What Do I Do Right?

Do Right

I’m taking part in Elly Taylor’s, Becoming Us Facilitator Training, and it’s fantastic! This training is based on her book, Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family That Thrives. I love this book as it aims to prepare couples by presenting them with normal, realistic expectations for the transition to parenthood. Through this training, I’m learning how to “plant seeds” for my expectant couples so their transition to new parenthood goes as smoothly as possible.

This work is not necessarily new to me and the way I teach, but going through this training has allowed me to look in-depth at the incredible transition that women and their partners go through as they become parents to a newborn. This is a life-changing event, after all, and we need to do better in preparing our families for all of the changes that will be happening to them as individuals and as a couple. This is why I’m taking part in this advanced training. I’m weaving Elly’s work into my current curriculum to better prepare my families with realistic expectations that go far beyond the birth itself.

The module that I’ve most enjoyed so far is learning more about the challenges new parents have in grappling with their lowered sense of identity and self-esteem as they move into their new roles. We’ve definitely moved away from the idea of parents receiving a boost to their self-esteem by other members of the larger culture when they start a family. The idea of ushering in the next generation as a role of honor, just isn’t a part of our cultural identity any longer.

In a society that elevates the material world and success is measured in how much money you make, the work parents do to raise their children doesn’t even rate in our collective consciousness. It’s barely recognized, let alone given any extrinsic value. When we look at parenting through this cultural lens, it starts to become obvious why the identities and self-esteem levels of new parents, both men and women, take a hit.

To address this issue, I’ll sometimes talk about parenting in a way that resonates with my student’s experience up to this point: Parenting is a job. But it’s not just any job, it’s the job – the one you’ve been focused on getting for the past year at least, maybe even longer and finally, you land that job.

And it ends up being the hardest freaking job you’ve ever had.

The hours suck. There’s no pay, no vacation time. Your mentors aren’t that helpful because they were trained about 25-30 years ago, and things have changed – a lot. There are so many different manuals with conflicting information about every aspect of this job, that you just stop reading them.

If you’re lucky, you have partner to help you in this new job – but guess what? They were hired the exact same day you were and they don’t seem to know any more than you do about the right way to get this job done. Plus, they’re as sleep-deprived and resentful of the “No-Pay Policy” as you are, so morale in the office is really, really, low.

But maybe the worst part of this job? You don’t get to have regular job reviews with a supervisor that can sit you down, talk with you about what a great job you’re doing, provide helpful feedback with some of the challenges you’re facing, and ultimately encourage you to keep going. No one is there to remind you that this job is important, it matters, it has meaning, and even if the payoff is hard to see right now, it’s completely worth it.

When we come from a world where we get regular pats on the back for a job well done, being thrown into the job of being responsible for your newborn’s life without any of that regular feedback can be really hard. And in some ways, it’s harder on men who become fathers than it is for women who become mothers. Men today, who really want to be much more involved, might not have a strong role model in their own father. They might end up feeling like they’re playing catch-up to their partner who may have been encouraged in her role as mother since she was a young girl through (stereotypical) ideas of nurturance, play, and babysitting.

But studies show that identity and self-esteem of both men and women are lower after they become parents. They’re often floored by how much they don’t know about parenting, how much “on-the-job-training” comes with having a baby, and often feel like they have to defend their parenting choices, or be ready to criticize other parenting choices as a way to lessen their own feelings of vulnerability in this new role.

I think waiting for our culture to provide parents with a pat on the back for a job well done will be an exercise in futility. I’m not sure it’s worth waiting for. Depending on the relationship, we may or may not get any positive feedback even from our own parents. Which is harsh to say, but true. Still, this issue needs to be addressed as it has long-term implications for new parents as individuals, as well as their couple relationship. 

I think the obvious person we need to look to in this situation, is our partner.

Our partner is the only person that understands the level of sacrifice, the long hours, the hard work, and the immense love that we have for our children. They’re the only ones that can provide us with feedback as to how we’re doing in this new job. And studies show that what our partner says about our parenting has the greatest impact on our feelings of identity and self-esteem.

Take the time to let your partner know that you think they’re doing a great job as a parent in this shared “work project.” Try to focus on the positive – remember that this job will become exponentially harder on both of you, if you end up doing it by yourself from two different job sites. Instead of telling your partner what they could do better, focus on what it is they’re already doing really well.

We need to know that the person who is intimately connected with the work that we’re doing day in and day out, respects us and the tireless work we do to parent our newborn, toddler, tween, teenager and young adult. Because it never ends, this parenting gig. And to have a committed partner in parenting makes this job so much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Tell your partner one thing that you love about how they parent – today. It will give their parenting identity and self-esteem a very much needed boost!

This whole blog post was prompted today by this song  by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack I heard on the way to school drop-off this morning. And because everything somehow connects to the worlds of pregnancy, birth and parenting, I give you this as a reminder of how it can start to feel if we forget to tell each other what we do right as parents.

Were you surprised by a lowered sense of identity and self-esteem after you became a parent? How do you and your partner acknowledge one another in your role as parents? Isn’t every day as a parent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?

What’s Your “Love Language?”

Love

My parents have been married for close to 60 years! Isn’t that incredible? Even more incredible is that they are still very much in love with one another. There’s is not a story of staying together just because they have a shared history and six children, fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, to consider. No, I’m certain that if asked they would say they’re more in love today, almost six decades later, than the day they married. How is that even possible? If you were to ask my father I’m pretty sure he’d tell you that it all boils down to this: being thoughtful.

We have a very romanticized view of what love is supposed to look like and feel like. That image gets planted like a tiny seed when we’re little kids. Disney is full of romantic stories where true love always wins the day. And adult depictions of love aren’t any better. Any rom-com worth seeing will show impossibly gorgeous people who overcome all obstacles put in their paths, to then drive off into the sunset together – a life full of incredible sex and romance to keep them happy all the rest of their days.

That’s a pretty amazing and idealistic view of love, but I’m guessing that even if you’ve had the good fortune to swoon in the early days, when you were just forming that romantic attachment to your partner, that you’ve also realized that this type of love is not super sustainable over the long-haul. There has to be something else to fall back on as a couple to allow the waxing and waning of romantic love to flow as it does over a lifetime of loving one another.

So how does “being thoughtful” fit into this idea of love? It doesn’t sound very romantic.

I think thoughtfulness is the foundation for the concept of “Love Languages.” Have you heard of these? Dr. Gary Chapman has written a whole book based on this concept. Basically, there are five different ways people express their love to one another: Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts,. If you’re interested, you can read much more about “Love Languages” here in an article written just a couple of days ago on lifehacker. I feel lucky that my husband and I figured out each other’s love language before this concept had ever been discovered! I think speaking one another’s love language can really help a couple keep communication and intimacy happening during the normal waning period of romantic love. Something to tide you over until that romantic love returns again.

Early on in our marriage, I would go out of my way to pick up my husband’s dry cleaning so that he wouldn’t have to do it later in the day. When I came home and handed it to him with a flourish, he’d barely acknowledge what I’d done and would mumble a quick, “Oh, thanks.” And I would fume silently. “Doesn’t he appreciate me and all I do for him?!” Clearly, I’m an “Acts of Service” kind of gal. I express love by doing things for other people and I feel especially loved by others when they do things for me.

In contrast, my husband used to say nice things to me all the time, “I love that dress!” and I’d respond with, “What this? I’ve had it for years – I think it’s old and ugly.” And I’d watch as he deflated before my very eyes. See, he’s a “Words of Affirmation” dude. He expresses love by telling others what he thinks is wonderful about them, and feels most loved when he is acknowledged by others through verbal affirmation.

Once we figured this out, and started trying to speak one another’s love language, instead of defaulting to speaking our own, things began to change. And today, I take the time to let my husband know when I think he looks extra sharp going off to work. Or better yet, when I tell him what a great Dad he is to our children, he stands about three inches taller! And if he sees that I’ve had a long day, pours me a glass of red wine, offers to put the kids to bed and finish up the dishes while I sit and watch some bad reality TV? He’s probably going to get lucky later on, because he’s definitely speaking my language!

In my classes I have couples do a quick 5-minute assessment that I’ve created based on the actual quiz that you can find here. And I challenge them to start consciously speaking the other’s primary love language. At first, honestly it can feel completely fake and cheesy. But a really interesting thing starts happen as you’re actively working to speak in the language your partner responds to best: you are practicing thoughtfulness. You are thinking of your partner deliberately and trying to show them how much you love them. And oftentimes, they respond with more thoughtfulness and this lovely circle of positive feedback starts to surround you both.

Then 60 years go by and you’re even more in love than the day you met!

Okay, so there’s probably going to be a lot more stuff that goes on between speaking one another’s love language and being happily married for 60 years, but I think it’s a great place to start. Give it a try as a couple – it only really works if you’re both willing to invest the time and attention this deserves. I think you’ll find it really helps to strengthen your relationship. This is a great thing to do even before baby arrives – but it’s never too late to try to speak to each other with love.

Have you heard of “Love Languages” before? Have you ever tried “speaking” your partner’s love language instead of your own? How did it feel for you? Did you find that it strengthened your relationship?