That’s the thanks you get for putting your life on hold. So, when you have your little reader (who is clearly doing fine), and you worry, you need to ask yourself, “Who am I worried about here?” And “Are my worries grounded in REALITY?”
No, they are not.  Because if they were, that would mean that the definition of being a great mom is that your child MUST BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING.  Good grief.  Can you imagine?  Who will have the mental breakdown first, you or the kid?
Parents need to understand there are no guarantees.  Yes, of course, you set your family on a path and you should.  That’s your job.  But schools, activities, tutors, beauty, athleticism, money…you can throw it all at your kids physically or genetically and, sorry, still no guarantees.  Life is too complicated and wonderful for that. That would mean kids with little resources would never succeed, and kids who have everything should live out beautiful lives and marriages (cough, cough, that ain’t happening).
As the saying goes “Sh#t happens” and that is wonderfully comforting.  This means that a parent can say “I am going to read this book to you because I love books, and it is good for your brain, and this is wonderful being together.” NOT “We are reading this book so you can get a jump on nursery school and go to Princeton like your father.” Because Princeton is not a guarantee. Your commitment to living an authentic life as human, caring about VALUES like hard-work, diligence, and yes, achievement (not JUST for your kids, for YOU), your willingness to make mistakes and move through them (achievement MUST come with errors, otherwise it is a gimme and then, not an achievement), and above all, LOVE is what keeps a parent in check. The voices in your head will tell you to worry and fear, but if you trust your own judgement, you
will know when concern and action are needed and when you are just wallowing in negative thinking.  REALITY doesn’t lie, so trust what is in front of you, your actual life.  Your life doesn’t need balancing, it is simply happening and needs to you to join in. If every parent took more responsibility for themselves (emotionally) and spent LESS attention worrying about their kids (yes, you read that right), then the balance would naturally occur. At least, that’s my humble opinion.  Because if worrying, hand-wringing, and controlling others worked, I would have a PhD in it, would have written a book and would be teaching seminars about how to worry better.  So far, it hasn’t gone that way…
I think a favorite quote of mine is really applicable here: “Your life is not in your head. Come out and play.” ~Baron Baptiste
WM: Wow. Excellent perspective from Meghan, as we would only expect. Thank you so much, Meghan, for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you want to hear more of Meghan’s thoughts and insights, be sure to “Like” the Meghan Leahy Parenting Coach Facebook page. And as always, if you haven’t “Liked” the Wired Momma Facebook page, you are most definitely not balanced and most definitely missing out.
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Thank you to Brigid Schulte for today’s WashPost piece – and obviously I had to check myself when my daughter was in Kindergarten and I still do now that she’s in second grade. I need to go look into bringing this authentic success movement to our local elementary school.

 

The Top Five Toddler Truths

Today I bring you one of my favorite blog posts…a blast from the past….something everyone can relate too – whether you are struggling through the toddler years right now or have once before. Read on and have a good Friday laugh.

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My baby just turned four….my reaction, you ask?

Part this:

And part this:

 

Anyone who has survived the twos and threes knows exactly why. Now that both of my children are 4 and 7, I’ve had the horror honor of experiencing the two different ways these two very different children experienced these nightmare lovely years. And so, it is time for some reflection on what I believe are common traits shared by this age group, charming as they are. And setting aside the sarcasm, there is something really delightful and sweet about toddlers. No really, there really is. But also, there’s not.

Here’s my list of five toddler truths to help keep your patience and your mind in tact:

1. Channeling your inner-zombie apocalypse paranoia will get you through the toddler years. Allow me to be frank: the strongest will survive by prepping for biological warfare. Ideally, you own this:

The HAZMAT suit is likely the only guard against toddler illnesses

Because the shorties excel at nothing if not contracting disgusting diseases — and not just any old disease. Mais non!! Think – disgusting ones that you have never before heard of and oh, are highly contagious. Sicknesses with gross names like Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease….or Norovirus….or Fifths Disease. Most charming of them all is the Norovirus which ever-so-thoughtfully tends to peak from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Seasoned parents immediately assess what they eat once a child has started puking in their home because they know it is anywhere from 12-24 hours before they, too, will fall.

“Please pass the potatoes, it’ll be great coming back up later when I’m hugging the toilet, vomiting it all up,” most parents of 2 or 3-year-olds are thinking during at least one holiday family gathering.

Many of you know that my now 7-year-old gave my ENTIRE family the gift of the Norovirus on Christmas Eve when she was 2 years old. We all started dropping like flies around midnight. “Merry Christmas, I’ve given you the gift of instant weight loss,” she snickered with an evil laugh in her sleep as visions of sugar-plum fairies and unicorns danced in her head.

While we wished for death.

Or at least more bathrooms in my parent’s house. Oh. and More mops.

#True story

2. Their fierce need for Independence is soul crushing at times. Intuitively the small human knows precisely when you are short on patience and running late (#Always) and that is when they boldly declare:

I DO IT MYSELF!

Don’t worry, their path to discovering independence in the form of putting on shoes (on the wrong feet) and getting into car seats only takes 65 minutes and 23 seconds.

While we’re on the subject of getting into car seats, you will experience one or all of these:

 

So what else do I know?

3. One of you is a serial killer, according to your toddler. Sorry Dad, usually it’s you. Typically, this revelation washes over them with no warning. Clear signs that they believe you’ve just murdered their pet cat or are stashing human brains in the freezer are as follows: Screaming when you enter the room, recoiling in horror at your touch, pleading with the beloved parent that you, the murderer, shouldn’t touch or look at them. True, there are days when the chosen parent wishes they were the serial killer parent. But like everything else, one day, this will pass, and the former serial killer could become most-favored-parent. Again, with no warning or explanation.

4. Toddlers are compulsive liars. Either that or they are the only human beings on the planet that never have to go to the bathroom. EVER.

Except they always do (click here for more perspective on potty training). Just know that their

why do they do this? Photo Credit: http://dadoffourgirls.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/do-you-have-to-go-potty/

why do they do this? Photo Credit: http://dadoffourgirls.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/do-you-have-to-go-potty/

purpose in life is to fight you to the death that they DO NOT HAVE TO GO POTTY.

5. Speaking of fighting you to the death, enter meal time. Hunger strikes are common with this age group. The cause they are fighting against? Parental control, obviously. Look, just accept now that even though you fed them something the day before, which they ate quite happily, doesn’t mean they will eat it. Ever again. For at least two years.

Just go with it.

This is what I know about toddlers. Now that we’ve emerged from this phase, I am still no fool. I will keep my HAZMAT suit hung in a closet but certainly not packed away, Mr. Wired Momma still timidly enters a room, unclear if the mere sight of him will cause our youngest to recoil in horror or if he’s regained his status and meal time still brings us nothing but unfettered joy…cough cough cough.

For more on parenting and hopefully some good laughs, be sure to “Like” the Wired Momma Facebook page. And please, feel free to add your toddler truths here.

A Dad’s Double Life

Hello readers! Today I’m turning over the pages of WM to a dad who was inspired by his kids, found a hole in the kinds of books he was reading to his kids, and turned that into a real book. It’s an inspiring story for anyone who has an idea and sometimes, it’s fun and important to highlight the Dads here on WM. Also, it serves a reminder that Dads are also chasing different dreams, balancing work with life and figuring out what to give up along the way. With that, I give you Matt Damman (I know, I know, so close but not quite Matt Damon).

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For over two years, I lived a double life. No, not one of those exciting, ‘edge of your seat’ dual lives full of dark secrets, seduction and thrilling suspense.

Mine was a little different.

By day, I was in a suit sitting on a trading desk buying and selling stocks and bonds for a Wall Street investment house. But, by night, while my colleagues were pouring over market data, pouring a drink or just watching TV, I was in sweats on the couch with a MacBook covered in my kid’s storybooks. I was trying to launch a new brand for children.

Yea, not so “thrilling”…but I tell myself it was much safer.

You see, I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. Not from the start, anyway. It happened and it’s been an incredible journey, but before I tell you about that, let me back up and introduce what this is all about.

CoverWired Momma readers, I’m pleased for you to meet my friends, The Small Sports™ (Find them on FB here: www.facebook.com/thesmallsports).

I created The Small Sports while sitting on our family room floor. No team of “creatives” running around, no paid focus groups, or marketing departments here. Just a dad with an idea.

The idea for the concept hit me after reading dozens of books with my two young children (then ages 3 and 1), and watching hours of Sprout, Nick Jr., and Disney Jr. Like many parents, years of education in literature, history, and math have been replaced in my head with Little Einstein episodes, every line to Monster’s Inc. and the tune to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’s Hot Dog Dance. Hot dog, hot dog…. (Sorry)

But, I was cool with that… I just found myself asking a simple question.

Where were the sports themed characters?

I mean, there were talking trains, tons of princesses, and a bald French-Canadian kid with parents who wore sweatshirts day and night- but where were the baseball, soccer and football players?

This got me thinking. There is so much that kids can learn sports  – values like teamwork, good sportsmanship and how to win and lose.

Sportsmanship is missing too often in sports both for the children and parents. So what could I do about it?

The author, Matt, with his wife.

The author, Matt, with illustrator, Patty Eisenbraun.

Well, it was staring me in the face – create a children’s brand around that message! And, I wanted it to be different. I wanted wholesome characters, not the freaky huge head ones, or the over-sexed sassy dolls you see in the store with skirts that could be mistaken for a belt. I wanted a simple message that kids and parents could relate to. My excitement was building… There were only a few small issues.

I had to work all day! Ugh. I also refused to give up time with my wonderful wife and children (I had given up on hitting the gym at this point, though). Oh, and I also had no idea how to actually launch a children’s brand. Minor details, right?

Eventually I partnered up with a wonderful long-time family friend who is our very talented illustrator.  She helped bring life to The Small Sports idea and after over 20 drafts of the book, countless hours pulling out what little hair I have left, we felt like we were onto something.

Our first book The Small Sports Take the Field is based around a rough and tumble little boy, Jake, and his dream of having the perfect place to play. He is determined to clean up an old field by his house, but he can’t do it alone. That’s when his new friends come in. Together, they help make his big dream come true. It’s a real tale of teamwork and friendship.

So, after over two years of writing, editing and directing the artwork – I also had to figure out how to self-publish a book, find a printer and build our website. I had no idea how to do any of those things when we started. But, we got it done. Somehow.

When the books finally arrived, opening it for the first time was truly amazing.  But, that didn’t compare to the feeling of seeing my two kids

Matt's adorable kids with his books!

Matt’s adorable kids with his books!

reading the book. My daughter even did the voiceover in our trailer on YouTube (check it out!).

We’re growing the series and have a second and third book in the works. We are also seeking a publisher and potential animation partner.

Our goal is to introduce The Small Sports to children ages 3 – 8 years old. Teach kids about teamwork, good sportsmanship and encourage just having fun with sports.

With a little luck, maybe their parents will learn something too…

So, will The Small Sports turn into the sports version of The Little Einsteins? I’m not sure. But I can say, one really busy Dad with an idea can get something done. Just don’t ask me if I’ve seen the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

You can find out book easily on Amazon

Thanks and Be A Good Sport!

Matthew Damman is an author, entrepreneur and co-creator of The Small Sports™. He worked for three Fortune 500 companies before hanging up his suit and tie in 2012 to co-found MAP Creative LLC. Oh, and he also now runs a consumer electronics company, Fonegear LLC. Matt graduated from The University of Michigan in 1998. He lives in Michigan with his wife Shauna and their two children, Claire and Jake.

 

 

Parenting in Pictures: Part Three

It seems I’m not the only one who loves the snarky some-ecards given how everyone responds to them on the totally fabulous and always hilarious Wired Momma Facebook page. (it’s criminal if you haven’t liked that page plus I am getting so close to 600 likes so help a sister out)…so today I bring you an old blog post that should still make you laugh….A Week’s Perspective in Pictures.

If you can’t relate to this one, I don’t like you or your kid:

For good reason, one of the most shared images I’ve ever posted on Facebook

 

Glitter is my enemy and naturally my children’s favorite art accessory:

Too True

 

This one totally cracks me up….please never photograph me dancing or worse…video it:

Hilarious

This is especially true after happy hour:

 

And finally….

When can the children feed themselves….and properly?

Have a great weekend friends……join moi here if you haven’t already to keep up with the fun when I don’t post……more next week.