I got married when I was 21, and I had my first child at 29. Up until I decided to have them, I absolutely didn’t want children, case closed. Partially, I think, I didn’t want them because I didn’t know how to relate to them; I was that awkward-with-kids “adult”.
Partially it was because I witnessed so many children acting like “monsters” (my experience at the time, anyway), and their parents looked like they were often at their wits end, completely exhausted.
Partially, I thought this world was an unjust one that I didn’t want to bring more kids into.
But I think mostly it was because I didn’t believe I could be a good parent.
So as I became a mother, there was a question that continually ran through my head (and still does).
What does it mean to be a good parent, and how can I be one?
I’m human, and I make mistakes, many of them. So pretending I don’t make them probably wouldn’t work. Children see through everything, even when we are confident we did a great up job covering things up or diverting.
I can’t project my desires, or force a perfect public image on them… like for them to become doctors, or to get straight As, or to be perfect children who sit still and quietly during dinners out. My parents tried all of that and their efforts didn’t help the relationship.
So maybe I can show them that I can cry when I am sad or hurt, and I can also be upset. Instead of lashing out and name calling, I can exemplify trying to put things into words and actions, and when I don’t get my desired result, I am still better for it.
I can show them that when I make mistakes, I own them. I can show them that justification doesn’t have to be the reaction.
I don’t have to speak to them in baby language. Instead, I can relate to them like respected adults, rated G/ PG.
When they achieve or fail at something, instead of throwing automatic compliments or distractions, I can first see how they feel about it, because they may feel something different. I don’t have to send a message that pleasing me supersedes authentically pleasing themselves.
I don’t have to pressure them to hug and kiss their extended family members, or even their immediate ones, because that should be on their own terms.
I can exercise boundaries around my personal time and space. They don’t need to see me dropping everything for them all the time.
I can have my questions direct them inward to see if their desires are coming from within, or from somewhere else. Rebellion comes from somewhere else; it’s the same thing as a tantrum.
And I can remind myself that tantrums aren’t there to make me miserable or to inconvenience me. They are there to let me know that someone needs something, is in discomfort, or doesn’t feel represented, seen, or heard.
I was thinking about this for leaders at every level.
We expect them to be perfect, yet they are human. Just on higher pedestals and with greater expectations perhaps… and with larger (mis)stakes. I hope that my children – for whom I am the first leader in their lives -don’t ever write me off for the errors of my ways.
Leaders can benefit greatly from owning their mistakes. Turn them into opportunities to demonstrate good leadership by creating better understanding and compassion. We are continuously learning, and so are they. They can show us how to change course, be transparent, and work with others when that happens. They can talk to us like respected adults. They don’t need to lie, spin, blame, and justify; it creates a breeding ground for wild tantrums, and when grownups have them, well, let your imagination fly on that one. The fact that tantrums are happening globally.. even the earth is having them.. tells us that groups aren’t being fairly respected, heard, represented.
Leaders don’t have to get caught up in the big race to the bottom. Instead they can exemplify good discourse and courage. To stand up for things they believe in. And we can listen without agreeing, and also without polarizing. We don’t have to be shocked at their mistakes. We don’t have to write them off. Nor do we have to condone their behaviors. And we don’t have to say, them first. Because we are all parents and leaders, and each of our actions ripple loudly. Arguably more than public leaders because we have the luxury of the private life that affords more flexibility in changing course.