During lockdown, I have tried to teach my 11-year-old; the process has turned out to be a great education for me.
Recently, I introduced him to a new mountain bike. Since he seemed – in my opinion – to be less than enamoured with riding this bike to its full potential, I, in my wisdom, decided that a practical demonstration from a ‘master’ was needed in order to engender the right mindset. Basically a dad demonstration was called for! The occasion called for ‘the master’ to demonstrate his wisdom, intelligence and physical prowess to his student. As you have probably guessed, this ended disastrously with me going over the handlebars and breaking some bones. My wife Karen’s only comment was that it was all so predictable.
In a bizarre twist, this incident just confirmed that my 11-year-old has indeed been the greatest teacher in my life.
Now, this year marks my 38th year as a dad and 12th year as a grandad! Like most people, before I had children, I thought I knew a lot about parenting. Of course, I had history, I was a child once myself. One of 10 in fact. I had also had parents. How hard could this parenting lark be really? I would be the same person as a parent, just one who now answers to Daddy. Oh, how little did I know about parenting, but more importantly, about myself!
I am not a youthful dad and that classic saying ‘the days are long but the years are short’ is so true as it applies to me and to parenting.
Being a parent pushes your limits. I always knew it was an honour to raise kids, but it has taken me a lifetime to understand how much they have impacted me. While I don’t consider myself a ‘veteran’ parent quite yet, I have learned a few things in the past 38 years.
I have seen and learnt the consequences of my poor parenting – three of my kids are now in their 30s and remind me constantly of the parental frailties I displayed when they were growing up. I think that my 20 years as a corporate animal gave me little time to appreciate parenting, because my priorities and selfishness were focused on my own personal growth, career ambition and earning money.
I always felt I would have had more time to give once I achieved the next thing. The reason I was so hooked on getting things done is that I believed the payoff that comes from achievements – an award or a larger bank account – would ultimately lead to the biggest payoff of all: happiness. But it didn’t.
We all have the illusion that the success, fame, money, _______ (fill in the blank) we are constantly chasing will bring us some kind of lasting fulfillment. The result for me was that I was MIA (missing in action) for a lot of my older three kids’ development and life.
Now as someone considered to be an expert in education, I thought I really knew a lot about what a crazy journey it would be. It turns out, book knowledge is one thing but real-life experience is a whole other learning process.
What my children have taught me about my parenting skills, my self-awareness, my relationships, my dark side, my understanding of life in the past 30 years is more valuable than any book I may have read or any Phd I have done on change, behaviour and transformation.
What my kids have taught me about myself has been monumental. They’ve shown me who I really am and their ability to bring out the best (and the worst) in me has, in itself, been an important life lesson. As a result, I am not the same person I was 30 years ago, 15 years ago or yesterday.
To become a better parent, I had to quiet my ego.
Too often we sabotage our own parenting with our need to be right and tell our kids what is right in our eyes or the rules we expect them to adhere to. Of course, boundaries are needed, but there also has to be learning through behaviour – ours – not just through our words. We need to be able to admit when we are wrong, and quite frankly accepting the ‘magnitude of our ignorance’.
Real learning, in most cases, requires us to change what we believe, and genuine interest, open-mindedness with no pre-determined or hidden agenda, is what helps us achieve that.
In a previous blog article, I wrote about how my 11 year old son Ethan asked if I understood the 3 Ls and when I asked what they are, he said they are the most important lesson in life, and that if we implement them, it will make a huge difference to the kind of life we have.
Obviously, I was intrigued. He told me the 3 Ls stand for: Live, Love, Learn. When I researched his reading, they meant
- Live in the moment
- Love widely
- Learn to forget
Fantastic words and so meaningful to us all.
For me, I am always fascinated by how some people find so much peace in this life that it seems like they die happy. So, we should focus on the important things.
In discussions and interviews I have had with many people who seem to have this inner peaceful balance, I have learnt six very important secrets that set the tone for their life. These dovetails very well with Ethan’s 3 Ls.
The learnings from a lifetime of parenting, from the mistakes I made and from what my kids taught me can be best captured in the following six keys themes that I will come back to in future blogs.
- To thine own self be true
- Live in the present moment always
- Love widely and inclusively without shame
- Learn to forgive (yourself as well) and bin the rubbish
- Give more than you get as it is in giving that you receive
- Laugh till you die, and laugh as you die.
Our lives are a journey and many of us flow through life without understanding either the destination or the purpose of the journey. Many of us drift along, looking backwards and forwards in a random manner, without real consideration to who we are, why are we here and what footprints we are leaving behind.
In this beautiful and sometimes turbulent river called life, there will be different situations that we face, different problems to be resolved, anxieties to overcome, children to be reared and environments that can be kind or hostile. Sometimes life will hit us very hard like a punch in the face, where we may fall and feel nothing but pain.
The choice we have is: will we allow it to paralyze or destroy us?
The truth is there is no answer, because the answer itself is determined by the attitude we adopt, or by our reaction to what happened and the following actions we take.
Do we accept, adapt and adopt new beginnings, or do we freeze, regret, resent and keep doing the same thing and wonder why nothing changes?
Here is story that builds upon that and teaches us about life.
A stream sets off on its new life from a far-off mountain.
Its journey begins falling down the mountain and passing through every kind OF landscape. Every barrier or obstacle it meets, it overcomes, and it grows in strength.
There is nothing that can halt its path. This stream is on manoeuvres.
Its energy and its spirit lives on as it moves though the countryside.
Suddenly it reaches the sands of the desert.
This is like nothing it has ever experienced before.
However, just as it has crossed every other obstacle, the stream tries to cross this one, but no matter what it does, when the stream reaches the sand, its waters disappears.
The stream is confused, depressed angry and upset.
However, it is a tough stream, and it is convinced that its destiny is to cross this desert, and the its life is not destined to be a stream that just pours water into sand. Yet there is no way it can find to do so. Now a voice out of the desert whispers: “The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”
The stream says “I keep trying but I cannot get past the sand”.
The voice in the dessert said “By continuing in the same way and doing the same things over and over again, whilst expecting a different result every time, will change nothing. You cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you to your destination.”
“But how could this happen? ” says the stream.
“By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.” says the voice from the dessert.
This idea seems unacceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, it could ever be regained. “But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?” says the stream.
“You can remain the same” the whisper said. “However, you will just end up doing the same thing over and over again. You must learn this is not the end of something, but the beginning of something new. Falling as rain, you become a new river capable of managing a new landscape. Embrace the change and you will find that it allows you to learn and grow.”
And the stream decides to take a risk. It raises its vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily carries it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reach the roof of a mountain many, many miles away. It falls there and becomes a bigger and better stream. And because it had its doubts, the stream is able to remember and learn in its mind the details of the experience. It reflects, “Yes, now I have learned my true identity.” (adapted; source unknown)
Whatever has happened to us, or wherever we are in life, there is no way we can go back to the past and change it.
No matter how hard we fight with our current status, we will never be able to go back and change something. Therefore, the only way forward is to change our current situation and move forward.
Our present is the place where we create the foundations of our future.
Every day of your life you can decide to start again.
THE MENTAL FILTER
3 Questions to ask yourself
- Do you meet the world with a positive attitude?
- Do you judge others by the standards you live to?
- Are you consciously grateful for all that you do have?
About Dr Maurice Duffy
Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.