Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Devil of a Job

"Being a parent is the hardest job in the world."

You've heard this statement before, right?  I've been guilty of using it too, at some point or another.  But, come on.  Is it really the hardest job, or was this statement coined by a  full-time parent feeling guilty over not being able to bring home the bacon?  Trust me, having been home for 6 years, I know that feeling... especially as a male.

If you were to apply for a job as a parent, perhaps this would be the ad:

JOB DESCRIPTION:"Long term commitment needed for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Applicant must have excellent communication and organizational skills, and be willing to work around the clock.  Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in god awful locations. Travel expenses not covered. Sense of humor, a must."

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None, unfortunately. On-the-job training will be provided.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: You pay your way, offering frequent raises and bonuses to those you supervise. No workers comp provided.

How's that for a scary job description? Yikes!

My problem with the above statement is not that we call it the "hardest" job, but rather that we call it a "job" at all.  Is it really a job? Is your marriage a job?  Is giving advice to your best friend a job?  Last I checked, I wasn't able to buy myself an iPad  with the extra income I earned by reading to my daughter at night. And wiping butts never paid for a weekend getaway in Vegas. 

When I stop and think about hard jobs, my mind conjures up visions of waste disposal employees, ER doctors, Pediatric Oncology nurses.... just to name a few.  By comparison, being a parent seems like a walk in the park, don't you think?

To me, being a parent is simply a relationship.   A relationship between us and our children.  A relationship we chose to be in.  We attend to their needs and keep them safe.   By viewing parenting as a job, I believe it takes away from the importance of what we do. 

We can always quit our job if we're not satisfied, right (perhaps not in this economy)? We can change careers if we're not happy.  And yes, I admit, there are days when I would like to trade my children in for less "hostile" co-workers, but I don't.  Our jobs may be disposable, but not our kids.

So what if we say: "Being a parent is the hardest relationship in the world."  How would that sound to you?  To me, it adds value and meaning.  I'm also reminded of what the focus really is.  To listen. To encourage. To teach. To comfort.  To reassure.  To sit on your hands when your first instinct is to give them a big whop!

I find parents come to me, seeking advice, when their child doesn't fit into a mold or expectation.  When they can't understand why their first child was so "perfect" and their second or third is just a holy terror.  Some children may be happy and ebullient from the time they take their first breath, while others may be sullen and detached.

Regardless of who they are, we adjust how we relate to them according to their personality style.   But if we take parenting on as a job, then we may fall into the trap of developing a workplace mentality.  Mainly, measuring our success by the quality of our product.  If we haven't produced a child who is "good," responsible and high-achieving,  then, alas, we have failed at our job! 


Sunday, January 16, 2011

In The Zone

Happy New Year!

Have you taken a moment yet to ponder your personal successes and shortcomings over this past year?   Have you quietly said to yourself: "This year will be different.  I'm not going to make the same mistakes.  Perhaps it's time to change my bad habits."

Ahhh... that's right, it's New Year's resolution time.  I still can't fit into my old  size-32 jeans, which was one of my resolutions last year.  But I'll be dammed if I don't make the effort again in 2011.  And you know what?  That's okay.  Resolutions are made to be broken.  Now this isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  But the reason we usually make a resolution is because we want to change some particular behavior.  It's not always gonna happen the first time you try - or the second - or even the third.  

I don't treat extreme mental disorders.  Most of my clients have mild to moderate problems.  And most of them (if not all) come to therapy because they want to break a negative pattern of behavior they keep repeating.  For example, compulsively loving someone that doesn't love them back.  Or staying in careers that make them sad and unfulfilled.  Or wondering why they keep sabotaging their successes when goals are almost attained.

Freud would say that perhaps we are recreating the same feelings, conflicts and relationship styles that we experienced in childhood.  Others might think that we're masochists and want to avoid pleasure.  Or is it simply an addiction?  Are we addicted to negative behaviors that we just have to repeat?

If you believe how we were raised as children directly influences how we value ourselves, how we navigate through life and how happy we are as adults, then you agree with the majority of the professional research in this area.

(Note to self: Make sure I tell my kids that they are good, lovable, worthwhile and important.  That, though life is full of challenges, it can still be an exciting and fun place to be in.)

So what do we do, then,  if our parents weren't well-versed in their abilities to shape us into positive, healthy, risk-taking individuals? If we were conditioned to be who we are today, then what's the point?  Do we give up trying to change?  Are we forever a prisoner of our past?

Welcome to our comfort zone.  It's what we call home.  It's why we only brush with Colgate rather than Crest (blegh!).   It's why we vote the way we do.  It's the type of friends we keep, the foods we eat, the spouses we choose, the neighborhoods we pick to live in.  We're simply creatures of habit.  And when we step outside these comfort zones, anxiety comes knocking.  Who wants that kind of stress, right?  I know I don't.

Years ago, I worked with a teenage foster child who was finally succeeding in school, getting good grades and had hopes of going to college.  She had a great support system with her foster family, social workers, therapist, etc.

Her biological family (who were uneducated, had very little means, and were proud of their working class heritage) became rejecting and critical when they saw their daughter breaking the mold.  Her straying from her family's comfort zone was a huge slap in the face.  A "fork in the road" was materializing for this young woman.  She had an important decision to make. 

Sadly, when this child returned home, college no longer entered the picture.  Stepping away from her family's embrace was too much to bear.  The risk of loss was too great.  She went back to being who she was expected to be... so that she could be loved.

When we face change and look to escape our comfort zone, it can be scary.  We need to be prepared and surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to stay on track.   We need to understand what it is that scares us when we step over that line.  Who are we letting down by changing?  Whose  voices are playing in our heads that tell us not to do it?  But, perhaps most importantly, we need to separate ourselves from the influences of those who can't tolerate our growth. 

My resolution this year is to stretch and grow (not in the waist, please, please!).  Take on new challenges and continue to redefine my passions.  What are yours?  How are you going to find the help to step out of your comfort zone? 

If you're not happy with what you are getting from life, then stop doing what you're doing.  Don't wait for the world to give you value.  You need to create your own value first, then send it out to the world for others to enjoy and benefit from.