When I’m not working to tackle the climate crisis, I’m participating in a project to keep a human alive. Here are my takeaways from the last 18 months.
Beautifully, they apply to so much more than parenting.
This past year has tested me. At times, it took me to my limits. It also provided some of the most joyful moments I’ve ever experienced. And plenty of ups and downs in between.
Like any good walloping, it’s full of lessons. The way that starting a new career while becoming a parent for the first time at the same time will do. Kicks in the pants usually bring the fastest learning.
Reflecting on my experience of keeping a tiny human alive for the last 18 months, I distilled some top notes from the journey.
Lesson 1: When stuck, try changing your perspective.
We all get stuck at times. A tough project at work. A personal barrier I can’t surmount. We’re familiar with the experience. That sinking mindset, the world closing in around us.
A loud voice telling you “today is too hard. I feel out of control. I’m hungry. I’m tired. Nothing’s going right.”
Sometimes I just want to cry. If you’re a one year old, that’s a daily experience. Sometimes hourly.
The other day my son was having one of those days. Nothing felt normal. He was teething, tired, fussy, irritated, and likely hungry. Probably hungry. Life balanced on the razor blade of comfort and chaos.
After a rough tear-soaked afternoon, I decided to try something different. The result surprised me.
Amidst his sobbing I turned on some upbeat music. I lifted him up off the carpet. I hugged him, and placed him up on my shoulders. The first time he rode captain’s seat.
In a matter of seconds, things looked different. His whimpering stopped.
New, interesting, exciting. The ceiling closer, limits of the floor far away. Life, elevated.
His grasped my hair and I could hear a soft squeal of excitement. The cackling continued for 10 minutes until my arms tired. The course of whole afternoon shifted.
We know the power of small changes. But we often forget we have the power to make the changes we need. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our problems we forget to help ourselves.
A short walk around the neighborhood. A long weekend in a new city. Getting lost in a good book or a movie. A small change can change the trajectory of your entire day, week, or life.
When you’re stuck, remember to change your perspective.
Lesson 2: Ask for what you need
Young kids are masters at telling us their needs. They may not have the language, but they have the lung power.
It works. Boy, it works. Hats-off to millions of years of fine-tuned evolution.
As adults, we struggle to identify and share what we need.
Often we’re so caught up in the daily challenges, many of us don’t take the time to contemplate the question. Myself included.
Kids demand parents hone their detective skills. Many parents develop unbelievable perception through experience, and failure.
Those same parents who deftly resolve other’s problems fail to describe what’s keeping them up at night. Even if we are aware, many of us don’t have the courage and the tools to seek out the solution.
Kids aren’t ashamed to ask for what they need. It’s often nakedly plain. Food. Sleep. Acceptance. Your burrito. (I recently watched in astonishment as Nolan ate half of my burrito… following his own dinner.)
Adults can take a lesson to think about and ask for what we need.
Lesson 3: Where did you learn that posture?
I see a direct correlation between parenting experience and early onset scoliosis. When I see pictures of myself seated (like right now!) or on a conference call, it’s little wonder my back hurts! Look at my posture!
I recall a picture my chiropractor framed in his office. It’s of a toddler crouched, picking up a flower from the ground. Straight back, bent knees, head in neutral spine, centered gravity. Perfection.
While he waddles like a drunk sailor, these little guys know posture out of the box.
The older and “more experienced” we get, we allow our environments to unteach us these truths. The more time we sit in chairs and cars, the more we can use a reminder.
Next time you’re with a toddler, study their body mechanics. Watch their back. You won’t find many 3 year-olds sitting next to you in the chiro office waiting room.
Lesson 4: Showing up is 90%
Soft wimpering. Silence. Disgruntled moans. A big inhale. Ear splitting cries.
Quick. What do they need? Running through the mental checklist amidst the 3 am mental fog. Bottle? Fresh diaper? Pacifier? A trip to the emergency room? A hug?
We may not be able to expect every need or solve every problem. I’ve learned that’s OK. But there’s no substitute for showing up.
Persistence. Consistency. Reliability. Presence.
One recent night, my wife and I couldn’t sooth Nolan. Finally, after an hour of head scratching, I picked him up and sat down in the rocking chair with him. I could feel him relax. The tense wailing dissipated. He just wanted to sit with us. Within a few minutes, he drifted off to sleep for the rest of the night.
Getting out of bed when it’s the last thing you want to do. Going that extra step. You don’t always need the answers (although it’s nice when you have them). Never underestimate the power of showing up. People will notice. And sometimes, that’s enough.
Lesson 5: Learn to “Share Your Calm“
One of Nolan’s favorite bedtime books is “Calm”. Like a classic Pixar movie, the message appeals to humans of all ages, packaged in a kid-focused medium.
The first line: “My dear little one, if you are upset, I promise to share my calm.” Whew, powerful stuff.
Kids are masters of perception. They sense what we’re putting down. Even when we think they don’t notice. Especially then.
They may not understand the words, but they get it. They know if we’re happy, upset, overwhelmed, sad. And they mirror our behaviors.
Some of the best advice I’ve heard and practiced: “When Nolan’s upset or feeling overwhelmed, slowly crouch down to their level. Speak calmly, guessing what they’re feeling. Gently touch him on the arm for reassurance, or give them a hug.”
Most times, I see the sadness melt away. I can see it in his eyes. “He’s listening. He sees me.”
Can’t we all use a little more calm? I’m astonished at the results a few deep breaths and calm words can bring to myself and others.
*Bonus Lesson 6: Take a Nap
When I’m not being the person I want to be, most of the time I could just use a nap. It’s that simple.
Little kids cracked this code. Follow their lead.
This new chapter of parenthood brings new lessons (and tests) daily, often faster than I can absorb. Thankfully I have a great teacher who only asks for room, board, and love. And the occasional burrito.
Thanks for the lessons, buddy. I cherish every day of class together.
The education will to continue. We’re excited to announce we’ve enrolled in a new course starting in September.
I’m going to need more notebooks.
About the Author
My name is Alex. I’m working alongside a talented team who make it easy for organizations to add electric vehicle charging stations and clean energy to their properties.
I live in San Diego and enjoy hiking, bicycling, traveling, spending time with my wife and son, and pondering the clean energy transition. You can reach me directly at email@example.com.