Redefining Success as a Parent: Raising a Child is Not a Competitive Sport

The concept of success remains a broad, complex, and very subjective one–all the more so when it comes to assessing one’s parenting skills.  For example, I can define a successful parent as something you will consider completely unimportant.

But even if we don’t agree with a certain definition of success, some of them still generate in us behaviours indicating that we just might, after all, give it more weight that we’d like to admit.  When it comes to parenting, one that I am coming to understand is quite insidious is that of comparison.  Most people say that we shouldn’t compare children to each other, as each is unique and develops according to his or her own timeline.  And yet, most people will compare children to one another, and will act deferential to parents whose children they deem “more advanced”.

It feels like this confusion occurs more when things like ego and pride are involved.  It becomes even easier to become confused when we don’t really think profoundly about what we believe successful parenting is and don’t take the time to go though the mental exercise of figuring it out.  I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to do this; it is painful and exhausting to analyse our patterns of thought and behaviour, all the more so when one is exerting so much energy on raising one’s children.

Yet again, I do not have a straightforward answer.  I only have the current state of my thoughts to share with you, based on tons of conversations with individuals who have had children for years, thoughts that have not yet matured within my own personal experience as a parent.  For now, I think that, when it comes to successful parenting, there are two types: the ‘relative’ successes in our parenting  and the ‘overall’ success in our parenting.

To me, ‘relative’ success is when you are successful within a narrow niche.  You are, indeed, successful when you accomplish something for your child—but you are only successful in the niche of what you have accomplished.  When impressive enough, relative success seems to be often mistaken for ‘overall’ success.

‘Overall’ success has to do with fulfilling the purpose of our parenting.  I believe this purpose to be giving opportunities to our children to build on their inherent capacities to become spiritually empowered adults able to pursue their own personal spiritual and material development while contributing decisively to the spiritual and material progress of their community.

Being successful therefore means that our children will become the adults that they are meant to be–and not the adults we want them to be.  It can mean that we as parents can have all the relative success in the world and yet fail to achieve overall success.  We can also do nothing and achieve overall success because of factors external to us.

I wish I could say that having made this distinction helps me not fall into the trap of mistaking relative success for overall success.  Ha.  Quite the contrary!  It’s so easy to forget this distinction when living in a social environment that celebrates relative success to such an excess.

There are three relative successes in parenting that I feel oftentimes get confused for overall success.  The first is achieving milestones early; the second is teaching children to do what we want them to do; the third is encouraging or allowing behaviour limited to our understanding of gender (think of “boys will be boys” or “good girl” situations).

It feels like the number one factor that creates this confusion is the ego.  We want to prove to ourselves and to others that we are good parents, not satisfied with what our child naturally achieves but always wanting more.  And I feel that this contributes to mixing up education with teaching.

The big problem is that the ego is never happy.  It always wants more.  And if you feed it, it wants more and more, until your entire focus becomes feeding that insatiable little beast.  This makes us pressure our children beyond their capacity, pushing them into apathy.  However, if you don’t feed it, you might feel the discomfort of its hunger; but this hunger abates and the overall sense of well-being you will feel will make it well worth it. Managing one’s ego seems then to be very important in becoming truly successful parents, one in which we are educating our children in such a way that their inherent capacities can shine through rather than teaching them things that will make us feel better about ourselves.

Luckier Than Fox Mulder: From Wanting to Believe to Believing

The now iconic poster that graced Fox Mulder’s basement office for all ten seasons has meant a lot of things to a lot of people in an array of different circumstances.  Back in August 2008, I shared some thoughts of what it meant within the narrow context of alien life.  As I reread that post, I couldn’t help but think of a much important application of this mantra: to nurture hope.

There is a lot happening in the world that gives us reason to believe that humans are a horrible lot and that nothing can save us from self-extinction.  I can’t blame people for having this view—I don’t watch the news on television anymore because it’s just all too much.

But because I wanted to believe, I went looking for concrete signs of the possibility of a better life, one lead by our higher, spiritual nature, right here on earth.  And I have to say, I find signs of it everywhere.  Not just that—but there seems to have been a sharp increase of positive news and stories to share in recent years.  I’m not sure if it’s because there are more such stories to share in the first place, or because more and more people are doing the same thing as I am: choosing to be positive in the face of a world painted black by mainstream news outlets.

So yes, I want to believe—but more importantly, unlike Mulder, I have increasing and solid proof that the world can indeed become a better place, and that an increasing number of people are actively taking part in making it so.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

Helping My Husband (Not): How The Best Intentions Can Go Wrong

One of the things that bothers me to no end is how fathers are underappreciated.  I won’t ever forget how, despite his exhaustion and the emotional toll of worrying about his wife and baby, no one took care of my husband during our baby’s birth.  The most ironic part of this story is that because I knew no one was taking care of him, I was worried about him, and as we know, worrying has adverse effects on one’s physical well-being.

Now the interesting thing is that, however passionate I am as an individual about this topic, I still live in a society that breeds a certain indifference towards the capacity of fathers.  And this belief, which has molded and shaped the structures of our society, has also affected me.  This effect is, in my opinion, even more dangerous: because of my passion for the elevation of fatherhood to its full worth, I can and am often blinded by sometimes very subtle actions that are, in fact, breeding the same type of indifference but in a much more insidious way.

Now as all parents know, the first couple of months are particularly exhausting.  Night feeding, crap naps, witching hour, clinginess of a baby introduced to a brand-new world—a lot of demands are being made that are unique to this time period and uniquely tiring.  I saw the effect this had on my husband and decided that I would take care of him by taking on as much as I could of our baby’s care.

Oh, how this backfired.  In my drive to make sure my husband didn’t feel as exhausted as I did, I took away from him and our baby the precious opportunities that I have had to get to bond with her and get to know her.  And one of the underlying assumptions that kept me going was that men weren’t built to do this the way women are.  In other words, that men don’t have the capacity to go through these first few weeks like women do.

Woah.

Thankfully, I realised this early on and was able to address this underlying assumption.  I still take care of my husband as much as I can, but not by “hogging” our baby’s care.  Rather, taking care of my husband now includes giving him the time he craves to be with her.  This gave given the two of them precious time to bond and connect, and has given me the precious opportunity to sit back and watch their relationship blossom.

Choosing to Turn Towards the Good: A Powerful, Empowering Choice

When I twisted my ankle back in 2008, I remember how a whole new world opened up to me right where I had been living for a number of years.  On the one hand, I saw just how selfish, self-centered, and unaware people were, as they would rush by me and ignore the fact that I couldn’t get through doors, or wouldn’t get up to let me sit in the bus or the train.  On the other hand, I also saw amazing and inspiring displays of good cheer and selflessness—free rides, letting me pass in front of a long line, and rearranging the seating in a food court so that I could take the table on the side where I could stretch my leg out comfortably.

One of the things that I have always struggled with, that I struggled with during that time dealing with life with a twisted ankle, and that I continue to deal with is the choice to see the world either as half full, or half empty, of goodness.  Let’s be honest: there is a lot that is going wrong in the world, and a lot that needs some serious fixing, if not outright replacement.  But on the other hand, there is so much that is going right in the world, so much goodness that we can build on and create a better world.

It’s all the more important today, with some of the things that have happened since I first posted these Chronicles of a Twisted Ankle, to remain optimistic.  It doesn’t mean burying one’s head in the sand.  Rather, it means looking at the reality that surrounds us, but never forgetting that there are more than enough good things happening in the world that we can build on.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

Enjoying the Reality Instead of Grieving the Fantasy of Parenthood

Every parent I know had a certain image of what life would be like with their children.  And every parent I have talked to tell me the same thing: that life with their children is not all like what they thought it would be.

What happens next is also really interesting and has got me thinking a lot about the importance of attitude and perspective.  Some parents end up disappointed in what their life is like, seeing the discrepancy between their plans and the reality of parenthood.  Other parents thought love every moment of it—even the worst parts of it that they could imagine.

It seems that the trick to being a happy parent—and to have a happy child—is to enjoy the good and the bad sides of parenting, to the point that the bad side of parenting becomes a source of joy in itself.  I put the question before a couple of parents and here are some of the ways that the difficult sides of parenthood became a source of joy for them.

Breastfeeding

There is definitely something beautiful about the concept of breasts being able to feed a little human being with exactly what he needs.  There is also something delightful and beautiful about holding your baby while you are feeding him in such an intimate, unique, and short-lived way.

But oh boy, can breastfeeding be messy!  Some mothers have told me tales of how their milk shoots in their babies faces or leaks all over while their baby struggles to latch on.  Other moms shared how gross they often feel what with milk always leaking through their bras and clothes.  Some mothers couldn’t get over the unsettling smell that seemed to follow them everywhere while they were breastfeeding.

Then again, as one mother said, if you laugh at it, it’s all becomes fun.  When her milk shoots in her baby’s face, she laughs, and the baby, taking his cue from her, learned to scrunch his face as she would open up her bra and would laugh when the milk would hit his face.  Another mother told me how she and her husband cataloged all the different ways she smelled because of the breastmilk, and how they would create fake perfume ads based on her “scent of the day”.  And all of them said that once their babies were weaned off, they really missed breastfeeding in all its messy, gross splendour.

Diapering

Diapering is another one of those moments that can be quite beautiful, a great opportunity for parents to bond and enjoy their baby.  But do I even need to mention all the things that can go wrong?

Again, laughing it off seems to be key.  One of my friends, realising that whatever she did, her baby boy was going to end up peeing at some point when not covered, put up a bullseye on the wall by the changing table and would give her son points based on how close he would get to its centre.  Another mom started cataloging the various colours and textures and would send updated to her close friends who, also mothers, started battling it out for the grossest poo of the day.  Each week, the winner of the grossest poo would be treated to coffee by the other women.

The most powerful “retake”, however, it to consider every bowel movement as a gift: the gift of knowing that your baby’s gastrointestinal system is doing fine and that you got another reminder that everything is OK.

Nighttime Feedings

Especially in the dead of winter, when the idea of getting out of a warm bed into the cool air of your bedroom, nighttime feedings can be quite difficult.  The exhaustion, the discomfort, the loneliness, the baby that won’t settle, the baby that bites because he falls asleep at the breast, the lolling head—there is a really long list of reasons why nighttime feeds are just so darn difficult.

Then again, most mothers agreed that despite it all, there is something incredibly peaceful and almost magical when it’s just them and their baby, without anyone or anything to come in between them.  One Mom told me that those moments were some of her most peaceful and restful ones, when all she had to do was watch her son eat.  Another one told me that’s when some of the most precious things happened—her baby’s first real smile, her baby’s first laugh, and the first time her baby was able to reach out and grab her finger without hesitation, to name a few.  Another one said that the nighttime feeds became her meditation time—at which point her mental health became a lot better and, consequently, so did her physical health.  So much so that when her husband suggested that he start getting up with her on weekends and holidays, she turned him down!

Conclusion

The consensus is that parenting is truly wonderful.  It’s an experience that transforms you as an individual and greatly enriches your marriage.  But it’s also tough, sometimes so tough some parents wonder how they will ever get through it.  It’s OK to not enjoy every moment, and it’s OK to acknowledge that some moments are tougher to enjoy—and make sure to laugh as much as you can.

But I think there is something else to remember: you should always enjoy every moment.  When you are single, enjoy every moment.  When you are dating, enjoy every moment.  The same for when you are engaged, married without children, married with one child, married with more than one child, and married with grown-up children.  These moments will all pass and only if we live them to the fullest will we not regret them.

Blogging about Passions or Passionately Blogging?

While going through all the posts I have uploaded on this blog since it’s launch almost nine years ago, I came across this particular post from October 2008.  It reminded me of the difficult few years during which I struggled between blogging about the things I passionately wanted to blog about and blogging about the various passions I knew would get me more readers.

This is a struggle I see a lot around me, as many young women start up blogs with the hope that it will become a money-making machine, only to remove it from the internet years, even months later because the fire ran out.

While some lucky bloggers manage to have a passion that appeals to enough people to shine the light of success on their endeavours, most struggle to strike gold.  But that seems to be the problem in the first place: these bloggers try to appeal to the masses by blogging about topics that are popular, rather than by learning to craft their art in such a way that they become popular because of who they are.  They are letting the public’s passion mould them, rather than moulding the public’s passion with the strength of theirs.

Focusing one’s attention to what is mainstream in this day an age is quite dangerous.  For one, the tide being as strong as it is, a curious look into mainstream might sweep you right along with the rest of them.  Had I succumbed to the temptation of blogging about popular topics, I might have been an internationally well-known blogger by now, but I wouldn’t be blogging about my passions.  How happy would I be?

Another reason to not step into mainstream interests online, as defined by Google Trends, is that oftentimes, the spectacularly bad is particularly trendy.  I can’t help but wonder how much of one’s sense of hope turns into despair in these conditions.  This feeling is further compounded by the fact that superficial and unimportant news seems to make for most of the other news trends.  How then, one might get caught thinking, is there any hope for the future when these things are considered “news”?

A third reason has to do with the way reports are written.  I feel like more often than not, news stories are written in such a way to generate a passionate response.  And even if it isn’t, beware of the comment section.  Reading such things takes its toll as precious emotional energy goes into completely unimportant things.

Yet another reason has to do with effecting change.  I have heard many (including myself) hypothesising that if they become famous, they will have an influenceable voice that they can then use to effect change.  But if you become famous for a superficial reason, how much weight will your voice carry when discussion weighty matters?

Of course, this is quite the black-and-white scenario.  We can’t segregate ourselves from mainstream interests.  Similarly, there are some Google Trends that we should take note of.  Furthermore, some individuals, who became famous for superficial reasons, have learned to use their voice in a powerful way.  But ultimately, my advice to a girl-next-door who wants to become a world-renown blogger is that she should consistently upload quality content about something she is incredibly passionate about, content that she then should market diligently and systematically.  Maybe her blog about a more serious matter will not attract as many people as would a more superficial blog, but she will remain true to her passion and will effect change within the small community that bands together around her content.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

Dealing with Parent Guilt: Some of the Best Advice I Got

Speaking of guilt: I’m a very avid advice seeker.  I mean, why not prevent things from happening by getting the advice to do just that, rather than fall into the same trap as others have?  And so, right after we got married, my husband and I started reaching out to our generous and loving friends who had children to ask them about their learnings and insights.  To each, we always asked: what is the one piece of advice you wish you could have given yourself?

My husband and I are also huge nerds; we have been following a couple of the major parenting blogs for quite some time now.  And the case of both our friends and of parent bloggers, one theme seems to rule them all: that of Parent Guilt.

I think any parent, however new, deals with this feeling pretty early on in their journey.  It seems inevitable, and it seems at times that Parent Guilt can even break a marriage long after the last child has long flown the nest.  It seemed to my husband and I that it was something that we had to deal with—and the sooner, the better.

We were lucky enough to get this brilliant piece of advice pretty early on during our own journey as parents, and our friend is kind enough to let me share it with readers.

Parent guilt has to be fought from the bottom up from the very beginning, which means, even before you’re pregnant, on a firm foundation of striving for excellence.

In other words:

  • Make sure that you are doing your best as soon as you decide you want children, and keep that up as much as you can. Compare yourself to only yourself; make sure you are doing a little bit better each day.  What better gift to give your child than that of your best self?
  • Don’t feel guilty about anything.   All.  Even the smallest thing can fester and become a big, gaping, emotional wound.

It sounds great, but in a world that seems to thrive on guilt, what does this process look like in a parents’ day-to-day life?

“Data,” our friend said without hesitation.  “Evidence-based guilt fighting.  You feel that you are a bad parent because of this one thing you did wrong?  Make a list of all the things you did right on the same day.  See which list is longer.  My bet is, the latter will be much, much, much longer.”

This is great advice not just for parents, but for anyone who deals with guilt.  Whatever you do, you will feel guilty if that’s the pattern of thought you choose to engage in.  So don’t let guilt in, even–or perhaps especially–with the small stuff.  It’s just not worth it.  Just think about it — do you remember the times your own mom zoned out in front of the TV, or all the times she was there playing right beside you?  My bet is you remember the latter more than the former.

An Artist’s Life And An Artist’s Art: How Coherent Should They Be?

I wasn’t very good with titles back in 2008, and this post is solid proof of the lack of title-writing skills.  The reflection though is still something that I constantly think about: the ever-present dichotomy the work of some artists and their personal lives.  And in this case, think of “artist” in the broad sense of the word.

This reflection is especially weighing on my mind these days as I work my way through a detailed outline for the third volume of Spirit Within Club.  Is the message I am trying to convey in this series undermined by the choices that I am making in my own life?  Thankfully, I don’t seem to have obvious dichotomies, such as an artist portraying women as sex objects who back up organisations working to, say, empower young women.  But of course, there are less obvious dichotomies that litter my life.  Sometimes I ask myself: how, then, do I dare write a book for impressionable young children on a topic as important as leading a life of service?

This was one of the major questions that delayed the writing of the second volume of the series—that is, until I had a conversation with a very wise individual who pointed out that approaching the plotline itself as a learning process and not proposing formulaic solutions, but rather, focusing on the process of consulting about an issue, studying various documents on the matter, acting on any decision that is taken, and then reflecting on how well this action effected a change on the issue.

Because, in a way, if we expect the arts to be perfect, then their creator should be perfect as well—and that is an impossibility.  Yet again, it implies that our consumption of media needs to be an open yet aware one, in which we question things that are presented to us.

In light of that, I will definitely be revising the wording used in the series to ensure that I am not presenting anything as THE solution to a problem, but rather to emphasize the process that the characters are going through.  I’m sure that, in the future, I will learn more about writing fiction in a way that triggers reflections rather than imposes formulas.  Until then, I take solace in the fact that parents will hopefully reading right along with their children, and will point out to them (and maybe even email me?  Please?) the dichotomies and contradictions I have unwillingly introduced between my life and my art.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }