Life – it’s not like the brochure

(5 minute read)

What did you envision when you were contemplating parenthood? I’m guessing lots of special moments and fun…..You, your partner and your children, relaxing and enjoying each others company……happy and healthy. And I’m sure that life is exactly as you imagined….sometimes. However, I think most parents would agree that, generally speaking, parenting is not for the faint-hearted. It’s 24/7, what works constantly changes, and some days it feels like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. I think most teenagers would describe their lives like that too!

As a parent, you discover a love so deep and fierce, you didn’t know it was possible. You also become aware of a lot of things you didn’t know about yourself: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In my experience, parenthood invites you to consider improving yourself – for the good of all involved! Thus, as a mother and a researcher, I have spent years informally investigating ways that I could possibly improve my experience of parenthood and my children’s experience of childhood.

First, I tried to pinpoint ‘The Issue’ or ‘The Problem’ which was standing between our family and a harmonious home. I asked other parents and teenagers what they found most challenging about family life. Issues included (but were not restricted to): poor communication between family members (bickering, yelling, interrupting, ignoring, grunting, insulting); lack of respect (for each other, possessions, time, a job well done, etc); and technology (a variety of issues relating to the amount and type of use). It became apparent that certain behaviours and ways of interacting (ie a bunch of ‘little’ things), were eroding the enjoyment of family life for many families.

Next, I took a look at what ‘the experts’ were recommending. The things you read about in journal articles, parenting books, the Sunday papers and the school newsletter, are not rocket science. They recommend, for example: listening, pausing before you speak, modelling respectful behaviour, a growth mindset, gradually increasing responsibilities and freedoms, etc. But there is a big difference between knowing something and consistently doing it. This is particularly true after a long day, when tempers are frayed and frustrations multiply in family life. My teenagers will attest to the fact that I have often decided to try something new – a new way of acting or reacting – only to fall back into old familiar habits shortly after my declaration of ‘a new me’.

After a lot of deliberation, I came up with a plan. This was a step forward from ‘planning to make a plan’, which is what I have done in the past. I decided to invite the family to help me to identify our family values and the character virtues required to truly live our values. Then, in 2020, focus on one character virtue a month (eg kindness, respect, compassion) with the aim of:

  1. Understanding what this virtue is (imagine someone with this virtue – How would they act?);
  2. Noticing what this virtue looks like in everyday life (as you go about your day, keep a lookout for this virtue in action and everyday report one instance of it);
  3. Undertaking at least one action a day to embody this virtue (noting what action you took to live this virtue); and
  4. Eventually making it a habit to act this way.

I believe this is a way to work on many of the family issues congruently. For example, if we are kinder, this will improve our communication, increase respectful behaviour, and positively regulate on-line behaviour. I discussed it with my family, and other families with teenagers, and everyone agreed to at least give it a go. They agreed to join me in my quest to test whether, by focussing our attention, intentions and actions on character virtues, we could improve family life. One small habit at a time. Twelve virtues by the end of the year……..Well, as I said, that’s the plan!

Therefore, today, I take a step into the unknown. My intention is to work with my family and other families to gradually introduce new actions and behaviours to support our family’s values. We have committed to 2020 being “The year of living peacefully – a community’s attempt to identify values and develop character building habits to support them.” Together we are moving towards the dream of kinder and more joyful families and communities.

In the long term developing these virtues would result in our family being kind and respectful to each other, friends, neighbours, school communities, online communities, acquaintances, and ultimately, strangers. In the long term, these virtues will ensure our family appreciates and cares for nature and the environment. Economic decisions, for example: how to make money or earn a living, how much money and ‘things’ we need, which companies to support – are all driven by character and values.

Let’s be honest. If everyone lived with integrity and courage, and acted kindly towards themselves and others, there would be more joy in the world. Eventually, these qualities and their resultant behaviours would lead to world peace!

I intend to include measurements and build accountability through the use of checklists and collecting and collating data. This blog is my accountability partner. Hello new friend!

Mind you, I need to make a disclaimer here. I can only control my own actions (and even that feels impossible at times!). I am hoping that my family and all the families involved will develop new positive habits. But in the end, I can only really commit myself to this project, hope that I can go the distance and encourage others to do the same. It’s worth a try! 🙂

“Consider every action and every thought – think of them as building blocks of your indestructible character. Then work to make each one strong and significant in its own right.”

Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (2016) “The Daily Stoic. 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.”, New York, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, p.289.

The Path to Inner Peace

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Experiment with peaceful habits, along with us, and let me know about your experiences. Together we can make a positive difference. Our intentions, thoughts, words and actions matter!