Top tips to avoid average parenting.

I hate the idea of writing about parenting.

For one: I am not a parent, at best I’m a 32yo child trapped in an adults body, with a grown ups job and the means to do things I want. Happily, I am reluctant to grow up. You would be forgiven for having the opinion that in my current capacity I have nothing of value to add to the ‘currently parenting’ conversation. Further, as far as I can tell from what I have seen and read on the subject, there is already a disproportionate amount of guilt which comes part and parcel with the most wonderful gift of bringing new life into the world and raising kids.

Brene Brown pointed out a revolutionary idea to me in her book “Daring Greatly” Everyone’s got parent guilt, it really doesn’t matter how you are raising your children. Whether you are raising kids in a household that is; organic, vegan, whole foods, meat lovers, omnivores, vegetarian, anti-processed, refined-sugar-free, sugar addicted, dairy-free, soy-free, free-range, breast feeding, or bottle feeding you’ll be committing some sort of parenting offence. These offences include any choices about your work:life balance too; Whether you are a working mum or a stay at home mum, if you work part-time or full-time, or opt to be a stay at home dad, you’re all guilty of doing it wrong.

In that work:life balance vein, everyone regardless of parenting status in our country has a pretty shit work:life balance, of concern is that we appear to like it this way. The thin white line around the outside is how close to “awesome” we are for different wellbeing measures across the OECD.

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How’s Life in NZ? 2017 Report

Being a ‘terrible parent’ in the court of faceless public opinion includes you and your life decisions irrespective of which side of the fences of life you stand on things. If you are religious or atheist, smoking or non-smoking, or how old you were when you had children; Young parents, ageing parents, struggling to conceive parents, single parents, and separated parent. Absent parents, estranged parents, step-parents, widowed parents, helicopter parents and adopted parent. As I write all these parenting types down, I could imagine someone I know who fits into each of those types and their kids, when they do arrive, generally thrive. However, as I was reading Brene Brown’s book there was one type of parent guilt that caught me completely off guard.

I was smacked for six when she wrote that ironically, even yet-to-be-parent’s experience parent guilt for not having kids. I was stopped dead in my tracks on that one. I had to take stock for a second.  I thought to myself. “Yea, actually. I have definitely stressed about this in the past” I sat there and tried to count the amount of times I’ve shook my head in utter disbelief and borderline fury at the audacity of people and their willingness to advise me about my need to have kids. I get that their comments come from a place of love, and usually reflect their own struggles to conceive. For some though, giving this advice is as natural as recommending a new yum restaurant in town. Like deciding to have a child and then actually bringing a healthy baby – alive – into this world is as easy as picking up a bottle of milk from the Jacques Four Square.

Yea, so anyway – no one escapes parent guilt.

We’re all a little fearful about not being ‘enough’ through most of everything we care deeply about succeeding at. Parenting is probably the ultimate “not enough” life space. Not being enough of a man or woman to procreate successfully and further, not being enough of a parent to do a half decent job in that role is written into our DNA I think. It’s an absolute head spinner, but it also works as a motivator, making us strive to do our best with what we’ve got.

…I am writing about parenting anyway. You are enough, stay motivated.

Those words, they mean I’m able to fully enjoy life from the cheap seats of “Aunty duties” for now without getting my blood pressure up. I hope they keep your blood pressure in check as you read on.

Tip #1 Be the adult you want your kids to become.

Don’t be that Dad (or Mum) making a dick of themselves on the sideline. Heckling the opposition Rippa Under 6 teams members like they are Quade Cooper playing for Australia in a Bledisloe match and your kid is an All Black is never a good idea (Heckling Quade is also ugly, don’t be that guy either).

Recommended by Survey lifts lid on extent of abuse and poor adult sideline behaviour at kids’ games (2015)

Do be that Dad on the dance floor who is making a dick of himself for dancing like no one’s watching.

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My Mum and Dad along with my Grandparents were my greatest teachers, despite not always being my favourite teachers (especially that time I got sent home from school for three days and had to dig a dam then spend two days in silence gardening with my Nana Pat).

I don’t really know a lot about what the olds got up to in their youth. It creates a lot of wonder, it also makes it nearly impossible to relate to them at times. Within their relatively quiet, humble, rural lives – they are still superhuman to me and I am by no measure a ‘model citizen’. Superhuman is a hard graft to live up to. I’m glad they have never asked me to. The pressure would crush me. They did a great job of navigating a stroppy teenager with shit skin and frizzy hair, who was dead set on anything involving mischief. I picked up a lot of life lessons from my parents and grandparents actions along the way. What I really respect about them is that they didn’t bother to bullshit their way through raising us. Bullshitting us would have only served to teach us that you can say things you don’t really believe because what you say and how you behave are two different things.

Grant and Gin
38 years and counting.

Five things I learned from actions, not words.

  • I remember being late to netball games because we had to get the calving cows in first. I was always furious at the time.

Lesson 1. Do my work, then play.

  • Mum and Dad were just about always at my games.

Lesson 2. Show up for people you care about

  • My Dad had this wide brimmed hat that he loved and I vividly remember wanting to smack out Leah Nepia and her smart mouth, we were both shooters in the same team. She was teasing me about my Dad’s hat.

Lesson 3. I learned people can be cruel.

  • My Dad loved that hat and backed his own style choices. This is about as close to “Dad dancing” as my Dad got.

Lesson 4. Back myself and the things I like, even if my ideas are a little out the gate and mean some people will laugh at my expense.

  • One of my favourite places as a kid was the Wellsford RSA. I remember eating peanuts and drinking raspberry fizz with Jimmy Hay’s kids, Eddie and Genna. Between Poppa Gerry loading my Dad up on Quart bottles of beer and whiskey chasers, the two of them – Dad and Poppa Gerry – found the time to teach me to play pool.

Lesson 5. Quality family time happens in all sorts of places.

Have a think about the places and interactions your parents had with the world as you were growing up and what you took from those experiences.

Even when you’re doing things that aren’t exactly ‘model citizen-like’ kids still have the chance to take away some very cool memories which will shape who they become as adults.

Tip #2: Tend to your own garden first

It can’t  be easy to sit back and watch your kids careen their way through life, I don’t know if I could do it and trust that we’d all get out the other side in one piece. I feel for my parents sometimes. I know I am all over the place. I am a little bit full-noise at times, I’m considered driven, self-absorbed and probably selfish. I love it that way. I’m not ashamed because I believe that if I don’t prioritize my identity now, and commit to making an effort to look after myself first, then I am going to find my own self-care and identity even harder to prioritize when my new all encompassing obsession is ensuring a kid thrives.

The day I am up to my eyeballs in organic-plastic-free-ethically sourced-re-usable nappies I still won’t be a model citizen, and I hope I am investing in my own sense of self. I better still be looking after myself. I want to be that kind of Mum because I want my kids to learn two things:

  1. Because Mum does, I know it is important to know who I am, and look after myself.
  2. Because Mum isn’t, I don’t have to be perfect.

I want to live a life with absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am physically prepared to interact with the world and further, save my kid if I need to.

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This is Jo Bowden. I have known Jo for a few years now. She would come into our workplace and say Hi and chat with her Mum Shona. I worked with Shona over my summer breaks from uni at my parents retail store. To me Jo always had a pretty positive outlook in life despite her size and I admired that. When I found out she was having a kid I didn’t think too much about it, just another local girl having a baby, good on her.

The next time I heard about her would be some years later. Our paths hadn’t crossed in a long time. There was a groundswell of chatter around the town about ‘Jo’s weight loss journey’. Intrigued, I started to follow her progress, at the time I was balls deep in competitive, representative CrossFit. I burgeoned with all the ‘You go girl!’ pride I could muster.

What was the motivating factor that got her moving 100kg of body weight and has kept her moving..? It was her son, Ashar.

Jo will tell you straight out “I just knew I had to change to give him any quality of life, I needed to stop sitting inside and watching him play and actually get outside with him and show him the world. I was scared he would runaway and I wouldn’t catch him… It actually happened one time and I had to ask strangers to stop him. I was literally his anchor.”

Jo’s son provided her with a feeling that no parent ever wants to experience. Helplessness. Moreover, helplessness when your child is suffering. As Jo stood by powerless to do anything while her son fought for his life, bound in a 45 minute long seizure, Jo found the courage to commit to not wasting her own gift of life by ‘eating myself in to my own grave’ Ashar provides Jo with a greater purpose than she alone can provide herself. She’s pretty hard on herself when it comes to behaviours she struggles to control, but I really respect her brutal honesty on the topic.

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XRACE, literally, getting outside with the kids. I’ve never been to one, but these look so awesome.

Jo loves a little CrossFit workout too, she’s got one hell of a story and a huge amount of empathy for people who are in the position she was in. She’s doing the mahi towards her PT cert and takes on clients based out of Mangawhai. Follow her on instagram and hit her up if you want someone who “gets it” to start you off.

I could have listed a bunch of benefits to illustrate how being physically active will  improve your life, but you already know them. That approach is about as effective at inspiring people to move as those gross pictures of body parts on durry packets are at inspiring people to give up smoking.

Things you know you should do for yourself…

  • Eat more vegetable
  • Eat less junk food
  • (Binge) drink less
  • Spend more time with family
  • Spend less money on crap
  • Spend more money on being physically active
  • Join a gym
  • Quit smoking
  • Quit gambling
  • Work less hours
  • Be home to tuck the kids in
  • Be home for the kids to wake up
  • Get outside more
  • Take less drugs (prescription included)
  • Party less
  • Quit the after dinner blocks of chocolate
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Hug people you love more often
  • Frown less
  • Laugh more
  • Get off social media
  • Put the screen down

…Why you can’t. Yet.

There’s this chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine. Everyone LOVES dopamine. It makes you feel good.. Right now good. Dopamine is the WANT in you. It’s why you can’t say no to cake, staff morning teas, alcohol, drugs, shopping, smoking, gambling, gaming, gym-junkie-ing, treats, it’s why we want sex, cookies and cocaine. Dopamine drives the pleasure centre (and is believed to be responsible for addictions < link). I think dopamine is awesome! But, it screws with our ability to commit to hard stuff for our future selves benefit, like eating good nutritious (boring asf food), not partying Thursday-Monday, and getting to the gym. Dopamine is not interested in the future us. Dopamine lives for the moment. I believe that dopamine is at least partly responsible for every YOLO, or “fuck it, I’ll worry about it tomorrow” moment I’ve ever had. Not all of those decisions turned out to be bad in the long run so I don’t hate on my dopamine. No dopamine, no pleasure. That would make for a dull life indeed.

Tip #3: How to hack your dopamine.

On a parenting level, learning to hack your dopamine, will show the kids in action how to hack their own struggles with misdirected pleasure seeking in the future. They say that addictive personalities are genetically inherited, but everyone’s got a dopamine addiction. Some addictions are less destructive than others.

Keeping dopamine in check from running our lives is one of the greatest battles of all time. On a applied level this war is waged with every 30-day-challenge you have ever signed up for, paid for and then failed.

You find as soon as you’re faced with your favourite vice – like a little harmless glass of Red wine, dopamine takes over. Furiously tapping you on the back saying “If you’re guna have a glass, you might as well hit the whole bottle honey”

The sum of total days successfully accumulated towards 30…. a new personal best, 10.

One new way of dealing with dopamine driven behaviour when it gets out of hand and we lose faith in our ability to commit to ourselves, I came across while reading David Eagleman’s “The Brain: The Story of You”.

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It’s called A Ulysses Contract. (David Eagleman Youtube link)

  • Make it a voluntary pact: Choose a behaviour to focus on doing (or not doing).
  • Choose a deadline: 30 days is usually long enough to establish a habit and not highly difficult to achieve. A short-term agreement could last between 30-60 days.
  • Choose a consequence: This should be something that is painful, psychologically. An example is donating money to a charity or political organization that you dislike.
  • Choose a “referee”: It should be someone who will not let you off the hook. Perhaps a family member, a best friend, kids, workmate, boss.

Just because I am a fan of being physically fit, it doesn’t mean I always enjoy training. I recently had surgery and in the lead up to the surgery I all but gave up putting any effort into my training. I really hate training and going to the gym when I am out of nick and looking dusty (dusty, by my own standard). After surgery I had to make a Ulysses contract to get myself to a place where I felt comfortable to train in the gym, in the back of the classes without feeling inadequate, incompetent or like I was missing out.

Here’s mine:

  • Pact: Start training at home, with no equipment. Start an midline/core bias program
  • Deadline: Complete a workout building in volume and difficulty at least 4 times a week over 30 days post surgery
  • Consequence: Delete my Instagram and Facebook accounts
  • Referee: Me. (hahaha, I was not brave enough to share this contract incase I failed!)

Needless to say, I did achieve the 30 days, I’m up to somewhere in the 40’s now and I feel a lot more comfortable in the gym even though I am not doing class.

I like the Ulysses Contract, because it can help you commit to your future self in small steps, but has big consequences if you don’t. For me small steps don’t keep me motivated, they appear too easy to make up for tomorrow, I’m the hare in Aesop’s fable… not the tortoise. It takes me a while to accept that the rules apply to me too.

  • Start with a contract for just exercise at home. There’s so many programmes to follow on instagram now. Jump on one of those till you feel confident. Or grab a PT at your local.
  • Then maybe set another one for attending a gym, regularly.
  • Maybe a third for entering some sort of competition, to mark your progress. These things are EPIC for helping you realise just how far you have come. Scary, yes. But the risk is only perceptual. Besides, with great risk, comes great reward.

Fittest Mum Competition Link

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This one, is just for Mum’s. (Sorry Dad’s) It’s run online so you don’t even have to leave town to participate. The cool thing is, that all the Mum’s get together and wow, what an impressive bunch of ladies. I love to stand back and just observe how they exude self-belief they didn’t know they had in them.

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Jennifer James, straight into it. Mum’s are made of a whole different kind of ticker.

I am not eligible for this competition… ahhh cause I’m not a Mum. To be honest, I am a little intimidated by all the Mum’s out there going the extra mile for their kids. Mum’s PLUS fitness… now that’s another league of competitor altogether. Being a Mum isn’t a drawback when it comes to performance. In many respects it is a superpower. The things a Mum can do can’t be matched by the likes of myself.

Finally, Tip #4; All gardens grow weeds.

You can’t be perfect. All gardens grow weeds. All lives are a mixed bag of memories, perfectly represented in the Disney Movie “Inside Out” (Damn Disney is good).

Screen Shot 2018-08-18 at 1.49.47 PM.pngA perfect life full of Joy only, just does not exist. Still, hats off to us, we have done a great job of creating a world where trying to be perfect is acceptable if not down right socially expected behaviour. Well fuck that. We’ve all got weeds. We all make mistakes and poor decisions. We are all learning how to thrive in changing conditions every day… until we sign off permanently.

Making the most of it and trying to be a good sort along the way is about as best as we can hope for.

How we deal with failure is the model the kids will use to deal with their failure. Show them what failure is, by being human when you stuff up then show them how to recover, just as you would show them how to succeed. Fail and succeed in ways you want them to behave when it happens to them, and it will. Protect them from the pain of failure by preparing them for the reality of pain and failure.

Being involved in something outside your comfort zone, like Jo did, will teach kids about how learning to work through loss and failure truly works before they have to watch you go through great loss. Being brave enough to fail in front of the kids, teaches them that there is no shame in trying to do something really hard, something you don’t know if you will get through.

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Of course, I am going to recommend getting active here as a good type of ‘out of the comfort zone teaching how to try, fail and eventually succeed’ platform. It’s tangible. The kids in the gyms I have trained in look at their parents trying, putting effort in, failing, not throwing tantrums, just dusting themselves off accepting the disappointment and importantly trying again. Getting up. And trying again.

Watching kids watch their parents at competitions is the ultimate in observing real life superheroes in action. The kids eyes are full of gleaming admiration as they scream “GOMUMMYYYYY” from the stands, you’ll hardly find a kid on a screen in sight. Total present engagement.

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Compared with the usual stresses of adult life, where the risk is huge financial loss should a venture go tits up, or the risk of not being able to provide for your family weighs so heavily on home life it feels as though the whole ship might go down, the price of committing to getting into training and taking on the emotional risk of not being any good at it (to begin with) is non-comparative. If you can find the time for yourself, this kind of thing gives a pretty cool platform to teach kids some cool lessons through your actions.

All in all, the big message here is that it’s in our daily actions. That is where our kids are really getting their life lessons and values from. Scary shit right. There’s a reason that having your first child is the most frequent ‘defining moment’ I hear of in my work connecting workplaces and teams. It’s also no surprize it’s the one that makes my eyes well up the fastest. These precious little gifts really are game changers.

Maybe it’s not the kids who learn the values through our actions. But maybe instead… it the kids who teach us what values are important, and remind us daily to strive to live by them. Like wise little buddha, semi covered in hair.

Parting words

In another 30 years, your kids will be writing about you. What would you like them to say they learned from your actions growing up?

And finally, you are enough, stay motivated.