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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Want Versus Intent

My supervisor at the fertility clinic insists that we ask every client or couple about their "intent" to have a child. At first a lot of people are confused about what this means. Clearly they want a child or they would not be sitting in front of us.

But the difference is this: you can absolutely want something, but you may not be willing to do what it takes to get it.

In the fertility realm, this sometimes means that a couple wants a child, but is only willing to have their own biological child. So if this is an impossibility, they will remain childless rather than using other means of becoming a parent (i.e. sperm and/or egg donation, adoption, etc.).

I have recently realized that it is intent not our desire for something that determines whether or not we reach the goal.

In the past when I have worked as a personal trainer and/or nutrition consultant, I have always been puzzled when people would tell me they want to lose weight or improve their health, and yet, even after I told them how to do it, they would not follow my advice and consequently would not reach their goals.

I now understand that while losing weight, for example, might be something they want to do, they are not willing to make the changes/sacrifices necessary to do it or do not believe they are capable of doing so.

I have been able to reach a level of greater empathy for this situation since I now realize I am in the same situation in particular areas of my own life.

A few months ago I was feeling really down about myself. I started to notice that so many women walk around town looking like they stepped out of a salon with manicured hands, wearing funky outfits, sexy stilletos and carrying designer handbags.

I normally walk around in jeans or yoga pants, a black shirt, and Sketchers, with my un-manicured fingernails cut short, carrying my New Balance single strap backpack. I kept thinking that I wanted to look more like these women, like a fashionista, and less like...like a fitnessista. I now own one pair of stilletos, I have lots of funky clothes in my closet and drawers, and I even have some nice (knockoff) bags. So what was stopping me?

Finally I realized that in order to dress that way, I would have to stop walking and riding my bike everywhere, and start taking public transport or the car. Cycling through city streets in stilletos with a purse that keeps slipping off your shoulder is not terrible sensible! Chasing two young kids down the street in heels is just not possible.

Am I willing to change my lifestyle in that way? Nope. I do want to look more sophisticated and fashionable, but I have accepted that it does not suit my lifestyle and I am not willing to change my lifestyle.

The same thing has been going on with parenting for me. I have mentioned a gazillion times on this blog how I want to be a better mom. Yet I have not done what it takes to make this happen. When conflict with Big A got really bad a few weeks ago, neither Adam nor I were very proud of the things we did and said. But in the heat of the moment faced with an angry, disrespectful, completely irrational child, in spite of everything I've read about discipline, I felt clueless about what to do. I even started to think maybe I should just accept the fact that she and I are going to constantly clash because I am not capable of doing things any differently.

So my want was there but intent was low. Why? Not because I don't think being a mom is my most important responsibility, but because (1) my self-efficacy was low, and (2) I didn't know how to make this happen.

The parenting consultants gave me some good tips, but 2 visits from them was not enough and we can't afford to use them as a long-term solution. In addition, I feel like I am constantly being bombarded by many contradictory messages from magazines, books and other parents: Make all the decisions for them! Give them choices so they feel in control! Praise every little good thing they do! Don't over-praise them!

Who is right? What is the best strategy for disciplining, bolstering self-esteem, encouraging independence? It's enough to make me tear my hair out in frustration!

While chatting about parenting with another counsellor at the conference a few weeks ago, she mentioned a book titled: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. Now people frequently recommend books to me, but often when I buy them or flip through them at the book store, they either don't offer me any new ideas or the ideas simply do not resonate for me. But what she described intrigued me and referred to parenting and discipline strategies I had NEVER tried.

Last weekend I bought the book.

I am so glad I did! This is the parenting advice book for me. Is it for you? I can't say, because the other thing I've realized is that parenting is NOT one-size-fits-all. What is "right" depends on your own values and beliefs, your personality, and the personality of your child.

The book covers how to help children deal with their feelings, engaging cooperation, encouraging autonomy, praise, and freeing children from playing roles.

The suggestions align with my personal beliefs, but also seem very doable for me. I also like that they don't just tell you what to do, but they tell you how and why. They ALSO tell you what to do if it does not work!

For example, they suggest that if your child does not listen to you and you find yourself repeating things to him or her over and over, until you are raising your voice and losing your temper, you should instead, say it once, and then ask them to repeat it to make sure they have heard and understand.

So last night when Little A was stalling going to bed and I found myself saying over and over that it was time to get into bed, I remembered this and asked her, "What did mommy just say?" "It time for bed," she replied. And finally began climbing into her bed. It was a win-win: She got into bed and I didn't raise my voice or lose my cool!

Other tactics for engaging cooperation that I've tried with Big A have also been successful. I am actually excited to try them all.

The book's philosophy has also inspiring me to make other changes. Big A wanted me to come to her school this week for her school's French music concert. I missed them all last year because they hold them at 9:15am on weekdays, which is my best working time. Even though she mentioned other parents went, I figured it was just a few stay-at-home moms and/or nannies from the neighbourhood. But I could see how important this was to her so today I decided I would make it happen. I even drove the kids to school to get them there early, so there was time for me to drive home, eat, do some work and then bicycle back to the school for the concert. To my surprise the school's library was FULL of other parents. Parents who are writers, academics, pharmaceutical executives, physicians, daycare workers, etc. My friend Megan was there and she explained that she had taken the morning off of work. Most of the other parents zipped off right after, so I figure they probably just went to work late. The whole thing was only 30 minutes long and Big A was over-joyed that I attended. I'm not going to miss another one!

I may not ever be a fashionista, but I now know I can be a better mom. I want to be, but I also intend to be.

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