After watching the movie Bad Moms and reading several articles about the ridiculous expectations that are placed on moms these days, I felt compelled to write about a different way to evaluate ourselves as parents. I laugh as I recall from my childhood my mom yelling sweetly from her bed “Have a nice day!” as I ran off to catch the bus for school. She did not feel obligated to wake me up, make my breakfast and make sure I made it to the bus on time. But she did see it as her duty to bring me to all the latest movies and made sure that we watched Happy Days together every Tuesday night. As she would explain, without guilt, she is simply not a morning person, but she is a night person. So we benefited from the nighttime activities and fended for ourselves in the morning. My mom played to her strengths and I think she was a much happier mom for it.
Today, we, like our children, are expected to be good at everything. I am here to argue that we should go back to that aspect of 1970s parenting (not the seatbelt-less and lack of rearview cameras 1970s). Let’s connect with our rebellious side and give ourselves a break.
The first step is to identify YOUR strengths. After all, you may hate to watch Happy Days and may really enjoy waking your kids up in the morning. And that is ok. I for one gave up doing arts and crafts with my kids years ago. I find it mind numbingly boring and I have absolutely no artistic talent. Baking with my kids and eating our creations are strengths of mine and I have done tons of that with my kids. For me baking with my kids gives me the same happiness that arts and crafts may provide for a different mom.
We all can share our love for our kids in different ways. My husband has tons of inside jokes with the kids. He loves to make up nicknames and to get to know their friends. He also loves to talk about sports with my son – which is something I will never ever understand, and thankfully he can help my daughter with math. I, on the other hand, am amazing at helping my kids when they are anxious or worried. “Worried” is my middle name and runs in my family back to the dark ages, so throw any fear my way and I am ready to calm, soothe and empathize.
So what are your strengths and how can you play to them? Not easy to come up with right? As Mary Reckmeyer says in her book Strengths Based Parenting “Talents are so innate, so ever-present, that you might not even realize you have them. In fact, people typically think that whatever talents they have everybody has.” In contrast, what if I asked you what your weaknesses are? Of course that list is already embedded in your brain ready to roll off your tongue. Sadly, focusing on weaknesses is often a waste. We should only focus on our weaknesses to the extent they interfere with our pursuing our strengths. Focusing on our strengths provides much more bang for our buck.
I recently wrote a blog about Job Crafting, where I discussed current research on how people can craft their jobs to enhance their job satisfaction. The good news is that the same approach applies to our jobs as parents. If we design our parental roles with our strengths in mind, we will enjoy parenting more. For example, I love to read. During one road trip I read my family one of the books I was reading. Everyone got hooked. After that, I would tell my family about each book I was reading as I read it. I loved keeping them informed of the twists and turns in the plot and my secret hope is that they end up loving reading as much as I do. My sister-in-law shares her love of the ocean and hiking with her kids by spending hours in the ocean jumping the waves
with them or finding cool hikes wherever they go. My sister shares her fun and creative spirit with her kids by creating awesome family traditions and incredible birthday parties and sleepovers. My best friend shares her comedic timing with her kids and helps everyone laugh at themselves and not take life too seriously. Each family benefits from their parents being their authentic selves instead of mimicking some ridiculous ideal.
The village approach to parenting is essential for this idea of focusing on our strengths. Fortunately, I have a village of friends and family who can share their talents with my kids. We don’t have to be good at everything, but if we build rich and solid relationships in our lives, we can fill in the gaps.
Begin to pay attention to your strengths and what you enjoy to figure out how you can craft your job as a parent. Then, think about how you can utilize your village to help you with your lesser strengths (aka “weaknesses”). Parenting does not need to be so hard! Maybe we should all try yelling from our bed one morning “Have a nice day!” as our kids run out to catch their school bus.