Coaching Across the Generation Gap

First published in Coaching World in October 2019, published by the International Coach Federation.

aging

Coaching across generations can be tricky. You may wonder: Who are these Millennials?  Who is Generation Z?  What are they like and what do they care about?  It can feel like, if only we could understand them, we would be able to meet them better where they are.

Similarly, you may wonder about the methods for best engaging them:  What are the unlocking questions for today’s youth?  Would they respond more to encouragement or challenge?  Do they yearn for embodiment, balance, stability, fulfillment, authenticity, or something else entirely?

However exhaustive the descriptions or guidance for intergenerational coaching might be, it will necessarily be of limited use. Expanding your capacity to coach the next generation is not about figuring out the tips and tricks. Instead, your ability to coach across generations is determined by your own inner preparation rather than by any external knowledge you might acquire.

Inner preparation is important because the challenges we face in coaching intergenerationally are largely the limitations that we, as coaches, bring to the table.  Our societies are engrained with patterns of how we treat those older than and younger than us.  Embedded power dynamics privilege age above youth along certain dimensions (e.g., wisdom) and youth above age in others (e.g., energy). On top of these broad patterns, we have our own individual experiences of aging, authority, wisdom, youth and even death. If we have not worked through these challenges, we bring them as baggage into our coaching relationships, often impeding our ability to be of service.

So, how to approach this work?  First, set aside some time for reflection.  Consider your relationships across age—both as the junior and as the senior—and look for how they affect your coaching relationships.  Spend time unpacking your relationship with youth, aging, authority and wisdom.  What did you hate about being younger?  What do you love about being older?  Inevitably, reflecting upon age brings up the bogeymen of our own mortality; face these, too. To help you get started on this process, I’ve included an approach for structured reflection below.

Ultimately, as with all coaching, it is only by doing our own inner work that we are able to be of service to others. Generational differences across coaches and clients are a call for us to break out of our patterned ways of acting. Awareness and reflection are the first steps.

Reflection Questions

The following questions are intended to unpack your thinking about generational differences.  Focus on the handful of prompts that feel most resonant to you in the “Expand and Understand” section. You need not answer every question; three to eight questions is sufficient.  Then move on to answer each of the questions in the ”Synthesize and Apply” section.  For maximum benefit, you may want to sit down in a quiet space, avoid distractions, and write your answers out longhand with pen and paper.

Expand and Understand

  • Views of Age and Youth
    • Older people have…
    • Older people lack…
    • Younger people have…
    • Younger people lack…
  • Generational Responsibilities
    • The future generations must…
    • The future generations cannot…
    • When it’s all said and done, I think the impact of my generation on the world will have been…
  • Personal Experience of Age
    • What I love about being my age is…
    • What I loved about being younger was…
    • What I’m excited about growing older is…
    • What I hate about being my age is…
    • What I hated about being younger was…
    • What I’m dreading about growing older is…
  • Past Experience of Intergenerational Relationships
    • When you were younger, how did the older generation treat you?
    • If this was not ideal, how would you have wanted to be treated?
    • When you were younger, who “coached” you (even if this was not formal coaching)? Who mentored you or gave you advice?
    • What worked well in those situations? What worked poorly?
  • Current Experience of Intergenerational Relationships
    • What relationships do you have now that have an age gap to who you might coach?
      • Mid-level manager to young employee?
      • Grandparent to adult grandchild?
      • Parent to child?
      • Boss to employee?
    • What patterns have you developed in those relationships?
  • Your Legacy
    • What do you have to give to future generations?
    • How do you want younger people to see you? To interact with you?
  • Associations with Related Values
    • What is your relationship with authority?
    • …With wisdom?
    • …With aging?
    • …With youth?
    • …With death?
  • Fears
    • When you think about youth, what scares you?
    • When you think about aging, what scares you?


Synthesize and Apply

  • What did you learn through your reflections? What is emerging as true?  What else are you curious about?
  • Where, if at all, are these mindsets and patterns of behavior showing up in your coaching?
  • What’s the impact of those? Alternatively, what might the impact be?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Meredith

What’s Makes a Good Goal? A New Model for Consciously Choosing Goals

It’s mid-January, and we’re just beyond the new year when poorly-set resolutions start to crumble. And so, I’ve been reflecting on the nature of goals and, as is often the case, looking beyond myself for wisdom on the topic.

In searching out the answer to “what makes a good goal,” I keep on running into the SMART model. Taught in business schools and applied widely in companies, the SMART model uses an acronym to propose that goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Every time I read through this list, it makes me cringe. These criteria feel far from the way I want my goals to look and feel. I don’t want a goal that feels narrow, limiting, or boring. Instead, I want a goal that articulates the desires of my heart. I want a goal that I am fiercely devoted to achieving even though the road may be long and hard. I want a goal that inspires me to do better. Whether goal-setting in my personal or professional life, I want a goal that acts as a compelling North Star, not something beaten into flat corporate-speak.

This isn’t to say that the SMART model isn’t useful; indeed, it seems perfectly helpful in directing what the line items of my plan to achieve my goal should look like. But, at the goal level, it leaves something to be desired.

And so, I propose a new model for goals, one which connects far more to meaning and motivation. In the Callahan “C-Star” model for consciously choosing goals, I propose five aspects that matter:

c star model trimmed

First and most importantly, is your goal CONGRUENT with who you are as a person? Any exercise in goal-setting needs to start with a period of introspection. What is important to you? What are your values? And, above all, what do you want? Your goal cannot be something given to you by another or dictated by your circumstances. Instead, your goal must begin with congruence to who you truly are.

Second, is your goal CONSISTENT with what you actually want? To be most effective, a goal needs to be set at the level at which you fundamentally hold it. For example, if your desire is to spread your organization’s message far and wide, you should not set your goal as talking about your organization on Oprah. Even if you failed to get on Oprah, you could achieve your real goal in many ways – by going on a road show to related organizations, by writing a book on the topic, or by being featured on a morning show. Resist migrating away from what you truly want because an alternative feels more specific, more attainable, more socially acceptable, or more aligned with your current reality. Shifting the focus from what you really want always misdirects your efforts and often limits what you can achieve. When it comes to goal setting, articulate what you actually want – even if you don’t quite know what that will look like yet. To be fair, this is a hard concept to get right and the dimension on which I most frequently see experienced professionals stumble.

Third, is your goal CHALLENGING? Your goals should not be limited by what you currently believe to be possible – for yourself or in the world. As Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, writes in his book Principles, “Once you start your pursuit you will learn a lot, especially if you triangulate with others; paths you never saw before will emerge.” By setting ambitious goals, you are pushing yourself to the edge of growth and accelerating your evolution as a person.

Next, is your goal CLEAR? In the previous three dimensions you have dug deep to specify a goal which is appropriately-sized and particular to you. That said, when you dug deep, did you bring up a bunch of muck along with your insights? If so, work through this – the fears, beliefs, patterns, feelings, and whatever else – to get clear about what you want. This clarity will allow you to navigate more effectively in the direction of your goal when life gets muddy and unclear again. To do this best, write your goals down. Iterate the wording to get to precisely what you mean.

Finally, ask yourself: to what extent are you COMMITTED to your goal? Your commitment is the source of your motivation. Why is your goal important to you? What’s at stake if you don’t achieve it? And, what is it worth to you to achieve it? Your goals should have a sense if you don’t achieve them, you fail yourself.

And that, collectively, is a good goal: one that is congruent to who you are, consistent with what you actually want, challenging to achieve, clear in articulation, and to which you are committed with the full force of your being. This January, that is the type of goal I want to sign up for – along with a SMART plan to achieve it.

I would love to hear what you think. Test my model out and send me your feedback.

  • What is your goal for 2020?
  • How does it stack up against the C-Star model?  Versus the SMART model?
  • What does each model help you see more clearly? What does each leave out?
  • What else would you want to consider in setting goals?

Wishing you a year full of achieving your goals,
Meredith

That Time We Moved to San Diego

san diego

Nearly three months later:  Settled enough to start adventuring again.

In late July, we packed up our home and sent a truckload of boxes and furniture off with movers. That same week, Liz piled the remaining most-treasured items (especially Reese, our family dog,) into her Subaru and started the week-long drive from Connecticut to California. I followed a week later, flying solo across the country with our two kids in tow.

We spent the first month in San Diego holed up at a Best Western Hotel. We enjoyed a “two room” suite, which turned out to be one large room half-heartedly divided by an archway. This meant that every member of the family could be easily awoken by any other member of the family at any point during the night. Anytime Reese shook his collar, my son cried at 5:00 AM, or an adult took a 2:00 AM bathroom run, there was a good chance that others would rouse. A typical day at the Best Western included waking up groggy, taking conference calls from the bathroom due to lack of space, and discretely microwaving frozen meals for dinner after the kids had (hopefully) fallen asleep.

Yet, hotel living wasn’t entirely unpleasant. We enjoyed breakfast every morning (we learned that cheese omelet/sausage day and scrambled egg/bacon day were both delightful). There was a well-heated pool (often just to ourselves). And, the housekeeping staff got to know and appreciate both of our kids.

Physically moving ourselves and our stuff across the country has taken the better portion of three months. And, as you might guess, the psychic disruption has been even more pronounced.

At first, I coped with the change by attempting to consciously and quickly put down roots. My intention was to “root ourselves in San Diego”, and I set to it with typical fervor. Sitting on the balcony of the Best Western, I researched and reached out to the service providers who would help us make a home here – the pediatricians, babysitters, dentists, hairdressers, lawyers, and car mechanics whom would take care of us. I fired off emails to reignite our network of friends in the area. I even found ritual ways of honoring our relocation, ordering a new return address stamp and change-of-address announcements for friends and family. I journaled about what our best life in San Diego might look like and what was needed to manifest that.

Wasn’t this putting down roots? Wasn’t this what I needed for us to self-actualize our best lives in this new city? To feel completely at home in this place?

And yet, none of my efforts helped me feel settled.

No, it wasn’t until the truck arrived with all our stuff, six weeks after moving, that I got a hint of what I was missing. I shared my three-year-old daughter’s unrestrained joy when she exclaimed, “It looks just like our house in Connecticut!” after the moving trucks left. I felt just as giddy – and just as inclined to jump up and down on the newly-delivered bed.

Why did all these things – our familiar sofa, a loved coffee maker, and even the boxes of old college books – bring such succor? I found it disturbing to think that I was so materialistic that these items could significantly impact my happiness. And yet, as I sat at the dining room table, eating Chinese food off a real plate and drinking from a real wine glass, I couldn’t deny the feeling of home.

The answer came to me in a conversation with a friend: “It makes sense that you weren’t settled; it’s like someone kicked the bottom out of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an all-too-familiar and yet oft-applicable psychological model. It holds that the more basic human needs – beginning with physiological needs for food, water, warmth, and rest – must be satisfied before more complex human needs – like achieving one’s full potential – can be addressed. Between these extremes there is an entire pyramid of needs, building one layer upon the other. The original version, presented in Abraham Maslow’s original 1943 paper on the topic, is illustrated below. For the academically-inclined looking for the source materials, you can find the whole paper here.
maslows hierarchy

Now, as an executive coach, a leadership development professional, and a writer, I am accustomed to live and move in the realm of self-actualization. I sit in the realm of the emotional, the conceptual, and the reflective. And, frankly, when I arrived to California, that’s the natural level at which I engaged. I automatically went to manipulations of meaning, purpose, community, and ritual to make us feel at home. My efforts started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and extended down.

But these top-heavy efforts were doomed without the foundation. While I had the few creature comforts that fit in my luggage, I fundamentally lacked my own bed to sleep in as well as my own clothes to wear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting the pyramid of needs upside-down.

Now that my feet are underneath me, I can get back to focusing on the things I do best.  And next time I’m inexplicably disoriented, I’ll know where to look: to the bed underneath my head and the things around me.

With love,
Meredith

Postscript: Frankly, my experience was temporary and – even while in transition – quite comfortable. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for those who struggle without the fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. For refugees, for detainees at the border, and for those without a home the question of self-actualization is far from fundamental; it’s a luxury. It’s important and grounding for me to remember that shifting one’s focusing at the top of the pyramid is, in itself, a privilege. While I continue to work at the top of the pyramid, I am recommitting to make a positive impact for those struggling to address the bottom.

Why I Stopped Caring How I Look In Photos

July is eminently photographable. The reds, whites, and blues of patriotic clothing pop against lush green lawns. Bright fireworks light up dark night skies. Watery scenes are highlighted by neon bathing suits and flamingo pool floats. Even without filters, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are studies in light and color.

At the center of most of these photos are the people. A whole family of rainbow swimmers dripping with water. Clusters of kids sticky with purple popsicle sweat. A couple in matching sunglasses in front of a rolling gold landscape. And there’s me: in a colorful dress; but still postpartum, a bit too heavy, and struggling to defrizz my hair in the humidity.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision. I was posing for a random group photo with a half dozen others. As for any other iPhone shoot, we posed and smiled. And then, I noticed what happened.

Half the subjects flocked the photographer to see the pictures and weigh in on which was the best. I – and most of my friends – are approaching middle age, so this can take work: not only should eyes be open and smiles be appropriate, but double chins should be hidden, underarm flab smoothed, and bodies at an angle to minimize hip width. There was a quick but important chatter about which of the many versions were acceptable to all parties and permissioning for posting on social media.

Interestingly, the other half of the subjects (and, to be honest, mostly the men), simply walked away from the scene. It was as if nothing happened.

My instinct was to join in the evaluation. For years, I had been a participant in assessing the photos based on my vision of how I thought I looked best. This was an automatic response rather than a conscious one, conditioned by my society – and likely reinforced by pressures put upon my gender. I was supposed to care not only about what I looked like, but also about how that was represented. But in this thing, as in all things, I had a choice. Did I – not as a woman, but as Meredith – actually care about those things?

Not much.

And so, I decided. From that moment forward, I would not evaluate photos of myself. I would simply let them be. I refused to expend intellectual or emotional energy editing the pictures and selecting the most favorable version of the truth. Whether each photo fit my own expectation of what “good” looked like for me really didn’t matter: the picture was represented what I did look like at that moment, whether I liked it or not.

It seems small and trivial. After all, it’s only my behavior in the moment after the flash. But, in this as in everything else, it’s freeing to realize that I get to decide how to be.

Since making that decision, I’ve felt free. I categorically don’t care. I consistently don’t need to engage. Now, when people take pictures of me, they often still ask: “Do you want to see it?” It feels like it’s really me answering when I say “no.” I’m sure it’s fine. Or not fine. It is how it is. And whether I like it or not, it is the truth of how I look in this moment. Then, I go back to my conversation.

This is your chance to choose as well. There is no right answer. You can care or not care. You can look or not look. You can edit or not edit. As long as you make a conscious choice aligned with your own values, it’s perfect.

How do you act when photos are taken?
What does that say about what you value? What does that say about what you fear?
And if you were to consciously choose, how do you want to be in those situations?

Meredith
Like what you’re reading? Find more in my newest book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, available here from Amazon.

EXHIBIT A:  Most recent mediocre picture of me, from Drag Queen Story Time yesterday (Note to self:  Beyond this article, I will simply never look good enough standing next to a Drag Queen)
mediocre photo 1

 

Five Years Ago…

Five years ago, I started this blog. I launched it in May 2014 while I was visiting the Kloster Arenberg, a convent outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I was then—and continue to be—a junkie for solitary, spiritual retreats. At the time, nothing sounded better than a quiet weekend amongst nuns. Between walks in the woods, visits to the stations of the cross, and trips to the sauna, I managed to write my first post—all 518 words of it.

In that first entry, “The Courage to Begin,” I expressed anxiety that my writing would not be good enough, and that posts shared on the web would be hauntingly permanent. But more than either of those fears, I feared the judgment of others. I wrote, “There’s vulnerability in expressing myself authentically… What if you think I’m silly, stupid, or too much of a hippie? What if you think I’m too pragmatic, too intellectual, or not intuitive enough?” While I was theoretically bought in on authenticity, I dreaded its ramifications both online and in real life.

Yet, over the last five years and seventy-five posts, I continued to put myself out there. With each post, I learned more about myself. With each post, I came to care less about the opinions of others. Just as important, with each post, I came to understand more about what mattered to me. As I moved away from worrying about approval, I focused more and more on my mission: to give a clearer view to life and how to live it meaningfully. Now, I have the courage not only to publish my work online, but also to share the collective wisdom of The Intentional in my second book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, which publishes later this week.

intentional-life-ebook_frontThe element of The Intentional Life that I’m most proud of is its authenticity. While the topic of the book is living intentionally, the content could not be more personal. It includes reflections on major life events (e.g., engagement, marriage, childbirth) and mundane, everyday life (e.g., parenting, cooking, working). It shows my weaknesses, fears, and failings. And, if it has been successful, it gives a better view into what it looks like to live intentionally and calls you to reflect more on your own life.

So happy birthday, The Intentional. I am meaningfully different than I was five years ago when we started this journey. Thank you for providing an incredible platform for my on-going development – and the inspiration for my next big turn as an author.

Meredith
The Intentional Life is live this week!
Order the paperback here.
Order the Kindle version here.
And, if you prefer to hear my voice while you’re out and about, wait for the audiobook release shortly!

 

The Relationship Reset

My wife and I have been together nearly seven years and married almost four. We’re still near the beginning of our lives together and in the process of figuring things out. But, these few years together yielded the first major realization about how life works as a couple: As you get to know each other more and more, you experience the ‘relationship reset.’

The relationship reset happens when you go from living within the broad spectrum of how people act to living within the narrower spectrum of how you compare to your partner.

Take cleanliness, for example. Maybe a similar level of cleanliness was one of the reasons why you were a good match for one another. While other potential matches left clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, you both put things away immediately after using them. You were, in essence, on a similar spot on the dirty-to-clean spectrum.

initial spectrum with comment

Now you are in a relationship. You live together day-in and day-out. And instead of comparing yourselves versus the whole world, you primarily – and increasingly – only compare yourselves to each other. The ways that neither of you would ever act – failing to sweep the floor or not noticing cobwebs – are not even conceivable possibilities. Instead, the spectrum of possible states – and thereby, your effective world – narrows. You each define one of the new poles of the spectrum. And further, you sit in opposition. Suddenly, one of you is the ‘clean’ one and the other is the ‘dirty’ one. Sure, you both put away clothes and dishes. But, you have different tolerances of how dirty the bathroom can be before it needs a good scrub down. Weirdly, you become more different than similar.

full spectrum

This dynamic holds true for nearly every personality trait. For me, regardless of my absolute level, I suddenly became relatively less romantic, more social, less organized, more serious, a worse driver, etc., etc., etc.  While the relationship reset confirmed some of my self-perceptions, it really screwed with other parts of my identity. I found myself exclaiming “What do you mean I’m not organized?!”

And so, I need to remember the broader spectrum and the impact of the relationship reset. Just because I’m more or less qualified on any dimension between my wife and I doesn’t say much about how I stack up in the broader world. And, more importantly, any differences I feel between us are probably minute in the bigger scheme of things.

Have you experienced the relationship reset?  Along what dimensions?
What are your relative strengths and weaknesses versus your partner?
How has being in partnership changed the way you think about yourself?

Meredith

How to Live with Your Stuff – Without Letting It Overwhelm You

hoarding
One of the themes of the last few months has been stuff – the physical items with which we surround ourselves. The impending addition of my son in September prompted a flurry of preparations and reconsideration of all our possessions. We started by sorting through all our baby gear. But, soon enough, we found ourselves shuffling our lesser-used Christmas ornaments and fancy china off to a new storage room. I spent my evenings sorting through memory boxes from my childhood and sending boxes of photos off to be digitized. And now, even though we’re away from most of our possessions (we’re travelling for two months), we still spend a fair amount of time schlepping suitcases from one location to another, packing and unpacking the things we brought, and organizing our items into new spaces to be functional.

All of this ‘stuff management’ has made me reflect upon how we manage our things – how we ensure that they are of service to us instead of us being of service to them. Long ago, when Liz and I moved in together, we agreed upon a number of guiding principles about how we would manage our combined stuff. It was less guidance that we aspired to but more an articulation of our already-shared philosophy. It included such guiding principles as:

One in/one out: The concept is simple: buy a sweater, get rid of a sweater. The challenge here is that you need to accurately baseline what you own at the start. This ensures you are not adhering to the letter of the law and unintentionally maintaining a bloated pants collection or never letting yourself buy the extra set of socks you need to make it through the week. But, if you follow the spirit of the thing, I find this principle is the most useful for maintaining day-to-day discipline.

Keep memories electronically: While the memories that our parents kept for us are very sweet, the volume of them is overwhelming. When I sorted through my memory boxes this fall, I found dozens of figure skating medals and reams of participation certificates. In sorting through our old boxes – and thinking prospectively for our kids – we try to keep memories electronically. This means that we try to take pictures of things and ditch the originals instead of accumulating more fodder for the memory boxes. Goodbye ticket stubs, programs, menus, and, yes, the little ones’ artwork. We have room for one work of art per child on the refrigerator, so pick your favorite, kiddo.

Maintain 30% extra space: Empty space begs to be filled. And yet, a home that is perfectly full – no space empty and nothing extra – does not give room for growth. I vaguely remember reading a feng shui article at one point which suggested that you need to leave empty space in your home in order for good things to arrive. Our target is that any closet, cupboard, or drawer can be 70% filled and should remain 30% empty. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s always a good reminder for me when I am tempted to shove the Nth t-shirt in a drawer.

Let it go: When an item can serve others better than it can serve you, pass it on swiftly and without hesitation. This can be difficult for us because we’re both so frugal. That said, as we sold our San Francisco apartment and moved across the country to a Connecticut rental, we were reminded how owning, maintaining, and moving items requires the expenditure of real mental and physical energy. So, instead of hoarding ‘value’ by keeping things that we are unlikely to use again, we try to do the more comprehensive math of each item’s value to us, weighing our likelihood to actually use it versus the more intangible costs of ownership. This is not exactly Marie Kondo’s approach of disposing of things if they don’t bring you joy, but it has a similar ruthlessly cleansing result.

Since originally articulating our approach, we have also added new principles related to how we manage our stuff with kids. The best of these are:

Up to one toy: Both to manage our space and also to keep ourselves sane, we limit friends and family to giving “up to one toy” for holidays and birthdays. They are welcome to give an endless parade of books, clothes, and college fund contributions, but only up to one toy. Sometimes little things sneak through (particularly if they’re of the consumable kind, like crayons, stickers, or bath bombs), but we’re okay with that. The point is that we are trying to set limits upon the endless consumption of things so that we can make our boundaries clear with others and provide some of that discipline to our children as well.

Want/Need/Wear/Read: I can’t remember where we picked this one up, but before Elliott’s first Christmas, we decided that she would receive four and only four gifts from us for the holiday: something she wants, something she needs, something to wear, and something to read. The small number and delimited categories keep us from splurging on many things and force us to consider closely what we acquire.

As we step into the holiday season abundant with things – old things we’re using and new things we’re acquiring – it’s a good moment to reflect. How do you manage your stuff? What do you want your relationship with your stuff to look like? And, how can you bring intention to this part of your life?

Meredith

When Parenting Meets Travelling

When we told friends and family that we would be travelling through Costa Rica for the last two months of my maternity leave, we got a lot of interesting reactions. Some were in disbelief, thinking us either crazy or stupid for taking a two-month newborn and a two-year toddler anywhere. Others were jealous of the idea and seemed almost annoyed that they didn’t organize something similar with their own children. Still others couldn’t wrap their minds around the complexity of it all (logistical and otherwise) and surmised that we must be superhuman (fact: my wife is).

Now, two weeks into the trip, we get a lot of curious questions from people on the home front who want to know how it’s going. The tone is often tentative, almost as if people are wishing us well but expecting a train wreck. “So…how is it?”

When I began to answer that question, I measured my answer against two things: our ideal of travelling and our ideal of parenting.

The Travel Ideal  When my wife and I travel, we optimize for having authentic experiences and challenging adventures. We eschew tourist infrastructure and instead seek out interesting experiences off the beaten path. We put ourselves in new situations that require us to rise to the challenge – whether rappelling waterfalls in Vietnam, navigating the public bus system across Croatia and Bosnia, or hitchhiking in Norway. We make every meal count by finding restaurants frequented by locals or touted by reviewers; it’s like we can smell a menu printed in multiple languages.

The Parenting Ideal  When with our kids, we optimize for parenting in a way that balances respect for them and their independence with providing safe and loving boundaries. We adjust the space to be as focused on “yes” as possible, taking away dangers and distractions that require a constant barrage of “no”. We optimize the schedule for their rhythms. We focus on child-led activities rather than dictating what we do. When possible, we let their choices lead the way.

When looking at our previous ideals, what emerges is this: it is impossible to travel the way we’d like to travel while parenting. And, it’s impossible to parent the way we’d like to parent while travelling.

So, back to the question at hand: how is it on the road with two little ones?

I find that I am grateful for the beautiful travel moments which I can steal while taking care of these two. That brief moment sitting under the pounding of the hot springs waterfall. The tropical fruits and sips of Costa Rican coffee before a long mealtime implodes. The massage in an open-air bungalow and speedy zipline tour while my wife takes care of the little ones.

zip

A moment away: zip-lining through the forests of Arenal

At the same time, I am grateful for the beautiful parenting moments which I can steal while travelling. Playing ‘telemarketer’ on the unplugged hotel room phone with my toddler. Making finger puppet shapes on the ceiling to entertain my newborn. Long talks around where things goes when you flush the toilet and unexpected potty training wins.

mom

A momemt together: hats on while on a “ride to school”

Yet, what I have been completely caught off-guard and delighted by are the new moments of integration in which travelling and parenting transform each other.  The best parts of this trip – and undoubtedly the most memorable – are the rare moments when it all happens together in a new and different way. The conversations with my toddler about how mud is made as I carry her through ankle-deep gunk in the jungle. The quiet moments breastfeeding my newborn son while looking out into the tropical rain. The kids’ reaction to a handful of white-nosed coatis wandering up to our hotel room window.

IMG_0122

A moment when it all comes together: white-nosed coati encounter

By combining the two, the nature of both parenting and traveling changes completely.  On the road, I become a different parent. I let go of optimizing their world for respectful, independent learning; I am more flexible and fluid. And with kids in tow, I become a different traveler. I don’t need everything to be perfectly authentic and perpetually challenging; I slow down, judge less, and see this place through their eyes.

So, am I eating more hotel hamburgers than I would like? Absolutely. And am I also delaying nap time to fit in one more store, one more museum, or one more dip in the pool? Yep. But, increasingly, instead of feeling like I am compromising on both sides, I feel like I am finding the beautiful integration of both.

Meredith

IMG_0270

To the next adventure

Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

How Did I Become A Single-Issue Voter?

2982449071_57fc209774

I returned to my hometown in Michigan this week to visit and introduce my grandparents to my newborn son, Hawk. Gathered in their living room, Grandpa told stories of working as a machinist in the auto industry, and Grandma knit another beautiful afghan. We ate egg salad sandwiches and homemade cake, cooed over the little one, and caught up on life. And yet, while our visits were lovely, they all happened in front of a backdrop of scathing purple-state attack ads. The muted television in the background prompted me to see that, while this narrow moment was perfect, there are so many challenges in the wider world.

The tone of the ads reminded me that we live in a country where intelligent discourse has fallen by the wayside, where there is little listening, and where both sides are guilty of unprincipled behavior and partisanship. All of that points to my bigger concern. As we approach Tuesday’s election, I am concerned about our fundamental respect for each other. I am concerned about human rights.

I look back on the past two years and see so many things that horrify me:  the rampant use of dehumanizing language, a failure to condemn white supremacists, threats to revoke citizenship of birthright Americans, separating children from their parents at the border, work to limit the rights of trans citizens; and, beyond our borders, our country’s complicity with the human rights abuses of other countries as we fail to hold them accountable.

We can talk about the economy, healthcare, education, foreign relations, or anything other political issue you’d like to debate; but, to me, all those have become secondary to our fundamental human rights. Events like the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh demonstrate how dire this issue has become, not only for the Jewish community, but for all of us. I am surprised and saddened that human rights need to be an issue at all, and yet, here we are.

I would say that the actions of this administration have reduced me to being a one issue voter, but that would be wrong in multiple ways. First, I am not reduced or diminished in any way; atrocities call forth my power instead of minimizing it. Second, the administration has not forced this upon me; I choose to stand up, first and foremost, for human rights.

And so:
I vote for treating each other as humans worthy of respect.
I vote for understanding people however different they may be from me.
I vote for erring on the side of compassion.
I vote against fear.
I vote against blame.
I vote against ‘other-izing’ our fellow humans.
I vote against using harmful descriptors (e.g., “animals”, “lowlifes”, “dogs”) which lead to harmful beliefs and increase the likelihood of harmful actions.

And so, how to vote?

In the past I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats, though I have trended towards the left as of late. That said, even if I didn’t mostly vote Democrat, I would in this election. Any Republican who has not openly, actively, and continuously disavowed the actions of this administration cannot claim to be a champion of human rights. And that is what we need right now. We need people who will openly and vocally disavow Trump’s actions even if they agree with his policies. We need to reestablish our foundation of how we are with each other instead of sacrificing it for superficial political wins – for it is only upon that foundation that of rights and respect that we can again engage in a thoughtful discourse to come to workable solutions.

The Talmud states that “who can protest and does not is an accomplice in the act.” If you’re a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or someone who formerly affiliated but now feels dismayed and dejected, please vote this Tuesday. And, for me, I will vote Democrat in order to make my stance as clear as possible: Human rights are at stake. I do not support anyone who, by commission or omission, accepts the atrocities of this administration.

I would love to hear your perspective on this especially if you disagree with me. I promise it will be met with an open mind and an open heart.

With love and listening,
Meredith