This morning during the chaos of pouring cereal and children bickering over a Lego figurine at the breakfast table, I tried to get my husband’s attention. He hadn’t heard the news yet so I knew I couldn’t let him start his day without telling him what had happened. As I whispered into his ear my words came out awkwardly, like a pilot giving instructions without using complete sentences: “mass shooting…over 50 people were killed…outdoor concert…” When he finally grasped what I was saying we looked at each other and no words came out.
The kids continued to get ready for school and I distractedly packed lunches, put away breakfast, and got myself prepared for the day. I remember wondering if I should say something to them? It felt too horrific to talk about just now, but I worried that my oldest might hear from someone else at school. Then what? What kinds of fears might grow inside of her before we had a chance to talk? What misinformation would she get?
I knew it would be too much for my youngest, especially because she had recently started asking big questions. Like what happens when you grow old and whether or not you come back as a baby once you die. Her innocence makes my heart ache and I wasn’t sure she could grasp any of this.
So, I said nothing.
I went through the motions and got them in the car. We listed to KidzBop and I gave them huge hugs as they left the car. As I watched their little bodies walk into school I thought to myself,
This is parenting: trying to protect my children from the real world, while knowing this is the world I have to prepare them to face.
If your children are privileged, like mine, this process of facing reality has been gradual. There was no extreme suffering at a young age for my kids, no witnessing of disasters or violence. No perpetual discrimination, trauma, or major hardship. Even with the expected pains, losses, and health concerns that we’ve endured as a family, I’ve managed to keep hidden from them some of the scariest parts of living.
But I’m aware that just as it’s my responsibility to protect them to some degree, it’s also my responsibility to gradually, inch by inch, lift off the fabric to reveal some of the awful parts of life. To show them that scary things happen, and to hope that they will feel. Feelings like empathy, sadness, shock and anger…and motivation to help others and alleviate pain in the world. And hopefully they will realize the tough lesson that I am still working on—to treasure each day.
I’m not sure what I’ll say to my kids about what happened in our country today. I may just wait to see if they ask questions. If they do, I will probably stifle my tears and fumble around with my words until I say something that sounds reasonable. Something that gives my children peace that they are safe right now, so that they can get to sleep without fear. And then I will give them huge hugs… because that’s all I have for now.
Have you ever heard the phrase:
“Eat the frog?”
It comes from a quote that is often used by productivity authors to emphasize that we can avoid procrastination by completing the tasks that we’ve been putting off early in the day, so we can then focus on other things.
Though the quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, it actually came from a French humorist named Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794):
Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter
nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.
I’ve found this advice to be helpful in many areas of my life, mostly because I have a tendency to procrastinate with tasks I am dreading to do. I often wait till the last day something is due before finishing it, whether it’s my driver’s license registration, field trip permission slips and immunization records, or projects at work. The tasks float in and out of brain, taking up energy because I continuously remember them and realize they are not getting done. Then, I get stressed completing them at the very last minute, sometimes missing deadlines, or even worse, getting it done just in the nick of time and having the (undeserved) reward of completing the task…which only makes me more likely to do it again! All in all it’s a cycle that doesn’t work well for me.
When I’ve tried to ‘eat the frog’ in the past, I’ve noticed that those dreaded tasks get out of my head and I am free to move onto other things. It is such a relief! They are not poking and nagging at me all day, or week, and instead they get checked off the to-do list and I can do something else. For me this technique replaces the negative energy of an unfinished job with a boost of satisfaction and motivation.
As I was thinking about this technique the other day, it suddenly occurred to me that there’s a whole other set of tasks that I keep putting off and not “eating”: my self-care. Those tasks that nourish my body, mind and heart, and that help me be more productive in every area of my life. I’m not sure they are really ‘frogs,’ because I do feel like I want to do them. Nevertheless, I am procrastinating and they are not getting done even though I need them in my life. Simple things like getting my hair cut regularly. Or using that gift certificate for a massage that my husband gave me years ago. Important things like scheduling a night out with a girlfriend or calling the babysitter to finally plan that date night everyone keeps saying we need to do.
Why don’t we use productivity principles for things that matter but that keep getting pushed aside, like our self-care?
For example, what would happen if early in the day I “ate the frog” and found 10 minutes for myself to sit quietly with a cup of coffee? Or how might my week feel different if on Sunday night I texted some friends to make plans for the next weeks, or identified a date for that ever-elusive spa treatment by myself? It might just have the dual benefit of getting out of my head AND providing the opportunity to do something that I know will benefit me and my relationships.
How can you “eat the frog” this week to promote your well-being?
Sometimes change comes easily and it is wonderful. Babies start sleeping through the night, moms start having a little more time for themselves, and partners begin to find more moments to enjoy each other’s company. Other types of change are not as positive: A child’s behavior has suddenly become challenging, a mom has started feeling anxious, or a relationship hits a rough spot. The extreme changes that we experience are, of course, the most difficult: losses of health, loved ones, connections, or important roles and opportunities in our lives.
The commonality in all of these, regardless of how they are experienced, is that they are changes and they reflect a natural part of our world. The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said it best with his assertion that “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” In other words, life is flux, and all things change.
How we react to changes in our lives is certainly related to our well-being. If we go around expecting that things will stay the same, then we are constantly shocked and caught off-guard when they change. Similarly, if we resist the relatively minor changes that naturally happen, we experience tension and conflict within ourselves and in our relationships with others. And for those difficult changes that are the most painful, if we don’t utilize our internal and external resources we may not be able to even put one foot in front of the other each day.
As a mother, I often reflect on how I want my children to see that I handle change:
*Do I fight against the inevitable or do I try to flow with changes in life?
*Do I become so stuck in my routine that any change to the schedule throws me off?
*Do I show my kids how I embrace change, sometimes even finding humor and joy in the unexpected?
*When difficult changes happen, how do I seek and receive the support of others?
*How do I balance modeling my pain and grief with a mixture of adaptation, acceptance and hope for what lies ahead?
As we feel the transition to Fall, let’s consider how we can show our children that we handle the inevitability of change…