Kids as Self-Improvement Motivation

Kids as Self-Improvement Motivation

Monday, I talked about not using children as your main goal for self-improvement. Instead of working towards being a better parent, figure out why you struggle with the aspects you want to improve and work on that instead. Improved parenting becomes a secondary benefit when you feel better about yourself. So when I say, kids as self-improvement motivation, it feels like I am taking a step backward from Monday’s post.

But I’m not.

Because children are a part of our daily lives, they can also be a part of our motivation. Seeing your children born and grow may motivate you to become healthier to live longer. Or they reflect behaviors that you do but know needs to change. Their appearance in your life may be enough for you to say “I need to make some changes!”

With that in mind,  kids can work as self-improvement motivation.

A Clarification: Parental Responsibility

Before I go any further I need to make some clarifications and disclaimers to contextualize the rest of this post.

Your children are not responsible for motivating you. They do not create or affect your happiness or ability to succeed. Only you are responsible for yourself and your behaviors. Things in your past may influence your current behaviors, but you are responsible for your own actions. Therefore, your children are not responsible for your ability to make and achieve your goals.

What I do suggest is to use their natural behaviors and inclinations to achieve your goals. If you have a toddler it’s near impossible to keep them still, so if you want to exercise, try to take advantage of their energy.

Jai loves to exercise and run around the house. One of my short-term goals this year is to do more yoga. Why not combine his need to burn energy and my need to practice? Using his natural need to expend energy as a means to motivate me to exercise is using him as a motivator. I am placing no expectations on him, no responsibility, he doesn’t even know that he is helping me out.

Likewise, if you are looking to de-stress and improve how you react to your children under stressful circumstances, do not expect them to behave any differently. Look at how they react to you when you react to them. Sometimes seeing a look, that look, that they give can be motivating enough to work harder to avoid getting it next time.

You are placing no expectations on the children, no responsibility on them to help you through your journey. The only responsibility your children have in this journey is being their own, individual person, enjoying their childhood, and reaping the benefits of the work you do for yourself.

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Self-Improvement and being a parent

Self-Improvement and Being a Parent

Type “parenting & self-improvement” in a search engine of choice and you’ll come up with thousands of blogs, articles, and studies on ways to improve your parenting. But what about a separation of the two concepts? Self-Improvement AND being a parent? That’s something I want to examine in today’s post.

For some, it’s because of our kids that we decide to take the time to become a better person. I know that’s what I did. I want to examine the importance of taking the time to focus on ourselves with the end-goal of becoming better parents. Any self-improvement we do for ourselves will help improve our abilities to be a parent for our children.

As I discussed last Monday about happiness, if you want to improve your parenting, consider making the end-goal not about your parenting but about yourself.

Make the Journey About Yourself

Type in “ways to improve parenting” and many of the sites to pop up are ways to be a more active listener, be patient, and take time to get to know your kids. All of these are fantastic suggestions, but hard to sustain if the work behind a lack of listening, patience, or communication isn’t addressed internally.

In this year of wellness, if you are a parent, make the journey about yourself first and not about improving your parenting.

If one of your goals (discussed in last week’s newsletter) this year is to improve parenting, this isn’t me saying you need to reconsider your goals. Rather, I am suggesting that you consider the reasons and alter your perspective before going any further.

If you focus too much on something that will deepen your frustration, if you find that you aren’t meeting your benchmarks, you will get frustrated. Frustration leads to discouragement and possibly giving up before achieving your goals.

Therefore, make this journey first about yourself and about your children second. If you’ve done air travel or seen it in a movie/TV – remember what the flight attendants always say: take care of your oxygen mask first before helping anyone else, specifically your children.

If you aren’t able to help yourself, it’s going to be very hard to help your kids. 

So if a goal is to be a more attentive parent, ask yourself what might be at the root of that? Make the answer to that question your goal for the year. Quick to snap at a child? Focus on your anger or negatively associated feelings with yourself instead of saying “raise my voice less towards my children.”

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Toddler Life Lessons

This post was originally published August 2018.


Toddlers are too young to understand deep, philosophical lessons. They are too young to understand moral quandaries. They are too young to really grasp right from wrong.

As parents, we know that just because they can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. I feel like this is a “no, duh” moment many parents are saying to themselves right now.

Yet an issue I run into as I parent Jai with Ash is knowing what lessons to teach and how best to teach them. Questions I ask myself on a daily basis: is this something worth correcting Jai on? How do I correct him, with a warning or straight to time out? Should I follow the mainstream recommendation or go with my instinct?

A mentor once told me years ago, well before I met Ash, that you are never truly prepared to have a child. So if you want to have one, you have to just jump in and learn as you go. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be worth it in the end when you have a functioning, well-adjusted adult that wants to have a relationship with you after they’ve moved out of the house.

But in order to achieve this, I have to begin training Jai to be polite, thoughtful, a good listener, able to share, and comfortable with adults as a toddler. The list is a bit longer than that, but those are the main concerns I have on a daily basis with a toddler.

As I am training Jai, I have to be mindful of several things: I’m an adult, what battles to pick and being humble throughout the whole experience.

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Personal Growth (after having a child)

Today is Jai’s 2nd birthday.

I wanted to spend the post reflecting on how much my life changed for the better since his arrival two years ago.  It’s going to be a post about me, but hopefully not too sappy when I talk about Jai and his impact on my life.

Life before a Toddler

To be cliche, life before a child is relatively uncomplicated. Any complications I had to deal with were of my own making. I was in graduate school, dealing with interpersonal drama, and trying to manage my MS. Granted, at the time, I didn’t see how I affected everything around me and how I could untangle myself from my complications, but I wasn’t ready to receive the wisdom that life experience gives to tell me that.

To be fair, life with a child isn’t any more complicated than without – it’s just what becomes complicated shifts and you are now responsible for another human being. Life is complicated in a different way.

Before Jai, my life was completely unfocused. I had to figure out how to handle my diagnosis, I needed to re-prioritize my life, and I needed to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for the long-term. Many moments were spent just allowing myself to be distracted from figuring out what I wanted to do and allowing myself to remain in a rut.

This would include binge-watching TV, comfort eating, playing games, teaching without forward momentum, and finding other means to avoid dealing with what kept me from finding focus.

I thought when I re-prioritized my life after accepting my MS that I was done, but I still engaged in avoidant behavior when it came to making major life decisions. I needed to drop toxic people from my life (and be okay when they left), make serious professional decisions, and do a better job managing my health.

I think in some part having a child was another means of distracting me from making those decisions. I had a biological desire to have a child, but I also wanted to push decision-making down the road for a couple more years. Not a good reason to have a child, by the way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the parents.

Changing for the Better

It wasn’t an instantaneous change when Jai was born. I had to recover, readjust, and reprioritize my life with a new family member. A newborn provides a great distraction for those looking to be distracted. But after my MRI in July 2017, coupled with Jai’s increasing solid food diet, I realized that I needed to make some serious life changes.

On the days I drove to work I saw a sign that said: “be the person your dog believes you to be.” I always thought it was a silly sign mainly because I am a cat person and I never gave it much thought to the philosophy behind it. Once I had Jai I reflected on what the sign truly meant (but switched out “a dog” for “a child”): a child views a parent as a protector, educator, and comfort. I realized that I needed to become the person Jai thought I was to the best of my ability.

That’s when I decided to begin my journey towards healthier living, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Jai didn’t make me change, that wasn’t and never will be his responsibility. I was changing for Jai and mostly for myself. I realized that I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life and that unhappiness was going to impact Jai.

But it would be dishonest to say that I would have made these changes with or without a child. I would like to think that I had enough self-awareness to make the changes eventually, that I would get tired of my status quo, but I don’t think I would have gone in a positive direction. I suspect I would have given up on a lot of things and just existed, waiting for my MS to progress to the point of no return.

I think that having something outside of me and dependant upon me, beyond a cat, was my “rock bottom.” Having Jai was both the highlight of my life up to that point, but the wake-up call I needed to have to make necessary changes. Again, not his responsibility, but for me was the kick in the pants I needed to make improvements.

There are plenty of days where I wish I made these changes before having Jai, but I don’t believe in indulging too much in regret, so here I am.

Moving Forward

I am hoping that I will continue to grow and change in positive ways for Jai. I want to be the person he believes I am: confident, caring, kind, strong, and comfort. It’s important that I model positive behaviors for him so he can become the person I know he can be.

I just find it so hard to believe that another person can make someone want to change for the better. I wanted to be a better person for Ash when we first met, but I moved at a glacier’s pace for him. With Jai, when I made the decision to change it was much faster and more persistent.

I think the best birthday present I could give Jai is my commitment to him and continuing to be the best, yet acceptable imperfect, parent he needs in his life.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


A Culinary Education

Part of the process of raising a foodie is teaching a child how to cook and bake. If you want to appreciate what’s in front of you, you have to know how it’s made on a fundamental level.

Jai knowing how to cook and bake by the time he turns 18 is important to me. I want to know that he is able to take care of himself in the most basic ways without having to rely on others to do it for him. If despite knowing how to make meals for himself, he chooses fast food every night for months on end, I am okay with that. When he’s ready to impress a potential partner or roommate with his domestic skills, he’ll be able to do so.

To start this education, it means that I need to introduce him to the kitchen as soon as he’s ready. Right now I am letting it take a more natural route, letting him drift in and out of the kitchen, answering questions he might have and include him when I can. I don’t force the issue once he’s lost interest. I want the experience to be enjoyable, not frustrating for either of us.

Innate Helpers (and how to take Advantage)

Toddlers are innate helpers. They want to help parents around the house even when it makes more of a mess in the process. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for parents to discourage this “helping” desire because of the mess, which discourages the child’s desire to help as they grow older.

Rather than discourage this tendency, it’s recommended to encourage it as much as possible, which is what I do with Jai. I try not to take the task away from him when he makes more of a mess, but gently guide him towards the appropriate way to clean or pick up his stuff. At this point his responsibility level is minimal, but his enthusiasm is astronomical.

Right now, it makes more work for me, but I know that as he grows older he will be able to be more helpful. I am just waiting for his attention span, dexterity, and even a growth spurt or two to come in before he is able to help in a more meaningful way. Until that happens, though, I have to continue to encourage his help even when it slows me way down.

With that in mind, I work in more time to do certain tasks that I know he’ll be interested within the kitchen. Breakfast isn’t a quick ordeal because he has to help me crack the eggs, scramble them in a bowl, put the cooking spray cap on, and supervise my cooking of the eggs. What should take me 5 minutes from start to clean-up takes about 10 because we have to wash his hands after cracking the eggs in the bowl and little distractions that stop all progress for a few seconds.

There are days where he’ll hear the blender running and come rushing in to see what is happening. In those instances, I shut the blender off, show him what’s inside (though mostly pulverized), and let him push the button to get it started again.

There are other days where something I am working on bothers him for no explanation. I was trying to assemble my espresso stovetop maker the other day and he came in to check on what I was doing. He saw the utensil in my hands and got very upset. I tried to figure out what was bothering him about the maker, but he was just shaking his head, going “no, no, no” in an extremely concerned voice. I put it down and waited until he left the kitchen, 5 minutes later, before I tried to assemble and make my coffee again.

What it boils down to is respecting his wishes and independence in the kitchen, even at 23-months. I am respecting his desire to help, learn, and make (some) decisions with the end goal of him feeling comfortable helping me and learning more when he is ready.

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