Shut Down the Mommy Guilt by Teaching Kids Through Your Own Failures

Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Like every parent out there, I want the best for my kids.

And I realize that my kids have the best shot in life if I give them 100% every day. The best teaching, the best example, the best guidance.

So it hurts when I’m not at my best and I wish I could be.

But this helps.

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.” -CS Lewis

I am a good mom because I know what I need to change to be better.

I am a good mom because I try to make those changes every day.

And I am a good mom because I don’t stop when it gets tough.

So when those evil voices in my head try to tear me down, this is what I do.

  • Shut them up.

I hate those voices in my head that tell me that I can’t do it, that I’m a bad parent, that I’m not good enough. They are noisy, obnoxious, and negative.

The only good thing about them is that they aren’t real. They don’t represent reality. They don’t accurately portray who I am. And I’m the only one who can hear them. Nobody else is thinking what they are saying to me.

That gives me a lot of power.

All I have to do to shut them up is to think about anything else. Two thoughts can’t fit in my brain at the same time, especially a positive thought and a negative thought. If I focus on the positives in my life, the negatives just don’t have any room left. Or if I think about someone else and what I can do to help them, there just isn’t any space for those nasty thoughts left.

I have the power to shut them up.

For more on this topic, click the image below.

  • Be objective.

People who aren’t directly involved in a situation weirdly tend to see clearer what is happening. That’s because they aren’t confused by the overwhelming emotions and chaos of the moment.

When I am trying to make changes in myself, it helps to step back and take the role of an outside observer.

I ask myself, “If a good friend came to me with my exact situation, what would I advise him to do? What would I suggest that he change?”

If a good friend needed my help, I wouldn’t judge him or criticize him for the situation he is in! So I don’t judge or criticize myself as I think through what I want to fix about my parenting.

I just think logically about where I am now, where I want to be, and what reasonable steps lay between.

Then I take the first step.

  • Pick one thing.

Change doesn’t happen all at once, like turning on a light switch. It’s usually little by little, like a sunrise, that you become who and what you want to be.

So start with a reasonable, attainable goal.

What can I accomplish today?                                                                                                                               

After a day or two of success, I feel more capable of expanding my goal. Once I build my confidence, I build on the original goal.

What can I accomplish in one week?

Little by little, I become a different person with new habits and attitudes. More like my ideal self. And it shows in my parenting.

  • Accept setbacks.

In all this, I have to remember that setbacks will happen.

Just because I’m making progress toward a goal doesn’t mean that I am suddenly a perfect person- and I shouldn’t expect perfection of myself.

There will be days that I take a step backward instead of moving forward.

Sometimes there is a week or a month or a year that I seem to slide backward.

But that just means that I have more opportunity to move forward again in the future. It’s never too late to become a better person, a better parent.

  • Teach!

Our kids learn wonderful things from watching parents struggle through their own life challenges. Kids learn that they don’t have to be any one thing. They learn from their parents’ example that they can change if they want to- and they learn HOW to do so. Showing kids that life is difficult (but not impossible!) prepares them to accomplish difficult things in their own lives.

Don’t shelter your children from your failures. Let them see.

If they think you are perfect, they will think that they should be perfect when they reach  adulthood. And that would be a nasty surprise when they reach adulthood and find themselves to be imperfect.

And imagine how you and your child can celebrate together when you reach your goals! Show your child that it was all worth it. That you did it- you handled the pain and fear and frustration and you overcame the odds.

Show them, and then they can do it too.

They will use you as inspiration when life gets challenging.

How ironic that they are often our inspiration too.

So decide today what you want to be, and go and make it happen.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

P.S. Want to help your children learn to control the voice in their heads? Help them have a positive inner voice using this resource! Click the image below!

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Is Honesty The Best Policy (For a Parent)?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

 

Honesty is a tough thing.

I think everyone wants to be honest until the moment when they get caught in a mistake or an embarrassing situation. We don’t want to disappoint others, we don’t want them to think less of us, we don’t want to be punished, we think there is something we can gain from the lie, we are trying to fit a mold, or we want to feel better about ourselves.

It just seems easier to fudge the truth.

And why not? Who does it hurt anyways? Is honesty really the “best policy?” 

  • Effect on Self

Let’s begin by making sure we are all on the same page about what a lie is. The definition of a lie is deceit on purpose. I’m not talking about all those times when someone legitimately didn’t know that they were in the wrong. I mean deliberately changing the facts for your own benefit.

If lies are deliberate, is it possible to lie to yourself?

Yes.

Albert Adler called this a “life lie”. It’s the act of trying to trick yourself into being something else- something holy, with good intentions, who never did any wrong. It’s hiding your mistakes from yourself. You might even start to believe it after a while, but like any lie, in the moment of creation you knew it wasn’t true.

The problem with hiding from your truths is that you never learn any real and lasting lessons from your life.

Living perfectly isn’t living. It’s ok that you’re not perfect. If you were, you’d be bored. And a perfect life wouldn’t include boredom- so I guess it just isn’t possible.

Life is full of mistakes and accidents. Each time we rule out something that isn’t effective in our relationships, in our parenting, in our jobs, we get a step closer to becoming effective in those areas. Without this individual education, we couldn’t know who we are, what we want, or where we’re going in life. 

Every time you trick your brain, you condition yourself to be a certain way. You condition yourself to be a liar. You lose some of your character, some of your strength to tell the truth or to be who you should be.

Your brain only activates regions in your brain that are being used. That means if you lie, your brain is actively creating connections that support your lie. That’s why people start to believe it after a while. It’s also what makes lies addicting. Your brain is stuck in those working connections.

Consider all the prison guards in the Nazi camps. Yes, this is an extreme example- but it illustrates how far things can go when people lie to themselves.

These prison guards did terrible, horrendous things. They were normal people like you and me at some point in their life. But, they denied their inner conscience (which surely told them in the beginning that it is wrong to harm innocent people).

They didn’t just deny their conscience once- they denied it over and over again.

At first, there were small things that didn’t seem consequential, like accepting that they were a better than others because of their race. Then treating others like they were lesser humans. Then stealing property from others because of their race… On and on until they justified to themselves- despite the pleadings of their human side- that they could physically abuse others.

As they repeatedly lied to themselves, they slowly lost the ability to differentiate the truth. They forgot how to use their own moral compass to point them north. With their brain conditioning to act according to the will of their leaders and not to respond to their own feelings, they lost the ability to stand up for themselves until they were stuck in something much bigger than themselves.

The only remedy is to start telling the truth.

Flip this process on its head. Start your brain to creating new connections- ones that support the truth. Build your character to be stronger than it is today- step by step. Tell one truth, and get a little stronger. Tell another, and you’ll gain a little confidence. Keep it up, and you’ll start forming a habit.

Lying to yourself or to others hurts your soul. It weakens your character. It is childishly seeking your own good at the expense of others. It is failure to accept responsibility or consequences for your actions or thoughts.

Do yourself a favor. Tell the truth. You don’t have to shell out everything about your personal life to everyone you come into contact with. You don’t even have to answer questions that are directly posed to you if you don’t want to.

But don’t deliberately deceive others or yourself.

For more information on transforming your life through honesty, click the image below!

  • Effect on Children

Let’s apply this to parenthood.

What do you imagine your child becoming when they are an adult?

I’m sure they are smart, successful, confident, in control of their lives, capable, and effective. They make wise choices and positively influence the people around them. They have families, careers, educations, and happiness.

That’s every parent’s dream for their kids.

Honesty directly influences those marks of being successful in two ways.

  1. What are the odds that the person described in section 1 could raise a kid like that?

Kids learn from our example.

If we constantly lie to ourselves, the kid will know it. Kids pick up on much less.

They know the difference between what we say and what we do. They know when we are hypocritical or when we fail to practice what we preach.

Kids whose parents lie learn to lie. And they learn to mistrust others.

2. Let’s say your kid learns to lie from watching you or others around him. He becomes the person described in section 1. What are the odds that the person described in section 1 could have all those positive qualities that you wish for your child?

Yes, he no doubt has some positive qualities, but he is short changing himself.

If your child learns to lie to himself, it will be much more difficult for him to develop into the person you want him to be.

Is a liar smart, successful, confident, in control of their lives, capable, and effective?

You tell me. And don’t lie.

Click the images below for more resources on teaching children to tell the truth!

  • Effect on Society

Imagine a whole civilization of people who accept lies as a part of daily life. They try to deceive each other deliberately on a regular basis. It’s not too hard to imagine because it’s not too far from our reality.

There is mass decrease in character in society as a whole. (We know that such a mass falling from grace is possible from watching societies like Nazi Germany.)

In our culture, most people accept that lies are bad- unless it’s themselves telling the lie. And then the reasons justify the deception. We see this all the time- at work, in marriages, on TV, on social media, and definitely in politics.

People don’t stand up for their true beliefs. They trick themselves into fitting the mold (a mold of shame, hiding, and embarrassment).

Each generation teaches the next one to continue this path, which makes each new generation more and more stuck in bad habits. And then we’re stuck- controlled by forces beyond our control, living at the whim of what the majority wants for us instead of what we want for ourselves.

There it is.

Lies influence society as a whole, not just the people involved in the lie.

Can you imagine a society that didn’t live like this? What if we lived in a culture that was so honest that we could trust our politicians? I can’t even imagine that…. But I’m excited about any small step we can take toward that.

Click on the image below!

Be a strong individual. Be in control. Be honest.

There is no such thing as an innocent lie. It impacts your soul and your character. This impacts your parenting. This impacts society.

The truth matters. Being real matters.

Tell the truth. Always.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

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What About Me? For Parents Who Need More

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

 

So, you’re a parent.

That probably means you haven’t had sleep, money, time, or energy for yourself in…. how old is your oldest? That many years. Plus about 9 months for the pregnancy.

That much dedication is draining.

It can zap our will to keep going.

Here is what it looks like to me:

Parents who are too emotionally drained start wondering where they lost themselves to the demands of their children. Then they feel terrible, because what kind of a selfish person would take good care of themselves when their kids’ every whim goes unmet?

So they buckle down and make themselves focus on the kids even more. The feelings of wishing for something better keeps coming back, followed by the mommy- or daddy-guilt. This cycle eventually builds into resentment towards the child for keeping you from your hopes and dreams AND for keeping you in a constant state of guilt for not being the perfect parent. But the parent keeps trying to be a good parent.

They flip flop between resentment, which causes them to be impatient and harsh towards their children, and the guilt, which causes them to coddle and pamper their children in an attempt to fix the resentment with false love. The kids are confused because of this flip flopping and don’t know what to expect from mom or dad. This can cause the children to act out, which frustrates the parent.

The parent continues in a vicious spiral downward until they stop and fix the initial problem.

(By the way, I’m not dramatizing this. I’ve seen it in action and it’s a scary thing. It can cause child abuse, suicide, and other scary side effects when this cycle has taken its tole for an extended period of time.)

And what is the problem?

We all need things. The basics include food, water, and shelter- you know, survival stuff. But there are other needs like feeling emotionally connected with people, feeling sexually fulfilled, feeling safe, feeling competent, feeling proud of yourself, etc.

Click the image below!

And every parent needs a reminder to take care of those things for themselves. And a reminder that taking care of themselves is not selfish.

I believe that every parent has felt twinges of resentment towards their children at times.

After all, they do keep us from doing things we want, and that’s not fun.

So here’s what I do when I start to notice the beginnings of resentment in my parenting.

  • Don’t React

Like, you know, yelling or swearing or whatever other less-than-perfect discipline strategies I use when I respond without thinking.

That’s the first step for me- Don’t react.

If I do, I get myself and my kids deeper into a negative situation. Then, I have to deal with that before I can leave to take care of my own needs- which often means that I’m drained and resentful while trying to manage my way through a delicate parenting situation.

It just doesn’t work for me.

So the best situation is to wait to react. Then I don’t make things worse right when I really need a break the most.

Of course, this is so much easier said than done.

I usually realize that I have some unmet needs when I flip a lid for no good reason. Only then do I stop to ask myself, “What is really going on here?”

That’s when I realize how drained I am.

It’s not the best method, and I’m working on fixing it, but the silver lining is that I usually can stop myself from flipping a lid in the future once I’m aware of my own needs.

So one bad moment can prevent future bad moments.

  • Listen to Myself

A better solution is to be aware of my needs before I flip a lid.

I find that my body and mind give me clues to my own stability constantly- but they are easy to miss if I’m busy. These clues could be things like:

  • A headache
  • Forgetting to eat or drink
  • Letting my kids get away with things that they usually wouldn’t get away with
  • Forgetfulness
  • Being late for things
  • Not putting effort into daily things- like getting dressed or putting on makeup
  • Short temper with my kids and my husband
  • Assuming that people around me have bad intentions in the things they do

Of course, not all of these things will apply to everyone, but these are some of the warning signs that tell me I’m forgetting to take care of myself.

If I can catch these things sooner, I can take action to fix the problem before I melt down.

When things get busy, it is hard to stop to evaluate yourself.

Self-evaluations can be difficult. You often don’t notice the effects of burnout in yourself until it’s done, even though there are warning signs. I often think to myself, “I can handle this. I can keep going.” But that’s the problem. I have to force myself to take a break before I am at the point where I can’t keep going.

For more information about stress management, click the image below!

It’s like swimming out into the ocean. You can swim as far as you like, as long as you have the energy to get back to shore. If you swim until you are exhausted, you will be unable to get back and you will drown.

So, don’t be afraid to give yourself the relief you need early on. This will help prevent burnout rather than recovering from it.

  • Assess my Children’s Situation

This is the part of the process where you have to balance your responsibilities as a parent and your individuality as a human being.

That’s really tricky.

I have two rules of thumb about how to proceeded from here.

First rule- Once I have identified a need in myself, I next need to assess the severity of the need.

The ideal is that I would catch it soon so that I have a few days to find a good time for myself. If I can do that, I can take the steps I need to fix it. These could include:

  • Arranging a babysitter
  • Giving my husband a heads up that he might need to take the kids for an evening
  • Shopping for a treat
  • Finding quiet time after the kids are in bed
  • Arranging an outing

If I don’t catch it in time, I might only have hours or minutes to take care of myself before I have a freak out.

Second rule- Take care of the kids’ needs, not ALL their wants.

Click the image below!

Now is no time to be a super mom.

Now is time to simplify.

Again, this is balancing between parenting responsibilities and my own well being.

I can’t neglect the kids and I can’t neglect myself. So I have to figure out the difference between what HAS to happen and what COULD happen. I do a lot of extra things during the day that can be cut out during times of crisis. These might include:

  • Shopping (Usually there’s enough bits and pieces around the house to scrounge up a meal or having a few things in the freezer can save you on bad days.)
  • Cleaning (It can wait til tomorrow.)
  • Laundry (There’s always something to wear in the back of the closet.)
  • Dishes (That’s what paper plates are for!!)
  • Errands
  • Cooking (Cereal for dinner is just fine once and a while!)

Eliminating even one of these things might be enough to lighten the load.

There are things in my routine that I never will give up, even on hard days. You’ll have to make your own list of what is important to you and remember those essentials.

These are the only things I have to worry about during a crisis:

  • Hygiene for everyone (kids and myself)
  • School and homework
  • Meals (I mean that the kids won’t go hungry- but I still stand by my comment about cereal for dinner.)
  • Work (As in my work and my husband’s work- we still gotta have jobs to support our family!)
  • Safety

That’s it. Bare bones. These are the things we absolutely need to survive and retain our standing as responsible parents.

It’s strangely relieving to simplify.

Just switching my focus is sometimes enough to give me the break I need. Just remembering that I don’t HAVE to do it all can give me the strength to do the essentials.

I want to take a minute to talk about those times when I only have hours or minutes to take care of myself or I’ll lose it.

There’s no time to plan a getaway.

And this usually happens in the thick of things, so the kids are usually right there and they need me.

And there is the problem. They need me, but I have nothing to give.

Stick to the two rules- Assess the severity of your needs (we now know that this instance is very severe) and take care of the kids’ needs, not wants. That means your kids’ needs within the next 10 minutes, which are usually very simple. They just need to be safe for 10 minutes. They don’t have to have their lunch in the next 10 minutes, so feel free to postpone eating. They don’t have to finish their homework in the next 10 minutes, so feel free to take a break from it.

Start there. Try to stay calm. Where is safe for them while you have some quiet time? What activities will keep them occupied so that you can get 5 minutes of peace?

This is where the good ol’ tactic of putting a movie on comes in handy. My kids don’t watch a lot of TV, so it holds their attention very well.

If you have a fenced backyard, you might send them outside.

Or maybe it’s best for them to go to their room for a while.

Whatever it is, simplify your mindset of what needs to happen. If you are at that point where you only have minutes, the only need that matters is that they stay safe for a sec.

That really frees up your options to meet your own needs. You can be a responsible parent and take care of yourself at the same time. There is no need to beat yourself up over 10 minutes of quiet in your room.

Besides the fact that you feel more rejuvenated after, you also set a good example for your child. They learned that when they are frustrated or overwhelmed, they can calmly take care of the necessities and then handle their own feelings in a safe and responsible way.

Children who know how to do this will become successful adults and model citizens.

  • Don’t Get Distracted

Be aware that your needs change every day, so a bubble bath isn’t going to fix the problem each time.

But it could be exactly what you need on some days!

Consider what you are craving at the moment. Here’s some of my favorites that fill my needs:

  • Eating a treat that I don’t usually get to enjoy
  • A cozy bath
  • A girl’s day with my best friends
  • A date night with my husband
  • Quiet time after the kids go to bed
  • A walk outside
  • Sitting around a campfire or being in nature
  • Getting dressed up and looking good
  • Having a clean house… or at least one clean room… even for 5 minutes
  • Going out to eat
  • Snuggling my husband
  • A warm cup of hot chocolate

Again, sometimes my needs are different so no single activity will solve all my problems. My poor husband often wants to help, but he can’t read my mind to know what to do for me.

I am in charge of communicating what I feel and what I need from him- in specific detail and in kind words.

I have made the mistake of asking him to pick up a treat, only to find that I wasn’t in the mood for what he brought home. It’s my job to make sure he knows if there is something specific I want or don’t want.

Don’t make the mistake of putting yourself off.

Don’t swim until you’re exhausted- leave yourself energy to get back to shore. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that tells you that you’re fine right up until you’re not fine anymore.

You’re worth taking care of.

Really.

Besides, your well being directly affects your kids. See my post on Taking Care of Others When you Have Nothing Left to Give.

  • Don’t Forget your Significant Other

Although I am getting better at taking care of my own needs, I have to put extra effort into watching out for my husband.

He has his own ups and downs in the parenting life and it’s my job to be a support to him when he needs a break, just like he supports me when I do.

So I’ve got to listen to him.

Not just his words, but I also watch him for signs that he might be getting burnt out. Some of my husband’s signs are the same as mine, such as irritability, but some are different.

  • Spending more time alone- like going outside or being on his phone
  • Comments about having a tough day at work- especially for several days in a row
  • Quiet, not talkative
  • Not laughing
  • Worries about money more than usual
  • Wants to buy things
  • Less interest in being healthy (poor diet and less exercise)

My husband’s warning signs are usually cured by some time away doing things he likes to do. Here are some things that usually fill my husband’s needs:

  • Fishing, camping, or other outdoors activities
  • Hanging out with the guys
  • Watching a movie (but not a chick flick- something he is excited about)
  • A good night’s sleep
  • A Saturday or a day off of work
  • A little lovin’ (Fun for me too!)
  • Date nights
  • Buying things like fishing gear
  • Going out to eat

It took some time and a lot of effort to learn these quirks about my husband, but I’m so glad I know them now!

Our life has been so much more balanced since we started being more aware of our individual needs and our needs as a couple. We look out for each other and give each other breaks OFTEN. We keep each other going. Our marriage is stronger and our kids are happier because we are happier. We are better parents.

I don’t always notice my husband’s burnout and he doesn’t always notice mine. We still have miscommunications about it. We still have to be patient with each other.

But things are better. We feel more balanced. We feel less strained.

It was so worth the effort to learn these things about my husband. If you have a partner, I strongly recommend this method!

Know that mommy/daddy guilt happens to every parent.

Catch it early and don’t let negative feelings fester.

Find out what you need as an individual and get those needs met. That will allow you to continue to have the strength to be a good parent over the long-term.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

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Why Sacrificing Makes Parents Happier

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

 

Stanford University conducted a longitudinal study to monitor children’s self-control and how it impacted them in later years as adults.

The study is referred to as the “Marshmallow Test”.

  • 4 year old children were brought into a small room with only a table and a chair. They were given one marshmallow. The researcher promised them that they would be given a second marshmallow if they waited to eat the first marshmallow until the researcher returned.
  • Then the child was left alone with the marshmallow.
  • Some kids ate the marshmallow right away, unable or unwilling to wait for a few minutes for the second one.
  • Some kids were able to sacrifice temporarily by waiting the necessary time period in order to double the reward.
  • In watching the footage of this study, it is clear that it is difficult for all of the children to wait. They frequently touch, lick, hold, and pick at the marshmallows. They hold their faces in their hands, try to look away, bounce up and down, and show many other physical signs of distress as they wait.
  • But, about 1/3 of the children are successful and receive two marshmallows.

Is it just me, or does anyone else want to eat a marshmallow right now? Click the image below.

Later in life, the researchers followed up to see how these kids turned out. Those who had enough self-control to wait for their marshmallows had many advantages in their life- higher SAT scores, less frustration, more focus, more decisiveness, better organizational skills, more confident, more self-reliant, etc.

Call it what you will- waiting, sacrifice, delaying gratification, work… The results are the same.

As parents, we are asked to sacrifice for our kids…. A lot. All the time.

Our kids’ needs and wants come before our own.

  • We spend our money on the kids first- paying for soccer cleats, dance outfits, music lessons, etc.
  • We spend our gas on the kids first- driving to school, practices, games or performances, the store, friends’ houses, etc.
  • We spend our time on the kids first- helping with homework, going to their performances or games, and playing Chutes and Ladders.
  • We spend our energy on the kids first- worrying about how they are doing in school, planning their future, working multiple jobs to provide for them financially, and teaching them skills.
  • We even give our sleep up for our kids- waking up at night with the baby, calming a child who had a nightmare, and waking up early to get them ready for school.

I hear this question from parents frequently, and I’ve been surprised to find myself asking the same thing on tough days: “When will this be worth it?”

In other words, “When can I eat my marshmallow? Where’s my reward? How long do I have to wait?”

The ray of hope from this study is that the children who were able to wait had amazing positive qualities as a result of this one trait- the ability to wait. They didn’t benefit from actually getting what they wanted (the marshmallow) but from the waiting itself. These are qualities that helped them in almost every other aspect of their life.

They developed qualities to help them in school, work, finances, relationships…. And yes, parenting.

All that came from the undergoing the process of waiting. And the ability to “wait well” rather than giving in to temptation early.

So maybe waiting- or making sacrifices- isn’t that bad.

Maybe waiting is a learning process, like life’s version of going to school. Everyone has days when they don’t want to go to school, and that’s ok. Nobody wants to wait for things that they are excited to receive.

But the reward for waiting- especially waiting well- is way more than two marshmallows. It’s success across all areas of your life!

That means better finances, better jobs, better family and home life, stronger friendships, less stress and frustration…

What an amazing promise!

Here’s the other great thing about this study- They found that self-control doesn’t have to be innate within us. The children who ate the marshmallow could practice and practice until they learned to wait. In fact, sometimes those children were better at waiting than the children who were innately good at it in the first place.

  • Children can be taught skills like using their imagination to decrease the temptation, such as imagining that the marshmallow is burnt. This makes temptation less appealing.
  • Or, children can use their imagination to entertain themselves during the wait, making the time pass more quickly. They can drum their fingers or sing a song. Anything to take their mind off the marshmallow.
  • Or, they can remind themselves that the reward is worth the wait. Picture the reward at the end to inspire yourself to keep waiting.

There are endless strategies that children- And might I add…. Adults???- can use to help themselves learn to sacrifice.

If this really works, I want to try it.

In my adult life, there are two kinds of “marshmallows” that I encounter.

  • Being Rewarded by Getting Something I Want

One of the hardest facts of adult life is that there are often no tangible rewards for our efforts.

We bust our butts and the best reward we can get is to “feel good” at the end of the day.

That’s great if you make sure to stop and notice your own progress. It takes conscious thought to look back on my day, pause to notice my accomplishments, and take in that pride. That’s rewarding to me.

The problem with this approach is that there are days when I forget to stop and make that conscious effort to reward myself.

If I forget to reward myself for several days or weeks on end, the stress accumulates and can lead to feeling burnt out.

  • Being Rewarded by Avoiding Pain or Stress

This concept reminds me of a monkey trap. For those of you who have never trapped monkeys (actually, I haven’t either… don’t know why or how I know this), here’s how to do it.

Find a vase with a narrow neck- just barely wide enough for the monkey to slip its paw into. Fill the vase with rocks until it is too heavy for the monkey to lift.

Put some kind of food around the jar to bait the monkey. Add a few more pieces of food into the jar, just on top of the rocks.

When the monkey comes along, he will eat the food and soon discover the last bits inside the jar. He reaches in, grabs a fist full of food, but can’t pull his hand back out now that it is full of food.

All he has to do to be free is let go of the food and his hand will easily slide back out of the jar. But he won’t sacrifice what he has to avoid a bigger problem of being caught.

There are times in our lives when it is better to lose a small prize to avoid big pain.

I stress about meal times. I don’t want to prepare food, cook the food, set the table, and clean up after the meal. I put a little work into preparing freezer meals so that I can avoid the pain of cooking a meal from scratch after a long day at work.

I also work hard to avoid financial distress. I am rewarded by paying for my rent because I don’t get evicted.

I eat fewer carbs to avoid bad health. I’m rewarded with a slimmer figure and more energy.

I pack snacks in my purse before I go to Walmart to avoid a h-angry child. I’m rewarded with a calm child and a smooth shopping trip.

A few months ago, I hit a slump in both categories.

I didn’t felt motivated enough to put in work now so that I could avoid pain later. It felt like I was stretching my physical and emotional limits just to get the necessities taken care of. But I wasn’t getting enough done to feel proud of what I had accomplished for the day.

No reward from getting something good…. No reward from avoiding something bad…. No rewards at all. 

It seemed like my to do list was just as extensive as it was when I woke up that morning. And I had less motivation to do anything the next day because all that effort didn’t seem worth anything.

(For more in depth look on how to increase your motivation, click the image below.)

As my motivation spiraled downward, I tried to remedy this situation by giving myself a much needed break.

The weird thing was that it was never enough. I couldn’t get a long enough break in without being interrupted by a child in need or work or a dirty house. Each time my leisure time was cut short, I craved it more and more.

I found an unexpected pattern- for a few weeks, I was getting more down time than I had in months, but I felt worse than I had in months.

I thought the leisure would fix my stresses, but it only amplified them by keeping me away from the necessary tasks to decrease my stress- like cleaning the house or going to work. The more “me time” I took, the more unhappy I became.

And yet, I still wanted the leisure time. I was in a bad habit of having it and didn’t want to give it up- even just to switch back to healthy levels of leisure.

It was a depressing situation to be in.

But this study gave me hope, and so, I decided to conduct an experiment on myself.

Here was the big question: Can I teach myself to wait for my marshmallow?

I stepped back to remember what is most important and determined to make the sacrifices I needed to get those things or become those things.

Obviously, my kids were top of the list. So I started acting like it.

I started sacrificing for my kids again. I put aside my “me time” to play with my kids, to get the shopping done, to help them with problems, to go to work, to clean the house, to cook food. You know, all that mom stuff.

The results were quick.

I felt happy and fulfilled in my life, especially as a parent.

I was so pleased with the results of this experiment that I decided to continue it for the long-term.

My hope with this experiment is beyond the checklist that I can get done every day. I want to develop some of the positive outcomes that the children in the marshmallow test had. I want to be self-reliant, organized, confident, smart, and financially successful. I want to be and feel in control of my life.

If you would like to join me in this challenge, please do so and share your successes and temporary setbacks to help each other along!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

 

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I Make Goals For a Living- The Secret to Foolproof Goals

Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

 

Goals tend to be a “love it or hate it” topic.

It is so rewarding to complete a goal, and yet so depressing to fail at a goal.

Unfortunately, people make some common mistakes when setting their goals that increase the likelihood of failure at the goal.

During my time as a professional working with children with disabilities, my job was to set goals for the children’s progress and goals for the staff to help the child. We gathered input from the parents, the child, and the staff to find out what the child’s needs were. My job was to compile all that information into specific and measurable goals so that each person knew exactly how to help a particular child.

That job gave me a lot of practice in writing goals.

Sometimes, I wrote a goal that didn’t turn out well. I thought it sounded good when I wrote it, but as staff or children tried to carry out the goal, they seemed confused, frustrated, and unwilling to keep up the effort that it took to complete the goal. Parents, staff, and the child were not on the same page. The result was inconsistency and failure to reach the goal.

Sometimes, I would write a well-worded goal for a child or a staff. They seemed to feel confident as they worked on things. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do. Everyone understood the needs of the child and how to help. Parent, child, and staff worked together as a team and achieved the goal much more quickly.

As I experienced success and failures in writing goals, I noticed some common factors in writing goals that seemed to increase the likelihood of success.

Here are some tips in setting goals that will make you more successful.

Keep track of your goals using this journal! Click the image below.

  • SMART Goals

You’ve all heard of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym to help you remember some things to keep in mind when creating a goal. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)

As I wrote goals, I found that this is an excellent rule of thumb. SMART goals are successful goals.

  • S- Specific

First, the goal should be specific.

When we think about how to improve our parenting, we often use generic phrases, like “I want to be more patient” or “I want to be a better mom.” The problem with these phrases is that achievement of this goal could happen in a million ways- but that also means that there are a million ways to fail.

For example, let’s say I set a goal to be “more patient with my kids”.

-Does that mean I want to yell less?

-Does that mean I want to calmly help my kids when they argue with each other?

-Does that mean I want to get through the grocery store without a meltdown?

-Does that mean I want to think positively about my kids during frustrating situations?

-Does that mean I want to involve my kids in various learning experiences (cooking, budgeting, fixing the car, etc.) even though it’s hard for me to teach these skills?

As you can see, there are many different directions to take this goal.

It might start out well.

-I’m all fresh and ready to succeed at this goal in the morning. I calmly talk to my child when he won’t eat his oatmeal. We discuss it and reach a compromise- he eats five bites of oatmeal and then he can choose something else to eat. Win for me!

-Then I go to the grocery store. I have to be perfect for my goal- but the transition to the store was difficult and I’m feeling a little flustered.

-At the store, I spoke in an agitated tone when my child tried to sneak candy into the cart. I don’t feel successful at being “patient” at the store.

-Then, my kids argue on the drive home. I don’t yell, but I didn’t have the patience to help them work it out. I don’t feel successful at my goal.

-At home, I try to involve my kids in cooking, but it’s just a frustrating situation for everyone. I don’t yell, but we all leave flustered. I don’t feel successful at my goal.

All through the day, I am successful at one aspect of being patient. I am not yelling at my kids. But my goal is much broader than not yelling. My goal is to be patient and I feel like I lost at my goal all day long.

I should feel great about the day, but instead I am discouraged. I am less likely to continue my goal the next day because I feel so far from where I want to be that I don’t even want to try.

What’s the cure?

Begin by thinking of what you want to become. I want to become patient.

But don’t stop there!

Then, think to yourself, “What does patience look like? How does a patient person act? What do they do?”

Make a list of specific behaviors (things you can see) that you could work on to be more patient, then choose one.

Identify when you usually have a tough time with this behavior. For example, if I want to be more patient by yelling less, ask yourself “When do I usually yell at my kids?” In the grocery store, in the car, when they argue….. Knowing when to watch out for will help you be more aware of keeping your goal.

Now your goal looks like this: “I want to become __(Quality)____ BY doing ____(Action) _______ during     (Circumstance)     .

Imagine how different the scenario would be if my goal was specific- “I want to become more patient BY decreasing yelling at my kids when they argue with each other”.

This is one behavior that I can easily identify through the day. It is easy to think back on my day and say, “Did I yell today when my kids argued?”

It is much more difficult to think to yourself, “Was I patient today?” That’s too subjective.

Be specific in your goal.

  • M- Measurable

Let’s continue the goal “I want to become patient by decreasing yelling at the kids when they argue with each other.”

The next step is to come up with a unit of measurement so that you can tell if you are making progress or not.

Ask yourself, “How often do I yell at kids right now? Twice a day? 5 times a day? 10 times a day?”

Find out a number that you would like to reach without demanding perfection of yourself.

For example, if I currently yell at my kids 10 times per day, I might try to yell at them 7 times per day instead. Once I am successful at yelling only 7 times per day, I will set a new goal to decrease my yelling to 5 times per day. Then decrease that to 2 times per day, etc.

  • A-Attainable

Don’t demand that you change drastically right off the bat.

Trying to complete a goal like that is like trying to quit smoking cold turkey.

If you yell at your kids 10 times per day, a goal of 1 per day might be difficult to attain. You could cause yourself unnecessary frustration by trying to reach a difficult goal.

Make your goal attainable, let yourself feel proud of the progress you are making, and then set a new goal to keep up the good work until you slowly become what you want to be.

  • R- Realistic

Remember that you are human and you will make mistakes. Allow yourself some room to make mistakes and still reach your goal. Rarely, if ever, set a goal that requires you to reach 100% to attain that goal because 100% leaves you no room for human error.

Let’s say I have successfully decreased my yelling at my kids to 1 time per day. The next goal is 0 times per day, right?

A better goal is “I will become more patient by decreasing yelling at my kids when they argue with each other to 2 times per week.” This goal still helps you decrease your yelling from once per day, but it also allows you to make mistakes without feeling like you failed at your goal.

  • T- Timely

The last piece of completing a goal is to identify a time frame during which you will achieve this goal.

It is better to think of this as a “checkpoint” rather than a “deadline”.

The idea is that you will be accountable for your work rather than just forgetting about the goal altogether. When the specified day arrives, you should assess your progress on the goal. Track your goals using a calendar, like the one below! Click the image!

If you have made any progress at all (even slight progress), you should celebrate your progress.

If you have not made progress, that is a sign that your goal might not be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, or timely. It is a good chance to look at the goal and see if it needs to be adjusted so that you can be successful next time.

This is not an excuse to slack off. Slacking off on your goals only hurts yourself.

The final goal looks like this, “I will become _(Quality)_____ by doing __(Action)____ when __(Circumstance)_____ using ___(Measurement)_____ by ____(Date or Time Period)___.

In our example, “I will become patient by decreasing yelling at my kids when they argue with each other to 5 times a day or less for the next week.”

  • Boring is Bad

SMART goals help a lot, but there are more lessons I learned in writing goals.

People need variety. If you work on the same goal for too long, you can get sick of it and progress slows down or stops.

If a person has been working on the same thing for a long time without reaching it, I often switched up their goals just to give them a change of scenery. I noticed that this often helped them be more excited about their goals because they had something new to do. The enthusiasm increased their success rates. I found that I could reintroduce the “boring” or mundane goal later on. With their new success, the person would be more interested in trying again and often would progress much faster at the old goal.

But we need more variety than that.

Choose a variety of time periods to achieve your goal.

-Don’t have several long-term goals with zero short-term goals. It is too discouraging to wait that long for any reward. Besides, your short-term goals should be tailored to help you achieve a long-term dream.

-Don’t have zero long-term goals and many short-term goals. Again, the point of short-term goals is to help in your long-term goals. Without a long-term goal, you have no direction. The more short-term goals you have, the more likely you are to fail at them because there is just too much going on. Every failure you have at a goal makes you less likely to try again in the future, so failure at goals should be taken very seriously.

Choose a variety of topics.

Nobody wants to fix everything about their parenting all at once. Nobody wants to fix everything they do wrong at work all at once. Or fix their relationship all at once.

Find categories in your life and make one goal per category. For example, you might have a goal in parenting, a goal at your work, and a goal to play the piano.

When your kids set goals, keep track of their short and long term goals using this chart! Click the image below!

This is simple.

Goals are about progress, not about perfection.

It’s ok to mess up and try again.

It’s ok to adjust the goal if it’s too difficult.

Do whatever it takes for you to feel successful at your goal- even if it means setting an easy goal for a while and slowly making it more difficult.

It is more important for you to feel like you can do it. That confidence makes all the difference in your willingness to set and follow through with goals.

When you see progress, celebrate it. Reward yourself. Make it worth your hard work.

Click the images below to try some of my favorite rewards for myself!


  • One by One

Occasionally, when I asked for parents’ input on what they thought their child needed, they gave me a laundry list a mile long. We do this to ourselves too. When you ask someone what they want to change about themselves, they can usually create an extensive list.

The beauty of goals is that the sky is the limit. You can change any of those things that you really want to change. It’s just not smart to try to fix everything at once.

Goals are slow and steady.

When you make goals, limit yourself to 1-2 things. If your goal involves a major life change, 1 thing is enough. If your goal is smaller, go ahead and work on 2-3 goals if you feel like you are emotionally prepared for that much and if you have time for that much.

I never recommend more than 3 goals. Some people might disagree, but I find that fewer goals correlates with more success. More success means more goals in the future. And that means you get more goals accomplished by spreading them out than you do if you try to lump them all together.

  • Work Hard

There’s nothing else to say. Hard work is all up to the individual. Go and do whatever it takes to make positive changes in your life! It’ll be worth it!

I am excited for you to set goals for yourself. I hope these tips help you feel more confident in your goals.

Enjoy the success of making the changes in your life that you’ve been waiting for!!

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

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