I Killed the Fun in Kung Fu

grumpy-face

I could feel the Tiger Mom in me emerging recently as I started hovering over the boys’ Kung Fu classes.  I would glare at them when it looked like they weren’t concentrating, frown at their happy chit chat with friends, and scold them during breaks to do better. The other day my younger one turned to me before class and mumbled, I hate Kung Fu, I don’t want to go.  And yet… that very day during lessons, I noticed how much higher their kicks were, how strong their ma bu was, how many stances and movements they have memorized, and how they hung out after class to rough house with their classmates.  And it dawned on me… my 8-year old didn’t hate Kung Fu at all!  He hated how I made him feel about himself when we were discussing Kung Fu!

The weird thing is, I can absolutely observe the huge improvements they have made… even as they resisted my pushing and internalized my criticisms. As much as they dislike the hard work of Kung Fu, we can all see how much stronger and more flexible they have become.  My older one told me that he didn’t like Kung Fu, but he liked the results.

Time to make Kung Fu fun again… time to see Kung Fu masters in action.  So, we watched Stephen Chow’s silly nutty Shaolin Soccer (subtitled no less), laughed at all the outrageous and exaggerated antics, got excited at the Chinese words they recognized and pointed out how to use Kung Fu in soccer.  We had fun!  Next, I let our Shifu know that I would no longer watch or critique my amazing boys while they were in Kung Fu class.  He concurred that parents can put an awful lot of pressure on the kids and it can turn them off of something that is such a great life long practice.

Note to self: time to retire Tiger Mom!

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Taming the Mommy Rage


The world is a complicated web of people, things, events, beliefs, truths (and alternative facts!) and emotions. When people go through various challenging situations, it’s easy to get lost in doing, fixing, organizing… basically going through the motions of life.

It isn’t always the right time to each out to ask for help, because it may feel like failure or weakness. The love and support from others can feel a lot like pity or judgment. When you’re not at your best, you may not be able to see the world with enthusiasm, optimism or openness. In fact, sometimes you get so overwhelmed, you just turn off and stop feeling or caring. That’s pretty scary and may require professional help. But if you haven’t quite gone that far, then you may end up just being angry all the time!

Sometimes you have just enough wherewithal to feel like it’s everyone else’s fault, the kids’ fault, the spouse’s fault, the friend’s fault, the neighbour’s fault… Everyone else is to blame. You have just enough brain space to get angry and express that anger by lashing out, judging others and wishing they would just change! I call this Mommy Rage. It’s not that you don’t have good reason to be upset (you probably do)… it’s just that your extreme response is probably not entirely commensurate to the infraction. So. What to do? How to tame the Mommy Rage?

YOU START WHERE YOU START
It’s important to move away from what ‘should be’ and straight to what actually is. You just have to start where you start. If the house is a total mess, it really doesn’t help to judge yourself. You have to accept that it’s a mess and figure out what you want and how much you are willing to invest to achieve it.

WHAT DOES THE RAGE SAY?
There’s no point in saying ‘calm down’ because the reality is that you’re mad. The question is what is that feeling telling you? Ask yourself why you are angry. The answer may surprise you if you delve deeply enough. It’s not usually what triggered it (the messy house) but something else related to why a messy house indicates something bigger… Figure out the underlying reason for the extreme rage and then follow up with…

FIND THE WIN-WIN
There is always a win-win solution. You just have to know that it exists. You have to want it. You have to commit to getting there. Mommy Rage almost always involves conflicting goals or lack of resources or not enough head space. So… make sure you give yourself some head space by resting, taking a break or breathing. Then find the win-win

THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS LOVE
Explain, guide and model good behaviour through love. After an episode of Mommy Rage, it’s important to pause, think things through… express that it was not an appropriate way to deal with the situation… and walk through the thoughts that led to Mommy Rage. It’s important to express love. It’s hard to be angry when you remember the love. Then, together, figure out “how could we have done that better?”

Lunch Date!

There’s something incredibly luxurious about having a lunch date with your husband when everyone else is at work and the kids are at school. It’s like old days again when we would debate about and poke at ideas, concepts, thoughts, philosophies, movies*, politicians**, silliness…

Sometimes we lose our identity as regular people when we suddenly find ourselves the parents of other human beings.  As a mother, I ask myself to be better, to do more and to model the ‘right’ behaviour. As a wife to the father of my children, I often ask HIM to do better, to do more and to model PERFECT behaviour. From time to time, the pressure builds up. While we are still being authentically ourselves, it does feel like trying to be my best at all times can be tiring.

Don’t get me wrong, our kids see us warts and all, as we are far from perfect. But in front of them, I think we try harder.

The cool thing about being with your life partner is that you’re kind of stuck with each other.  Charlton Heston famously said: A TV host asked my wife, “Have you ever considered divorce?” She replied: “Divorce, never. Murder, often.” Bill and I giggle nervously and quote this to each other every so often. He’s seen babies come out of me and I’ve had to give him sponge baths when he was sick in the hospital with a still yet undiagnosed lung infection that put him in isolation.

Today we explored his craft, new business ideas and how to manage teams.  We came up with our three mantras:

  • Always be more valuable than the tasks you complete.
  • Make it as easy as possible for others to do what you need.
  • Dial back the negativity.

So… welcome 2016!  We are ready for you!

* We decided that it made the most sense for him to take the older one to see Star Wars while I hung out with the younger one, who doesn’t want to see it.

** Donald Trump has singlehandedly increased the amount of snorting we do when we talk about American politics.

 

 

How Do You Do It?

Recently I was asked to be on a panel at work to share my experiences about how to manage your career while having a young family. It’s a workshop run by the ODLC and Family Care Office at U of T and I think it’s supposed to help others answer the question “How do you do it?”.  I think what I say is supposed to help people with families do better at work. And frankly, I wonder if maybe should share what I ought to have done rather than what I HAVE done!

You see, the reality is that I don’t do it all.  I really don’t have it together.  Most of the time I think I’m doing a bad job at work (okay, maybe I’m a bit tough on myself, let’s just say… it’s not good enough… yet) and I definitely feel that I’m not a good enough mother, manager, wife, daughter, sister, friend (yes, in that order, sorry friends). Better mother than wife, better wife than friend… and so on.  (Yes… better manager than wife, you caught that, eh?)

I suppose I could share my learnings from the experiences of not quite doing it, but trying really hard to. This therefore a summary of what I’m going to present to my colleagues with young families for the workshop at the University of Toronto Mississauga in February:

#1: Your Health is #1

Everything else is #2, and I mean everything. Without your health, without self care, you can only do so much for so long.  I had a very massive breakdown earlier this year.  It was a physical, mental, spiritual, everything breakdown.  I could not get out of bed and I could not take care of my family. It was frightening to say the least, but… and I can say it now… it was preventable and I should have seen it coming.  Now I know, my health has to come first.

Put on your oxygen mask. Get your sleep, because sleep is NOT over-rated! Make time for yourself to breathe, re-calibrate, self-reflect, rest, laugh…

#2: Make It Easier

That means: make it easier for yourself whenever you can.  Make it easier for others to make it easier for you.  So, for example, if you find certain times of the day rough to manage, find the help, plan or prepare for it, reduce your expectations, reduce others expectations, delegate…

In the case of childcare, figure out what works for you now.  Some people have family in town, others have wonderful neighbours.  We’ve used nannies, we’ve helped out neighbours and they’ve helped us out, we’ve put the kids in daycare and then Bill quit his job to be a stay-at-home-Dad. Do what works for you and your family. Finances have a part to play in this too, but see #3.

Work with your boss to adjust your schedule, swap responsibilities, manage expectations… If you know you can make it up in the future, then allow yourself to shift your focus to your family for a bit.  Forgive yourself.

#3: Remember: Everything Changes

Remember that everything changes.  The chaos, the feeling of being out of control, the empty-headedness, the poocanoes, the 2 o’clock afternoon sleepies (ooh, I miss napping), the need for childcare, the flash of anger at everything, the frustration of not getting things done, the night-time peeing, the temper tantrums, the never-ending “mommy, mommy, mommy”… but also… the little arms choking you around the neck, the cuddles in the middle of the night, the bedtime stories, the flying leap into your arms, the  kisses, the songs… All of it.  There are many stages and you just make each stage work.  You plan for the next change and you manage through the one you’re in.

Someone reminded me that most people walk down the aisle potty-trained, so don’t get too upset that your kid is the only 4-year old at daycare having accidents.

Kids grow up.  They grow up fast.  Soon, it will be all in the past.  (Sorry, too much Dr. Seuss!)

#4: Don’t Lose Yourself

For many years, I completely lost myself in being a mother and making work work.  Other than my full-time job at work and then my other full-time job when I got home, I lost me.  I didn’t have a sense of who I was or what I loved (other than my children, who, to be frank, at moments felt like obligations rather than people that I adored.)  I didn’t do sports, I didn’t read books, I didn’t go out with friends to have long intellectual philosophical debates, I didn’t try new restaurants, I didn’t watch weird movies with my husband and critique them to death, I didn’t sing songs at the top of my lungs, I didn’t wander through bookstores, I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t.  And.  It. Was. Killing. Me.  Only I didn’t know it.

I think I was hanging out by a thread through my 3 am blogging and watching of crappy TV.  I’ve since found friends who can commiserate about similar things or who tell me that I’m doing okay and, of course, Kung Fu.  The stretches and stances have built strength and stamina. The meditation has a calming affect (I’m not even sure I’m doing it right)… all I know is I feel more balanced. I found me!

#5: Remember the Love

This one is self-explanatory.  Remember how much people love you.  They do.  They just don’t always have the opportunity, headspace, time, energy to tell you or show you  (sometimes they will Facebook you).  But they do love you.  So when you need a reminder, just reach out and get reminded.  Maybe tell them first how much you love them if you need to.  Just remember the love.  It’s all about the love.

#6: Make Decisions with Integrity

Keep in mind that you may not be at your best when sleep-deprived or stressed about picking up kids after work from daycare.

Try to make values-based decisions.  That is to say, don’t make rash decisions, don’t react impulsively and don’t take anything personally.  I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made it have happened because I let things feel personal.  You’re not a different person because you have kids, you just have to take into consideration a lot more other issues.  Not everyone is going to understand. If you are lucky enough to work at an organization that is family-friendly like U of T, that’s great, but the reality is still that we (by having kids) unequivocally do make things tougher for other colleagues who don’t have the same responsibilities.  So, understand that.  Make up for it when you can.  (By the way, family responsibilities are not always just about having children, but include taking care of relatives or elderly parents.)

I would add that working with people who share your values is the ideal situation.  So, if you feel that you are in a place that isn’t ever going to align with your values, goals and integrity, you may want to start thinking about making a change.

#7: Strategically Pick What You Will Let Slide and Forgive Yourself

Some people will be able to Lean In.  If you can, good on you!  Go for it, make your millions and do great things!  For the rest of us, we will have to choose our battles and let the others slide.

Mine:

  • My hair – I need a low maintenance hair cut
  • The kids’ Chinese – they aren’t bilingual… yet, maybe one day
  • Christmas cards to friends – sorry, I’m thinking of you but…
  • Showers on weekends – yup, don’t stand too close to me on Sundays

#8: Consolidate and Find the Flow

Go with the flow, not against it. If you can find people going in the same direction, hitch a ride.  Don’t go it alone. If you something can be done by someone else because it’s convenient for them, let them help.  Don’t be a hero.  If the hard work you’ve done in the past allows you to ride the waves a bit without paddling so hard, rest awhile.  Reap what you sow and thank your past self as you gather more energy for the future.

When you find the flow, it’s great, because it takes a lot less of your energy and makes things easier for you (see #2). Give yourself head space, you’re going to need it!

 

#9: Be the Best You Can Be and Be Proud

At the end of the day, we are all human.  We are all flawed, but we all have a best we can do.  So do it.  Then be proud of it.

So there you have it.  My 9 points of advice.  Hope it helps!

I’m Not Good at This

Image result for images chess pieces
The boys brought home homework from their after school Chess Club.  Yeah, that’s right.  I paid for them to hang out after school to learn about chess and those people returned the favour by having my kids bring home homework that I have to spend time figuring out!?

My knee jerk reaction was to shut it down. Sorry, I can’t help you guys. I really don’t know anything about chess. Why don’t I help you with your math homework? Oh, yeah, your writing assignment, I can help you with that. I can read to you.  I’m really good at reading bedtime stories…

The next day, I overheard “I’m not very good at this.  I’ll do something I’m good at.”

Jumping in with my helpful parenting advice, I gently responded: “Of course you’re not good at THIS just yet, you haven’t spent much time on it. If you work on it more, you’ll be as good at THIS as you are at THAT!  It’s just a muscle that you have to flex. You will get better at anything you make an effort in. Okay? Okay?  You can do anything as long as you try.”

Sheesh.  Where did they learn THAT terrible attitude?  Oh right, from me!

I then did a quick shout out to my friendly neighbourhood Facebook network. Lo and behold, a mommy friend in the States and one in Singapore immediately responded that their boys, older and well versed in the world of chess, could help.  I took a photo of the challenge and they posted up the answers right away!

Once I got the answers, I was able to work backwards and help the boys with their chess homework.  Whew.

Just working a new muscle…

“For Real Life! I Have Monsters in My Head!”

“Mommy, adults are so silly.  They say things like ‘monsters don’t exist…’ How would they know?  Just because they can’t see the monsters doesn’t mean they don’t exist in my head!  I have monsters in my head.  For real life!”

How insightful and how true!  How can I tell my son that monsters don’t exist, that they aren’t real when he’s the one who has to deal with the realities of said monster in this head.  The fear is real, the heart-pounding is real, the stress and the pain… it’s all real.

So what next?  The monster may not be a real, physical being that I can handcuff and throw in jail to make my son feel safer.  But… telling him that the monster is not real is not helpful.  What I need to do is to listen, lean in and help him deal with his truth.  What he needs from me is not judgment, but the guidance to figure out how to deal with his realities, his challenges.

So this is what we do:

  1. Identify the problem. There is a monster in my head. I’m too scared to fall asleep.
  2. Explore our options. Would it help to keep the lights on? the door open? Mommy lying next to me?
  3. Evaluate the pros and cons of the options. My brother can’t sleep with the lights on or the door open.  But he would love to have Mommy stay for a bit too.
  4. Pick a plan of action. Mommy will lie down with boys for a few minutes.
  5. Implement it.  Together. There will be days when Mommy can do this, but not every night.  Will we be okay on the nights Mommy can’t do this?
  6. Assess the outcome. This seems to work…
  7. Apply any lessons. Even though it feels better when Mommy stays with us, we seem to be okay on the nights Mommy can’t do it.  Sometimes my brother has to compromise and allow the night light or the door to be open. 
  8. Celebrate the win! Hey, we can compromise and there may be more than one solution!
  9.  Show the love. Mommy loves you, no matter what, and we will figure it out, no matter what.

That last one seems to be super important to my monster-fearing little one.

A Very Ninja Halloween

Kung Fu Ninja

This year, my younger son and I both decided to dress up as ninjas for Halloween.  I think we got inspired by our Kung Fu class and thought, hey, a ninja does Kung Fu, right?  However, according to Wikipedia: “A ninja (忍者) or shinobi (忍び) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionage,sabotage, infiltration, assassination and combat in certain situations. Their covert methods of waging war contrasted the ninja with the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.” So… whoops!  I think next time we will think more along the lines of the samuri!

I had very conflicting thoughts about Halloween, going into it.  I’ve never liked the idea of going from house to house to ask for candy, I am not a huge fan of being masked… and I really, really don’t like the way my kids act for 3 months after having collected all this sugar and then ingesting it all… Sugar, after all, is the new tobacco (or is sitting the new smoking, or… is bacon the new asbestos? I can no longer keep up with all the new research and what new thing we aren’t supposed to be doing if we want to live to be 100).

About a week ago, I told the boys that I was thinking about boycotting Halloween because their disputes escalated into loud whining unsolvable events more often after they’ve had candy.  I gave them some options: 1) business as usual, one piece of candy after lunch and after dinner, 2) eat as much as you want for a week and then nothing afterwards and we donate the rest to the poor, or 3) just skip Halloween.  Let’s just say the boys were not interested in change.

So, off we went on Halloween to bring home two bags full of chips and sugar. Daddy probably unwrapped about 10 pieces of candy that night.  And I decided to let them have as much as they wanted, but… the boys resisted!  They pushed back and said, No, no, we don’t want to have as much candy as we want, that’s not good!  Sugar is not good! No, let’s just keep it to what we’ve always done.

With a puzzled look on my face, I replied: “So, just eat as much as you want, and if that’s business as usual, then that’s it.  I’m good with it! After that, you can have one after lunch and one after dinner.  Then we give the rest away.”  We went back and forth a bit more until I finally emphasized “It’s all good.  Just stop when you want to stop. If you want to stop after one, then just stop.  I’m LETTING YOU pick when you want to stop.  Stop arguing with me!” My older, rules-based, son felt weird about eating one more, one last one, no this one is the last Mommy, really it is, but I think we both were okay with how much he had.

By the way, Mommy, said the little one, why are we giving the candy to the poor? Isn’t sugar poison?  Why are we giving them poison? That’s probably not good for them.  Good point, my little one, good point.  Back to the drawing board.