Parenting a two-year-old is a lot like riding a roller coaster. One minute you're climbing toward new heights, filled with anticipation and excitement about what's to come; and the next minute, you're dangling upside-down, screaming in terror, wondering how you ended up here and if you're ever going to get down. My daughter has more energy than I'll ever have, and to say she keeps me on my toes is an understatement. But lately, between insane tantrums and hilarious exchanges, I've been observing her behaviour and the way she goes about life. And, I must say, I've been amazed.
Toddlers are so incredible because, for the most part, they exist in a pure and natural state—untainted by society's expectations, standards, rules, and controls. They do what they want, when they want, until someone forces them to stop. They speak their minds and act without inhibition. And, the truth is, we adults can learn a lot from them! So the next time you start questioning your own behaviours and wondering if you're living in an inauthentic way—spend some time with a two-year-old. Here's what mine has taught me:
1. Be persistent: If you want something badly enough it's worth going after. Whether this means cajoling, bargaining, pleading, or even stomping your feet—sometimes you need to have the strength to not back down. Even if someone (or more likely, YOU) is standing in the way of making your dream/goal/desire a reality, a healthy dose of conviction is sometimes all you need to break down that barrier. My daughter, when she wants something really badly, often resorts to bargaining. She'll say: "Mommy, I have a great idea, how about..." or "Mommy, just one more and then done, Ok?!" She's got it down to a science, and there's no talking her out of something, once she's made up her mind.
2. Be in the moment: If there's anyone who can teach us about mindfulness, it's a toddler. It's amazing to watch a little kid play. It's as if nothing around them matters. They're not thinking about what they're going to have for dinner, or how they're going to make it to the potty in time for their next pee. They aren't worrying about how the week's weather forecast will interfere with their play dates, or what to wear to the family dinner party. Kids live in the moment. And while that explains the intense frustration when something doesn't work out or they don't get their own way, it also means they don't waste any time worrying about things in the future they have no control over anyway. And, once you're living in the moment, you have the benefit of experiencing life with a 'beginner's mind.' This means you get to experience the joy/excitement/thrill of doing something for the first time (say riding a bike or landing a dream job) every single day.
3. Let your emotions flow: Have you ever watched a two-year-old process emotions? Mine can go from laughing hysterically, to crying and screaming, to sulking, to laughing again in a matter of minutes. She expresses her emotions as she feels them, so she's never at risk of keeping them pent up inside. She doesn't know about holding a grudge, and the longest she can stay angry with someone is five minutes (I've timed her). When I'm upset, the first thing she does is make a funny face or give me a huge hug, then says: "You happy now Mommy?" and she fully expects that no matter what I've been feeling, I'll be happy—just like that. Keeping our emotions bottled up has been proven to be unhealthy, yet it's a habit most of us adopt somewhere around the age of 8, when our parents,teachers, etc. say things like: "don't cry," "don't be upset," and "be a big girl." I'm trying really hard not to tell my daughter how to feel. Instead I try to honour her emotions (as intense and unfounded as they may seem to me) and celebrate the fact that she can be so true to herself. After all, there's no better feeling than the calm that comes after a huge tantrum!
4. Forget about what others think: I'll never forget attending a seminar by leadership guru Robin Sharma and listening to him talk about his kids. I didn't have kids at the time, but loved what he said and still think about it today. If his son waned to go to the grocery store in a fireman's hat or his daughter insisted on dressing herself in mismatching clothes, he said, instead of feeling embarrassed or insisting they change, he'd celebrate their creativity and lack of inhibition. Most kids (until a certain age) couldn't care less what others think of them; while most of us adults care way too much. My daughter will wear anything, say anything, do anything as long as it feels good to her. Do you ever wonder how you'd live your life if no one was watching? That's how my kiddo lives hers every day. It may sound cliche, but it's totally liberating. I'm taking cues from her and quieting that inner voice that says: 'what if they don't like me?' 'what if they think I look fat?' 'what if they think my writing isn't good enough?' As my daughter practices her plié sauté on a busy sidewalk wearing a tutu and a mismatched hat with chocolate smeared on her cheek I have to ask myself—who cares?! And the answer I'm going for is—not me!
5. Love yourself: My daughter is happiest when positioned in front of the full-length mirror in our front foyer. There she'll sing, dance, and have full conversations with herself. She's so happy with her own reflection that she never looks upon herself with criticism or judgment. She doesn't look in the mirror and think: 'geez my hair is so frizzy today,' or 'my face is too pale.' Instead she emanates pure love. This is self love at its finest! It's what we all felt about ourselves when we were kids, before we started listening to the criticism of others. When my daughter successfully makes a pee on the toilet (she was just recently toilet trained)—she throws her arms in the air with complete enthusiasm and says "Hurray Willow!!" She's so genuinely proud of herself that she doesn't worry about sounding boastful. When was the last time you looked yourself in the mirror and felt nothing but love? When was the last time you celebrated your own accomplishments? Patted yourself on the back? Took pride in how great you are? Spoken out-loud your gratitude for all that you have and all that you are? I know this video is old, but it embodies perfectly what I'm talking about. Take a lesson from this kid (and from your own kids) and start loving yourself more today!
When I was a kid my dad was a workaholic. He was stressed out most of the time. And, though we did go on family vacations twice a year, the rest of the time he spent hard at work. He’d come home from the office, eat dinner, and then go into his study where he’d review the day’s paperwork and numbers until he went to bed. He didn’t help with the dishes or household chores. He rarely spent time playing with us. His mind was mostly on the company (a family steel business) he was trying to run successfully. He was stubborn, and that caused some fights between us, but most of the time he just did his thing, and I relied on my mom to take care of me, entertain me, teach me, help me, and parent me.
As I got older my relationship with my dad changed. He was a huge help when it came to decoding my Grade 12 economics textbook, and he had a much easier time relating to my brothers and me as teenagers. Still, it took until I was finished university for him to really change and for our relationship to morph into what it is today.
While my dad was busy doing his thing, I was busy trying to cope with my little brother Michael. He was four years younger than me, and the biggest pain in the you-know-what! He wasn’t the type of kid who could keep his anger or frustration or angst to himself. He’d let you know when he was pissed off. In fact, he’d let the whole world know if it came to that. It wasn’t unusual to go out for dinner as a family only to be completely embarrassed by him as he threw a fit because his chicken fingers didn’t look the way he’d expected them to.
With a dad who was always working and extremely stressed out and a little brother who was on a mission to drive us all crazy, you can probably imagine that my house wasn’t one of those super-calm places where everyone got along splendidly. It was loud. It was chaotic. At times it was overwhelming. And, while there was always more than enough love to go around (and we wanted for nothing), we certainly experienced our share of drama.
If you had known us back then, I bet you’d never imagine that in 2012 my dad and brother Michael would be celebrating the launch of a Hay House published book entitled: Empowered YOUth: A Father and Son’s Journey to Conscious Living. I bet you’d never believe that my dad would go on to leave the family steel business and become a life coach (one who leads meditations groups, is highly spiritual, extremely calm, and overflowing with love). Or that my brother would start up an organization, The Youth Wellness Network, dedicated to inspiring and empowering youth to live happier and more positive lives.
You’d never believe that the dad who was too focused on work to ever play with his kids, would be running around his condo pretend grocery shopping with my two-year-old daughter—laughing like a little boy. That the dad who didn’t have time to hear me out as a teenager, would wind up helping me and mentoring me more than anyone else in my life. That the dad who was filled with so much anxiety that he lived with bleeding ulcers and severe Crohn’s disease most of his life, would go off all medication and rely on wellness and natural health solutions to live symptom free.
If you had known Michael back then, if you’d seen him hiding from my mom in department stores, banging on my bedroom door and swearing at me, freaking out at the dinner table...you’d never guess that he’d go on to help parents and educators learn to better work with and relate to kids. That he’d be in classrooms across Canada and the US helping students learn how to love themselves more. That he’d be speaking at Hay House events alongside spiritual gurus like Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay. (Check him out in New York City this November!). That he’d be a self-help, personal empowerment author at the age of 27.
But that’s life for you! You never know how things are going to turn out.
Empowered YOUth is comprised of two stories. It’s about two men growing up at different times but facing very similar experiences. One the father and one the son. It’s honest, heart-warming, and sad. But so inspiring! Because while Michael and my dad suffered so much as young people, their transformation proves that no matter how tough life seems, change is always possible.
To say I’m extremely proud of my dad and brother would be an understatement. I too put in a huge amount of work into this book, editing and re-writing it to help them ensure it was a success. When I read their stories, I realized how deep their suffering was at times, and how huge their transformations really were. I felt sick when I read about my dad longing to put an end to his suffering as a teenager and Michael feeling like no matter what he did or how he acted, he never fit in. I felt inspired when I read about how they started to work together (while I was away at university) as coach-and-student, and in doing so began to repair their damaged relationship. I felt proud when I read how they both began leading by example, taking significant steps to change their lives in order to empower others to do the same. I felt empowered to make a more conscious effort in my own parenting; to realize what’s really important and to focus on allowing my daughter to be who she is, rather than imposing my values, beliefs, and limitations on her.
To celebrate the launch of their book, my dad and brother are hosting an event on October 17 in downtown Toronto. Tickets are $15 and include a copy of the book. They will present the practical tools and strategies they used to restore peace and repair connection within our family; while also providing a blueprint for change when it comes to personal growth, happiness, and living the empowered YOU. I hope you will join us!
LOCATION: The ING Direct Café, Downtown Toronto (221 Yonge Street)
DATE: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
TIME: 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
I’m also going to shamelessly ask that you consider buying a copy of the book or recommending it to someone you think who would benefit from reading it. It’s for parents. It’s for teens. It’s for teachers, youth workers, educators. It’s for anyone looking to make a change. It’s an easy-to-read story about a family. It’s easy to relate to. And it’s super uplifting. Once you read it, be sure to let me know what you think!