I like the simplicity of having a saying that can help you stay focused while getting through life.
When I was employed in Silicon Valley I had two. For years after reading the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness, I chanted “affection and compassion, affection and compassion” to myself as people cut me off on highway 101 at rush hour, or jumped in front of me in line at the grocery store, or were rude at restaurants.
The other was “you can’t get what you want if you don’t know what it is.” The friend that shared it with me meant this in terms of men, but I found that it applied well to other situations including shopping for furniture, ordering dinner, and directing projects in the workplace. Give good direction, and you’ll get good results.
But I’ve been a little bit lost in the postprofessional world. The very qualities that helped me be successful at work—energy, impatience, perfectionism, and goal-orientation are often liabilities in the toddler department.
I was at our preschool one morning last month when a minor disagreement over a toy ignited a screaming match between two three-year-olds. Our director, in an unassuming voice said “okay, okay, people. Everybody remain calm.” And I thought, okay, here is the mantra for my postwork life.
My son is one of those people who constantly pushes the limits. I’ll have to ask him, oh, ten or twelve times to brush his teeth. Only when he’s threatened with a loss of privileges (Dora the Explorer is the ultimate leverage) will he actually step into the bathroom. He’ll continually put toys into his mouth. He’s also a born negotiator: if you offer him two books at bedtime, he’s bound to ask for three. If you sing three songs, he’ll ask for four. (He got this from his dad, of course.) And I, of course, am completely unequipped to deal with him.
My energy level is way, way, way too high. While I think it is important to set limits with your children, I find that too often at our house, a relatively minor incident can escalate into a full-fledged conflagration. I’ll assign a timeout too rashly, and when Miles won’t take it, a full-fledged battle will ensue. It is like I threw gasoline on the fire. When he starts the endless bedtime negotiation, I’ll get angry and ultimately find myself yelling, which is not exactly the best way to help him relax and fall asleep.
For a couple of weeks after I first found this new mantra, I was great. I calmly doled out discipline. I separated my kids during battles without adding a level of hysteria to the situation. Things were calm in our house.
Then the holidays happened! And I’ve been spending way, way, way too much time with my kids. There’s nothing like traveling alone with your children—to different time zones!—to increase your stress level. Needless to say, I’m failing miserably at staying calm.
The best that I can hope for is that if I keep working at it, I’ll better learn to manage my emotions.
Or that my kids will just wear me out to the point where I don’t have enough energy to fight back!