This is an excerpt from a writing project I’m working on. I’m applying James Altucher’s idea that we have four ‘bodies’ – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – to take care of, and thinking how parents can apply his idea. This is how I deal with some of my emotions.
What I do when kids make me angry.
I first remember them for the babies they are.
Take a moment to look at your son. He’s small, but he’s still bigger than he once was. Tomorrow he’ll be bigger yet, and each day he’ll grow bigger, mentally and physically. He will never be smaller than right now. In this moment. At lunch tomorrow his legs are going to be slightly longer or he’s going to know something he doesn’t know now.
My daughter is six. Already. She used to be small enough that every movement of mine was focused on bouncing or soothing her. I still have those tics. During presentations I sway back and forth because when she was a baby I used to do that while holding her.
Now her feet stretch past my knees when I carry her. Carrying a six year old is like moving a heavy fire hose compared to a baby which is more like a neatly wrapped pair of headphones.
She used to be six pounds and dependent on me for everything. I rocked, fed, and held her little life in my hands. I am her protector and provider. She was small and needed me to help her to walk and learn to eat. She needed my help with dressing and putting toys away. Some day she will need help with homework and boyfriends. When she was little, she first needed my help and now she needs it for another reason, another lesson.
This is what I do. In moments of anger or frustration, I remember that my daughter is, and will always be my baby – unless she becomes president.
That’s my second tool, pretending that I’m raising the next president of the United States of America. I actually hope my daughter doesn’t become president of the United States. There are so many other ways to be successful and have people drive you around. But pretending that I’m raising the next president gives me a sense of focus. If reminding myself that she’s never going to be smaller brings back the past, then thinking of what she’ll become makes me look toward the future.
In her book All Joy and No Fun, Jennifer Senior says that our parenting jobs might actually be easier if we knew what we were raising our kids to be. Now we want our kids to be anything they want, but in offering them the world, we don’t actually give them anything. Historically you just became what your parents were. A blacksmith forged a blacksmith and an aristocrat refined an aristocrat. I don’t know what my daughters will be, but tricking myself to think about raising the next president gives me focus that we have lost.
A.J. Jacobs shared a similar story about his research on George Washington. It turns out that Washington was incredibly proud of his posture and Jacobs tried to mimic this. Talking to James Altucher, Jacobs said; “And it was weird. Just like you said, first of all, it increased my own confidence, and I was more decisive with my kids and, you know, they started to – the weird thing was they started to listen to me more, and I felt that with people I dealt with as well. They said, oh, well this guy, he’s got some authority. So it’s a very strange thing with our minds that we really place a lot of emphasis on the way we hold our body.”
This idea to fake it until you make it has roots in psychology. If our brains watch our bodies do something we don’t believe in – like, donating to the Save The Whales or Jeb Bush 2016 – they don’t like that. Our three pound lump of grey matter likes things to be lined up like the silverware at a formal English dinner. When that mental silverware is out of order our brains take action.
Instead of letting the salad fork and knives mingle, the brain will redo the entire setting – in this case, our thoughts. When we act a certain way, our brain will get our thoughts to match like an accompanying puzzle piece. When I pretend then that I’m raising the next president, I act accordingly. I take a moment to teach rather than preach. I try to care and share not stare and glare. When my actions lead the way, my brain follows like a dog on a leash.
During our early presidential preparation I understand how rough they are, how unpolished everything but their purple fingernails are. I also know that we have got time to work at it. They can’t even run for another thirty years, I’ve got three decades to slowly build them up. I can patiently explain why we don’t put our feet next to our food and why we should show empathy. I can take my time with diffusing sharing situations and then explain the nuances of international trade, taxes, and tariffs.
It doesn’t need to be president either, because anything here works. It works because as parents we refocus our attention on the long term and getting in the things that matter.
Those are two tools I use to be a better parent. I’m not a great parent but whenever I think in one of these ways I feel like a better one.