EXHAUSTED KIDS ARE BASICALLY LIKE NORMAL ADULTS

“Nooo daddy! … I don’t want to!” Then a small flail of her tiny frame. A convulsion that seemed like a tiny cute demon was on that bed and not my sweet Margot. I almost lost my cool. I came so close to getting upset at her for not going to bed quietly like I’d hoped that she would. Today was a great day. Every aspect of it was exactly as it should have been. Except for one little detail - Margot clearly needed a nap, but refused to rest. And as we inched closer to bedtime, that exhaustion was leaking out of her. Yelling that a random book be pulled off her shelf, bargaining to stay up later… all the usual things. For that brief moment I forgot that exhaustion was the reason she was acting as she was at bed time, and candidly neither her nor I both were operating from a place of rest.

The thing is - Margot is all of us. And we are all her. We move through our day/week/year/life and we think that there’s so much we have to see and do. So much that we have to fit in. It’s like we are slaves to FOMO. To keeping up. Maximizing our hustle. And the harder we try to do it all and avoid what our bodies and perhaps those around us are saying… we push ourselves to a place of exhaustion. The reason that’s dangerous is not simply for exhaustion’s sake. It’s because when we operate from that place, we will inevitably make choices that are less discerning than they probably would be otherwise. We get worked up over trivial things, and the things that are actually important can be lost by our exhaustion-induced tunnel vision for that which is insignificant yet shiny or impulsive.

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I think we all go through this at various moments in life. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is to allow that to become our acceptable mode of long-term operation. Here are my quick thoughts, for whatever they are worth, on how to pull out of this exhaustive slump.

1 - Zoom out.

Take a moment of pause every so often and attempt to view yourself from an outsider’s perspective. How are you conducting yourself? What are your life rhythms? What do you actually say you want to accomplish with your day/week/year? It’s called a fearless moral inventory. And it’s crucial.

2 - Good is the enemy of best.

Anytime we are willing to do something in the moment because it seems/feels “good”, chances are it may very well be distracting us from what is ultimately best for us. That could be an impulse purchase, an abuse of a substance, or you name it. The challenge is to be willing to endure the momentary pain of saying no — which I venture to say is something few of us are good at these days. In a culture where following your heart is in vogue, saying no is like a wildly foreign concept. But if you’ve done an effective job of zooming out and understanding yourself - it’ll be much easier to know what you should say no to.

3 - Seek sound wisdom.

My job as Margot’s dad is to watch over her and do what I know is best for her. To guide her. To lovingly come alongside her. Somehow as we become adults, we easily forget the importance of the reality that there is safety in a multitude of counsel. Find that person or persons who are further down the road than you… that have a degree of genuine wisdom… and be intentional about creating space for them to tell you when you just need to freakin’ go to bed!

As cliche’ as it sounds, this thing is a marathon, not a sprint. Margot’s not the only one who gets exhausted — we all do. Cheers, dear ones.

WE ALL JUST WANT TO BE NOTICED

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Margot is two and a half. And she is absolutely the sweetest two and a half year old one could hope to parent. I don’t want to jinx things, but she listens extremely well, she behaves but is still being curious and fiery, she can hang with kids her age at the play place or with me sitting in a hip coffee shop coloring while dada works. I’ve even taken her with me to WeWork and she’s stolen the show and everyone wants to stop and talk to her. But there’s this one thing that happens…

We’ll be at the coffee shop or at WeWork — and there are moments when no matter how good the activity that I’ve provided her, or even if I’ve given in and let her watch an episode of “Word Party” or “PJ Masks” on my phone… those distractions aren’t good enough. She grows discontent with that thing in front of her and wants my attention. She’ll start by asking me a question or just poking me a little… something very mild. And if she doesn’t get the desired reaction, (aka my undivided attention) she’ll resort to either doubling down on the effort, or often she’ll simply try to climb on my lap. And when that happens — that moment when she crawls up on my lap and burries herself in my arms — that it all makes sense. She’s my tiny human. And no matter how important the work is in front of me, I have to pause and remind her that she is what’s most important to dada. The reality is - Margot Eloise Pringle is just doing what each and every one of us still do as adults.

We all just want to know that we are valued and cared for and that we matter to the people we love… the people in which we find our security. And just like Margot, we can get by with other distractions for a while! Replace crayolas and construction paper with shopping. Replace sippy cups of apple juice with a cocktail glass. — We all have mechanisms that are used to keep us busy and distracted. But at some point, those things just aren’t good enough. Because we’re hard-wired for relationship. For human connectivity. We all want to turn our eyes to that person we love and ask, “Hey, do you know I’m still here and do you really care?” And not only that, each of us find ourselves in both roles. Sometimes we are the one who craves a little attention and affirmation. Other moments we’re the one whose task is to liberally give that attention and affirmation to someone else.

The longer I parent, the more I realize that we are all the exact same. Whether two or two hundred… we have the exact same basic needs. And all that it takes is for each of us to be vulnerable enough to own both roles. The more we are willing to take pause and do just that, the better it gets for us all. A rising tide raises all ships. Let’s love those that need it, and be willing to say when we need it too.

Cheers, dear ones.

COPARENTING AND THE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS

HOW TO NAVIGATE CO-RAISING A CHILD WHEN YOU CAN BARELY HOLD A CONVERSATION WITH THAT PERSON, AND WHAT IT ULTIMATELY MEANS FOR ALL OF US AND THE RELATIONSHIPS WE FOSTER

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This one sucks. Just being real. It sucks because there is nothing in the world that I would want more for Margot than for her to have love and respect modeled for her by the two people she cares the most about. It sucks because it represents an ongoing tension that doesn't have a clear expiration date or hope for reconciliation. And it sucks because what's at stake is the holistic well being of the sweetest tiny human to ever walk the planet. But it's real. And I've had enough others mention the same tension that I think someone should say something about it. Not only is it real life for co-parenting, I think it holds a few truths about the nature of all the relationships we foster -- whether it be a significant other or just a friendship. Here's one key that I'm learning and re-learning...

LET GO

Duh. Of course. That's something we all talk about... letting go... moving on... etc... but how do you let go when you still have to engage with that other person constantly? How do you heal? How do you reach a place of personal freedom and release when the "go" part is impossible and you know that they'll actually "stay" a part of your life? Answer: you release your personal expectation of them, not the human themselves. We all carry a set of expectations into just about every relationship we have. And that's not inherently a bad thing. Expectations are simply what we believe will transpire based on our previous history or knowledge of that person or circumstance. It's a tool that we employ without even realizing we're doing it. And we employ it because it is a form of self-protection. It's saying, "I know I am safe because my history with this person is safe", or conversely, "I must keep my guard up because my history with this person is volatile." The darker side of having expectations is this: it leverages the past to determine our posture towards that other person in a way that might not actually be helpful in the present. For me and my ex, there is a lot of lingering pain, even these years later. I hurt her deeply, and she has hurt me as well. And even still there are verbal arrows that are fired. What I cannot change is our history. But I do have complete power over today and the current moment. If I don't let go of my expectation (that the interaction will be difficult and I'll have to dodge verbal arrows), it might just hijack everything. The more I'm able to release any expectation of how I think we "should" interact, the more I am free to treat her with respect and engage from a healthier posture. I believe this is true with every meaningful relationship we have. There are seasons where things are great, and there are seasons that are challenging. The only way to make it through is to let go. And when a tiny human is watching and listening, I'd sure better take it seriously.

Here's how I release expectation and "let go". I take a moment to pause and reflect on what I know to be true about the nature of our dynamic. I don't dwell on what I wish it were, I simply acknowledge what it really is. I then ask myself if I want to allow that narrative to continue, or do I want to create a new narrative? And if it's a new narrative, what must I do differently to see that come to life. Some things might include not responding if verbal arrows are hurled. Or perhaps it's choosing to say something kind, or, just not say anything at all and simply carry a spirit of peace. After I take this moment and make this mental shift, I pause to express thanks for what is good. MARGOT is good. There is much about LIFE that is good. The neuroscientific research behind what our brains do when we are grateful is pretty incredible. It releases "happy chemicals", and it causes our brains to fire. And they say "what fires wires"  -- in other words, the more we exercise certain parts of our brain, the more natural it becomes to do that, and the more it becomes our norm. When we choose to let go and when we choose a better way, it rewires us for better outcomes in the future as well. 

Life is hard. Relationships can be too. But the choices we make today will affect our right now, as well as our tomorrow. Cheers to making good ones and loving well, dear ones.

WHAT YOUR CHILD REALLY NEEDS

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America. Land of the free, home of the consumer. If there is one thing that I believe humanity-future will have to say about humanity-present, it's that this is the age of mass consumption. It's an unprecedented amount of food we eat, entertainment and media we take in, and STUFF that we purchase. Sure, there are now simple living movements popping up all around us, but by-and-large we are still consuming at an astronomical rate. And I believe all this consumption has led to a parenting lie that is not only incorrect, it's toxic. It's this: "I love my child, so I want them to have everything, and the best of it." Simply put: I would respond by saying, "I love my my child, and she doesn't need more stuff and the best of it, she just needs more ME and the best of ME."

I often feel a tension to buy Margot more stuff. Sometimes it's rooted in a genuine desire to bring a smile to her face -- like a new toy I know she'll love. Then sometimes it's to bring a smile to mine -- like dressing her in a super cute outfit. I'd say that this battle of genuine expressions of love vs. sneaky self-serving motivations are at play in all of us.

This weekend was Margot's birthday. She turned two years old, and I'm absolutely blown away at how fast time slips away. If there is ever a time when this inner battle of consumerism rages, it's holidays and birthdays. The irony of that statement -- that time moves fast -- is that my time is also the most precious gift I can actually give my daughter. She won't necessarily every toy I purchase for her. She will remember the moments we spend laying on a blanket in the park pointing at trees and birds and clouds and how it makes her feel safe and secure and teach her to slow down and be inquisitive. Another stuffed animal will not teach Margot what empathy and love is to look and feel like. That's my job. The only way I do that effectively is by giving myself to her. Giving my attention to her. Giving her my T-I-M-E. and not just my time, but give her the best of me.

Do I want "more" and "best" for Margot? Absolutely. But if more and best are not tied to the most fundamental parts of being a good father -- it's not actually best, it's just more, and it's probably actually worse.

Let's not just GIVE more and best, let's BE more and best. Cheers, dear ones.

SINGLE FATHERHOOD

THE CURSE OF SPLIT HOLIDAYS

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This one stings. Many who read this don't know much about my story, and that will largely be saved for another day. Margot's mamma and myself are not together. And if there is one thing that no one can accurately prepare you for when it comes to co-parenting, it's holidays. Holidays take on a new shape and a new flavor when you now have the looming question of whether they will be spent with that precious tiny human, or spent apart. They can go from the sweetest moments with those you hold dear, to being apart from that one little person who somehow holds the keys to your heart. You're left wondering what they're doing, what their holiday outfit looks like, and wishing you could scoop them up and, in this case, help them chow down on a couple of disgusting peeps then run around the lawn on a sugar high.

Up to this point, I have not spent a single major holiday with Margot. She has always been with her mother for them. To be clear - I've allowed this to happen. (Allowed is such a strange word to use there. Agreed? Permissed? Nothing really works because it all sucks. Real bad.) The best I've been afforded is moments of Facetime with her, playing peek-a-boo through the phone and drawing pictures of shapes and mountains on my tablet and holding my phone above it so she can watch as she tells me what colors to use. (Which is usually pink or purple.) 

It can feel suffocating. Downright hell. To be apart and left wishing. To feel distant and wish I were squeezing her till she squeals. It can be crippling! But the key word is CAN. Because the only way it happens is if I allow it to be that way. What I mean is this:

Our moments are only what we choose to make of them.

If I choose to focus on things I cannot change, it will always leave me feeling powerless. But the reality is -- I am not. And neither are you. I have the choice of how to filter those moments. Rather than longing for her physical presence, I can choose to find peace in knowing she is loved and cared for by both me and her mother. Rather than selfishly wish I always had things "my way" I can release that and recognize that while I don't have her next to me this exact moment, I will see her very soon -- and she will know how much she is loved by the way I display it in THAT moment. 

A book I've been reading describes it as this: you have the choice between two postures: that of a victim, or that of a creator. I can choose to posture myself as a victim. A victim of circumstance... of a failed marriage... of the pain of distance from those I love... the list is endless. OR I can choose to change my mindset and set my mind on a better outcome and a future vision. I am not a victim of a calendar day where I'm not with my daughter. I'm the creator of a better tomorrow when I AM with her. That small shift in my mindset is the linchpin for a cascade of empowerment. A catalyst for living from a place of passion. And that passion translates into fuel for actions.

Single fatherhood can really suck. But only if I choose that posture. Whatever YOUR circumstance is might also really suck -- but only if you choose that posture. Perhaps it's time we all choose to create together. 

Cheers, dear ones.

PATIENCE FEELS GOOD

We all have our triggers. One of Margot's triggers is if I dare to give her regular shredded wheat as a snack instead of FROSTED shredded wheat.

HOW DARE I.

She literally turns the little wheat cubes over and over to inspect for frosting... and if' it's nowhere to be found, brace for an onslaught of high-pitched Margot tones accompanied by some serious water works.

But here's the thing -- I love those moments. They don't stress me out. Because then I get to kneel down next to her and take the cereal out of her tiny fingers and wrap my hands around hers. And then I get to gently hum and whisper to her and tell her it's going to be okay, and wipe that salt out of the corners of her eyes, and assure her that she's okay and that she is so loved.

In those moments there's something amazing that happens... and if feels really really good... she responds to my calmness by calming down herself. She quiets for a moment, and then she looks up at me and says, "nooose" and touches the tip of my nose. And then I hug her, and she hugs me, and all that brain science kicks in and her and I both know there is safety and love here. 

I'm a firm believer that the best response to crazy is not crazy in return. It's peace, love, hope, joy... all the things we really want deep down. I often say that "good leadership brings peace to chaos", and in like fashion -- good relationship does the same. It's never about that bit of cereal... it's about that person holding it. Whatever the issue is that arises for you today, dear ones, remember that patience feels good when it's taken it's affect. It might take a little longer in your circumstance than it does with my tiny one and her cereal woes... but it happens, and it's totally worth it.

Patience feels good.