I love analogies. They can really help you see things from another perspective and be so empowering! So while on a challenging hike a few weeks ago, I came up with seven analogies about deciphering between good and bad advice, being the parent you want to be, asking for help when you are running on empty, seeing the beauty along the way, enduring when life is hard, and recognizing the progress you are making.
What is our kids’ potential?
So, as you know, the goal of Raising Today’s Kids is to help our kids reach their potential. But the other day I was pondering what exactly that means. How do you define success? We could claim that if our kids became olympic athletes, Hollywood stars, or president of the United States, then they would be officially successful.
But when I refer to success in our kids, I’m referring more to their level of goodness. Someone who will return the extra change the cashier gave them by mistake, who will let people cut in front of them when long lines of traffic are merging, someone who will make a sandwich for their hungry roommate, apologize when they show up late, clean up after their dog in the park. Someone who will skip a night of netflix to work on changing bad social policies, or help a new neighbor move in. Someone who will defend freedom and faith. Someone who will replace words of criticism with words of gratitude. Someone who will use light and love to drive out darkness and hate.
So after pondering this for a couple days, I asked my oldest daughter how she would define a successful person. The first thing she said was, “someone who is kind.” I loved that! Talk about a parenting win!
Our kids have talents and abilities that will help make the world a better place. And, as parents, we are in the perfect position to help them discover those talents and abilities and protect them from the things that could hold them back. We can’t put them in a bubble and keep all sadness and pain out, and we can’t move their feet forward toward the goals we want for them, but we can encourage, coach, and love them, providing fertile soil for their growth to take place.
Parenting Analogies from the Trail
So a few weeks ago, as we finished exploring the canyon in Zion National Park that I mentioned in last week’s episode, (the one where we repel into the ground carved out by flash floods, where we never know exactly what the trail will look like because of the trees, rocks, and debris that are left by the powerful water), so we were hiking the five miles out through sand, around cacti, and up and down steep hills, and while I slowly trekked, I came up with a little collection of analogies.
So here are seven of them:
1 - Follow Someone Who Has Gone Before
I was hiking along and my sister’s friend, who was leading the way, got a little bit ahead. Since the trail wasn’t super well-marked I wasn’t exactly sure which way he went. So I just looked down and paid attention to the footprints in the sand he was creating. I could tell which shoe marks were his so at that point I knew which way he went.
So sometimes in life we might get a little lost, maybe we’re struggling with our parenting and don’t have the answers we wish we had. At those times it can be so helpful to have someone who has gone before and led the way and can guide you with a few footsteps.
When my oldest daughter was born, I was so grateful to have a group of friends who each had young children as well. It was so nice to be able to talk to them about sleep strategies, and nursing woes, and what their favorite parenting resources were (like Baby Wise and Parenting with Love & Logic). It seems like every single time I am with other moms, I come away with new parenting insights I hope to incorporate.
My sister, sisters-in-law, my mom, and other mothers in my life have also been great mentors.
At the same time, there are plenty of people around to give bad advice, which the next analogy covers.
2 - Don’t Be Deceived By False Cairns
So as we were hiking out of the canyon, we saw lots of cairns. Cairns are piles of rocks that mark the trail when there’s some kind of a fork or multiple directions you could go. They can make a big difference in your ability to reach your destination. Unfortunately, sometimes people come along and just throw up cairns randomly. Maybe they don’t realize what they’re doing. Maybe they just think it’s fun to make stacks of rocks, and don’t realize people will use them as trail markers. And maybe there are people who are intentionally deceptive.
So in parenting, be careful which cairns you’re following. Pay attention to where they’re leading you. If you’re getting closer to your goals or are heading in the ultimate direction you want to go, or just feel peace, then that’s a sign it’s a good cairn. Sometimes there are people who give bad advice, or people who try to tell you what’s right and wrong for your kids when they don’t know their personality or what their needs are. Remember the direction you’re going and the goals you have for your family. Work toward your long-term objectives, keeping in mind your children are individuals and it takes intentional parenting, individually. No one size fits all.
So Baby Wise, the book that helped me sleep train my first child (she slept through the night before she was two months old!), was only good as a fire starter for my second child.
I remember one time I was out with a bunch of girl friends, and I asked one of them, who had six kids (so she was a superwoman in my eyes), what I should do about my daughter (who was probably three at the time) who wanted to carry her blankie around with her all the time. I didn’t know if I should let her bring it to the store, etc. I was really hoping for THE solution that would be my go to. After all, she had six kids so she should know, right?! I’ll never forget what she told me. She said, “You have to figure that out for yourself. No one knows what’s best for your child except you.” It was not the answer I wanted, but it has served me well, and helped me watch out for bad advice over the years.
3 - It’s Not Too Late
It’s great to start early in the morning when you’re hiking in Zion’s because it gets very hot in the summer. We went at the end of June and it was 97° Fahrenheit for a high, and that was not bad for that region, that time of year. So our plan was to get up early and get a good head start before the sun came up. Unfortunately, we took a little longer to get out the door than we thought and started hiking an hour later than we planned. It was still beautiful, but we had a little more time in the sun. That meant we got hot sooner than we would have, so we had to work harder and needed more water than maybe we would have.
There may be times when you feel like you’ve dropped the ball as a parent. Maybe you’re feeling a whole lot of “coulda, shoulda, woulda.”
When you feel like you’ve messed up as a parent, recognize that it’s ok. Sometimes there are parenting skills we don’t learn until later on. Or we find out that certain techniques work better for a certain child than another one. Or we feel a yearning to recommit to our faith or values after stepping away from them. You can’t go back and erase the tantrums and the parenting fails, you just might have to work a little harder to overcome bad habits or whatever it is, but it’s not too late to make a change or to incorporate new ideas or to just parent in a more efficient way…
I used to lose my patience with my kids much too often. I hated that about myself, but no matter how hard I tried, there were too many moments when I couldn’t control my temper. I remember a friend saying, “you’re such a sweet, gentle mom. I can’t imagine you ever yelling at your kids.” My kids and I sure could. I felt like such a hypocrite. So I worked and worked at it. I put little inspiring quotes up around my house that reminded me of my desire to be patient. I discovered patterns that led to being overwhelmed or exhausted and took steps to simplify or rest when I could so I didn’t push myself over the edge. I prayed for help. I talked to my kids about my goal and apologized when I messed up. I’m still far from perfect. But I know I have come a long way, and I am a huge believer in progress.
4 - Ask For Help
We were about a mile from the end of our hike, when my husband asked me if I had any extra water. He thought he was out (but later realized there had just been a pinch in his bladder tube, which could be another analogy!). He could have been tempted to not say anything and just suffer without water for another mile on the desert trail, but instead he reached out to his team. I didn’t have much, but what I had, I was happy to share.
So when you find yourself running on empty, reach out to your team. Reach out to the people around you. Sometimes that means taking people up on watching your kids or letting them serve you in some other way… if you’re going through a rough patch and people say, “what can I do to help you?” take them up on that.
Sometimes people rush to your help, like when they see that you got your hair stuck in your caribeener on a repel, and sometimes you have to ask for help when you’re the only one who knows you’re out of water.
Once, when my second daughter was sick with roseola, I had spent the night sleeping on the floor next to her crib because I was so worried about her high fever. The next morning she was fine, but I woke up with the WORST kinked neck! I literally couldn’t lift my head. I definitely couldn’t lift my daughter out of her crib. I am a very independent person and like to solve my own problems, but I knew this one was beyond me. I called my friend Natalie and asked if she could help. She sacrificed her morning and came right over and helped me get my baby up and fed and dressed. Then she loaded all of us up into her car and drove me to the chiropractor. While I got adjusted, she entertained my kids. Then she took me to get a muscle relaxant and took us all home. I guess I could have downed a bunch of ibuprofen and suffered in silence, but who would that benefit? Definitely not my kids!
5 - See the Beauty
Don’t forget to look around and see the beauty of the trail. Sometimes when you’re hiking you’re so focused on making sure your foot lands in the right place, because you don’t want to twist your ankle or stub your toe or trip over something, so you’re careful where you step. That’s so important, but usually when you’re hiking there’s a beautiful view to be seen! So remember to stop and look up.
It can be hard to enjoy the view, especially when you’re hiking uphill in the sand and the sand is filling up your shoes and you’ve also got needles from cacti in your feet and you’re running out of water and you’re tired, it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished.
It’s the same thing with our kids – I’m so grateful that childhood passes in phases and that each phase lasts a certain period of time and then you get to do a new phase. Sometimes you trade a good one for a challenging one, or a challenging one for another challenging one. Regardless of where you’re at, there is always beauty to be seen.
Yesterday my kids and I were pulling into our driveway and my 11 year old daughter and I happened to make a comment at the same. Cadence said, “Our flowers are so beautiful” at the exact same time I said, “Ugh, our weeds are driving me crazy!” I was so glad she totally called me out on it. She was like, “why are you so focused on the weeds? Can’t you be positive and enjoy the flowers?” She was so right. There is always good and bad to be seen, and we will find what we are looking for.
6 - Life Is Hard
Sometimes when you’re canyoneering you find yourself required to jump in a pool of nasty rancid fetid water. You did nothing to create that water but it’s just part of life. You can’t control it, but you can get through it. Just close your mouth, put your backpack in a dry bag, or toss it to someone on the other side, and swim across. Then jump in the clean river when you get there. (Or in our case, we got to dive into a hot spring!)
Sometimes there are tough situations in life that are out of our control. They might be caused by choices that your children or your spouse or your parents or other people in your life have made. Others might do things that are really hard to understand or accept or live with. Just do what you need to do to be healthy, and help your loved ones be healthy, and then move forward. Eventually you’ll come to your own hot spring.
According to my husband, one of the hardest thing he’s gone through in life was his parents’ divorce. He did nothing to contribute to their choice to split up, and he even tried to intervene and prevent it. But in the end, it was their decision to make. All he could do was move forward by nurturing relationships with his parents and brothers, and be the best husband and father he knows how to be.
7 - Recognize Progress
Sometimes after you’ve hiked in the sand for like ten miles and you are exhausted and you cannot see the end and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you just can’t imagine reaching your destination because you’re so stuck in the moment. (I’ve never felt that way, can you tell??) That’s when it’s a good time to remember what Thomas S. Monson, one of my heroes said, “Life by the yard is hard; by the inch it’s a cinch.” So in hiking I set little goals …just get to that tree, and then get to that rock, and then get to that bush. And eventually the end comes!!
Sometimes in parenting it just feels like certain struggles are never going to end. They will, eventually, so look for little wins, little milestones, little victories. Set your sights just a little bit ahead and celebrate when you reach there. Then look back and see how far you’ve come!
People always tell me, enjoy your kids while they’re young. It goes so fast! Of course, it doesn’t feel fast when you’re in the thick of it. And sometimes I want to roll my eyes at those well-meaning people. But last winter, a friend of mine was talking to me about her family summer plans. She was being very intentional about planning family vacations and other events because, she said, “we only have four summers left with all of us.” Her oldest daughter starts 9th grade next month, so it’s full-speed ahead in making it count! That felt so real to me. If I count childhood down by summers, it makes me want to completely hone in on my kids and soak up all this time I have with them.
So, to summarize, the things I learned from the trail are:
1 – Follow someone who has gone before
2 – Don’t be deceived by false cairns, or bad advice.
3 – It’s not too late to be the parent you want to be.
4 – Ask for help when you are running on empty.
5 – See the beauty along the way.
6 – Life is hard. There are some things you just need to trek through.
7 – Recognize the progress you are making.
I hope something that hike taught me can help you in some way. I hope you’re having a great summer. You are a fantastic parent!
Thanks for listening, and have an awesome day!