Last week I wrote about the idea that the mental skills that we need as parents, like the mental skills that we need as athletes, require daily practice and constant reinforcement. I promised at the end of that post that I would start keeping a parenting confidence journal, Kara Goucher-style, in an effort to focus on my everyday successes as a parent rather than dwell on the failures. Here we are, one week in. Mission accomplished – I wrote something every day!
I do remember having tough parenting moments here and there this past week, but overall, despite some life stress testing everyone at my house, my sense of the week as a whole has been very positive, even, and uneventful. Ros went to sleep in her big girl bed without drama each night. We had moments of strife (a forgotten lovey at school here, an argument over how many flushes there) but we worked through the majority of these crises using a newly-implemented routine of drawing our feelings. Happy faces, mad faces, sad faces, all in mood-appropriate colors. This activity even led us to a discussion of how we can love someone even when we are mad at them. I’m paying attention to how readily I have set aside the moments where I was not at my best. It’s hard to know whether this can be credited to the journaling – maybe Ros just gave me a pretty easy week – but "objective” data isn’t really what we’re after. It’s all about my perception and my ability to look back at a given period of time and remember the good more than the bad
I have been writing my daily confidence entries in my Believe training journal, created by pro runners Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, who are also mothers, it’s worth noting. “Our mission,” the authors write, “is to champion the physical, mental, social and emotional benefits of running.” The journal contains, in addition to a year’s worth of weekly calendar spreads for journaling, a series of entries by the authors on nutrition, body image, racing, recovery, and many other topics with immediate relevance to runners. The central theme that ties all of the content together is, appropriately, belief. Belief in oneself, confidence, and more generally, making running a force for good in life no matter what. The feature of the current month, aptly, provides advice on how to “Think like a pro,” all of which leaps off the page at me as advice that I need to hear as a parent. “Be courageous. Be realistic. Be resilient. Do the work. Be in it for the long haul. Pocket the payoff.” The spread concludes with, “If you are frustrated with your results despite your best efforts, take some time to cultivate the traits that will help you tap into your full potential” (emphasis added). No one becomes a pro runner overnight, and no one becomes a great parent overnight – the word cultivation necessarily implies consistent, patient practice. A process that starts in the mind with a daily, consistent series of rituals that insist upon emphasizing the positive.
The authors then unpack the specific traits that separate professional parents – sorry, professional runners – from amateurs. Resilience: do I take major blows and keep going, or am I defeated by setbacks? Pragmatism: do I look for small, steady improvements, or am I overambitious and never satisfied? Adaptability: am I open to criticism, often using it to become better, or do I take criticism or conflicting opinions personally? Confidence: do I have a strong sense of who I am and where I am headed, or am I constantly seeking validation and approval? And it goes on, and again and again I am stopped in my tracks. Resolve: is Resistance my number-one foe, which I face every day? Or am I out to beat Resistance? The distinction in that last question is a key one, I think, because there is a difference between a) knowing that you are going to expend a lot of energy facing a three-year-old’s resistance every day, and b) thinking that it is somehow possible to defeat the three-year-old’s resistance once and for all. The latter actually has the potential to be quite harmful, in that it suggests that three-year-old resistance is solvable, and that if we’re facing it every day it means we haven’t solved it. No matter how hard we work at parenting little kids, we’re still pushing a huge rock uphill with one hand and playing whack-a-mole at the same time with the other hand. And then we go to bed knowing that it will be waiting for us as soon as we open our eyes on the other side. There is no solving this, no beating it; there is only accepting it and thinking critically about what will keep us strong enough to keep getting back out there.
That might sound defeatist, but think about it this way. I run almost every day and I am not ever going to be done facing resistance. I have gotten injured and I have gotten sick and I have had days when I just do not want to do it. I’ve gone through long slumps. I’ve taken feedback to heart from the wrong crowd. There is no mastery in the sport of running, at least not for me. There is just an infinite amount of work that I can do to keep getting better by tiny increments. The only thing I really have control over is my mental approach, my resilience and pragmatism and adaptability and confidence. And if I want to build these traits and manage these emotions, I have to practice.
For some reason, I seem to expect a whole lot more perfection and mastery from myself as a parent, even though I am far newer at parenting than I am at running. Realizing this in itself and taking the steps to address it in my daily mental space seems to be taking me in a good direction. On Saturday night before bed, I wrote: “I made all the time for Ros I could today. We snuggled on the couch and talked a lot. She did a great job at the restaurant [where we went for dinner]. Great nap and great bedtime even though there had been some antics leaning up to bed. Lots of fun conversations. I feel like I have gotten better at listening to her.” I was just writing whatever came into my head as quickly as possible so I could turn the light off and get to bed, but I still note what I said in that last sentence: “I feel like I have gotten better at listening to her.” I am noting both positivity and growth on my own part, recognizing that listening to a three-year-old is actually not an innately easy thing to do. Whatever we can or can’t tell from one week of journaling, I think it has proven itself worth continuing to do for a while longer, at least.