Mike&Sarah

Tag Archive: parenting

5 Ways My Toddler Makes Me A Better Leader

Long before becoming a parent I recognized that one of the great crucibles for character and leader development was caring for children, especially young children.

I watched smart, gifted, talented people get swallowed up in the great abyss of late night feedings, potty training and temper tantrums. They learned practical leadership through serving their children.

Now that I’ve joined the thriving-though-sleep-deprived ranks, here are a few of my observations on how my toddler is helping me grow as a leader:

Hugs and snugs: parenting perks.

Hugs and Snugs: parenting perks

1.  Eye Contact: “Eyes on Mommy.”

Toddlers experience the world through all of their senses, all the time. But sometimes that can feel overwhelming or distracting. So when my daughter starts to melt down, we make time for eye contact.

Turning your face towards someone when they speak demonstrates respect, care and interest in what they have to say. It shows that they are valuable and important enough to interrupt your project, and it emphasizes that the conversation is more important than a myriad of distractions.

2.   Slow down: “Take a belly breath.”

Toddlers learn constantly and practice independence. In the effort to “do it myself,” frustration can overtake them.

At work it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines. But sometimes the best remedy is a deep breath and a step back for perspective. Then you can collect your thoughts, put on your thinking cap and consider other solutions.

3.   Listen: “Where are your listening ears?”

With emotions and new information assaulting their little minds all the time, toddlers have a hard time focusing on tasks and directions as they learn to make good decisions.

When leading others, it’s imperative to hear beyond the syntax into the heart of the matter. What’s the message behind the words? The natural default is to “tell” versus hearing people out. When we do that, we focus on crafting a response rather than listening to what someone else says. And that tends to shut down communication. So let’s put on our listening ears.

4.   Compassion: “That sounds like an owie!”

Bumps and bruises are a natural part of a toddler’s life. Snuggling together through the tears then kissing away the boo-boos makes a huge difference to the emotional health of a little one.

Sometimes a hug is the best remedy for an owie, and while that might not be appropriate in the workplace, you can empathize and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. People aren’t always looking to others to solve their problems; sometimes they just want to know they are cared for.

5.   Simplify: Set Realistic Goals. “What is our adventure today?”

Cramming too many activities into a day can make both parent and toddler miserable, especially when naps are missed. So we limit our daily activities to help ensure happy hearts at home.

Simplifying objectives and embracing reality can result in freedom at work. What is the top priority for the week? What one thing must be done today? What pace can we set at work that is sustainable long term?

 

Sarah has learned these and other great leadership lessons in the daily squeeze of parenting. She lives in New York City with her husband and 2.5 year old daughter. She is a leadership coach and an infrequent blogger.

Photo courtesy of the author’s private collection.

 

Good Bye Baby Boy

Our foster son left us yesterday [on June 12, 2013].

It was a whirlwind from the anticipated moment we received the email and confirmation phone call from our agency that it was time to head to the Bronx medical office for his final physical to the emotionally-charged moment we handed him over to his new guardians in an overcrowded conference room at our agency. I was teary through those final, rushed, chaotic moments and now the apartment feels so much quieter, so still, without him here. PIE misses her companion and playmate, and both Mike and I woke this morning at 5am to find the crib at the foot of our bed empty.

Empty is a good way to describe how I feel.

Fostering has required everything.  Everything. We’ve poured our hearts and energy into caring for this little boy, and for our first foster daughter, too. We’ve said “no,” to opportunities and to going out because either it’s been too difficult to get a background approved sitter, or we were too tired to get out the door.  We’ve lived in chaos and built our family rhythm and weekly schedule around the foster kids’ visitation appointments. And while we hope that God may build our family through fostering, we’re also well aware of the privileged role we play in these children’s lives as stewards and care-takers, providing a safe, loving home for as long as they need the respite from whatever brokenness and chaos surrounds their family of origin.

It’s not easy. But it was the right thing for us to do at just the right time.  And as this year has reaffirmed to me, sometimes walking by faith means following God down unexpected pathways.  In January, that unexpected pathway included parenting three children under 10 months old.

Today I walked into my bedroom and it occurred to me that I had just done something I hadn’t been able to do for 6 months. Yes, I simply walked into my room whenever I wanted to. A baby has been napping and sleeping in there since January so even little daily routines like showering in my bathroom, drying my hair, getting dressed in my room, putting laundry away, making my bed, all of those “normal” tasks only had small windows of opportunity for completion before the room needed to be a silent haven for a little one.

We’re now just a family of 3, of 4 if you include our pug Frannie. It’s been six months since it’s been just us, and boy-oh-boy have I learned a ton about love, service, sacrifice, putting others’ needs ahead of my own, joy, delight and watching someone grow healthy and strong as a direct result of our love and care.  Such demanding needs and such rewarding love.

I’m in a flurry of cleaning and sorting laundry and switching our wardrobes from winter wear to summer clothes.  I have time for that now.  My thoughts keep drifting to our foster son, hoping he’s laughing and adjusting well to his new home.

One of my daily prayers for PIE is that she’d grow up healthy, happy and hopeful.  As I pray over her, I pray the same prayers for our foster son and foster daughter, those two precious children who now live in very different circumstances.  May God’s kindness protect them, keeping them safe from harm and allowing their sweet personalities to flourish and find a home in Him.  Though they won’t remember us, we won’t be same because of them.

Originally written on June 13, 2013, but not posted until August 8, 2013.

My Mother’s Daughter

“I am my mother’s daughter.”

20130221-104543.jpgThat thought ran through my mind as I stepped back from the clean, clear kitchen counter. For weeks it was missing under piles of mail, foster care paperwork, tax forms, calendars, stacks of bibs, mugs of coffee, iPhone chargers and other forms of clutter.

Two nights ago, in a fit of
dissatisfaction coupled with a longing for visual space, I attacked that counter with a vengeance, rearranging kitchen appliances, throwing out unneeded papers, sorting and saving important documents and assigning other “homes” to everything else. Then, after wiping the counter down with one final antibacterial cloth, I sighed deeply and enjoyed the clear space. It didn’t last long as Mike came home with the mail and unloaded the contents of his backpack and grocery bags on that counter. But for one hour I had that clear space.

Diligently I’ve kept an eye on that counter, cleaning, and sorting the items which end up on the clear surface. It’s only 10am, but twice today I’ve guarded and maintained that empty counter.

I remember the satisfaction my mom seemed to derive from a clean kitchen and clear counters. In fact, when we kids did dishes, part of the chore included unloading the drying rack before going to bed so that when Mom awoke to start breakfast for all of us she started with an empty kitchen. I understand that requirement a lot more now.

Somehow, with each member of the family we add, the house becomes a bit more difficult to maintain in pristine condition. When we had PIE + our puppy + two foster babies + people coming in to help my home seldom felt clean and organized. We had charts to keep track of feeding, napping and changing the three babies in the house, laundry piling up, and bulky toys for the kids throughout the living room. With only three rooms in the apartment, and two of those being bedrooms, our home felt even smaller.

That clear counter represents more to me than simply an empty space. It’s like an invitation to rest in the order, to think creatively, the breathe deeply.

Yesterday Mom sent a link about a stay at home mom who calls herself a “nap time abolitionist” and changes the world while her kids sleep. But even more than I loved the article, I loved that my mom sent the link to me. Perhaps she sent it as encouragement as I struggle to fulfill God’s call on my life, honor the way He made me, utilize my gifting and skills, maximize my time and love on the babies entrusted to me. I try to take advantage of nap times to help people take their next step towards fulfilling their Divine destiny even as I try to do that myself.

But this was modeled to me growing up by my mom. She served her family, looked for opportunities to grow her mind and use her strengths and develop new interests. She did all of this while raising four daughters, supporting her husband, crisscrossing the country as a Navy Wife (“The toughest job you’ll ever love!”), going back to college to earn her degree, and, later, caring for my dad through leukemia, chemotherapy and his heaven-going.

I’m so thankful for how she’s modeled stages in a woman’s life: motherhood, wife-hood, and widowhood. May I walk with grace like her, leaning into Jesus with each day, so that at the end of my life I can still say “I am my mother’s daughter.”

Good Bye Baby Girl

I knew it would be hard.  That’s one of the reasons I never dreamed being a foster parent.  But as I live the wonderfully unexpected life I never could’ve imagined on my own, I’ve also opened myself up to the joys and pains I never anticipated.  Mike once told me that my joys can only go as high as my lows go low.  Highs and lows.  I’ve hit both ends of the spectrum several times this year.

Foster Baby #1 (“Baby Girl B”)  joined our family on January 5, 2013.  She brought joy, laughter, smiles and giggles.  Her cheerful disposition and tender heart made it easy for her to make a home in our hearts.  In the heart of everyone who met her, actually.  Even the ladies who work the nursery at church fell blissfully under the charismatic charms of Baby Girl B.

She left our arms an hour ago and is on her way right now to live with her extended family.  I’m hopefully that they will love her and nurture her sweet spirit to maturity while cultivating her delightful sense of humor and tenderness towards others.  She’s 9months old today.

But right now my heart is broken with her absence.  I knew it would be hard to care for someone else’s child while they get healthy, but we felt called to take such a bold step.  I just didn’t expect to fall so deeply in love, nor did I expect it to hurt this much to say good bye to Baby Girl B.

Oh Lord protect her.  Keep her safe in the years to come.  May her sweet smile remain innocent and joyful.  Protect her from evil and harm, and may her resilience and buoyant attitude keep her above the dangers of this city. As she grows, may her light shine brighter, reflecting Your love.  Thank You for the privilege of loving her and caring for her.  I know that You understand the pain of loving a child and giving them up.  Please speak peace to my heart, and guard sweet Baby Girl B.