EMOTIONS ARE GOOD. NO REALLY, THEY ARE.

We’ve been programmed through Western thought to believe that emotions are a thing to be either suppressed or only engaged with if it’s an emotion that we deem is “good” — i.e. joy or happiness. But one thing I’m re-learning for myself as I teach Margot how to engage with her emotions is this: we are hard-wired with emotions for a reason, there is no such thing as a “bad” emotion, and it’s always how we respond to those feels that makes the difference.

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Margot is nearly three and is in the throws of having all the feels all the time. And there isn’t a face on the earth that’s cuter than hers, even during a tiny melt-down. But what I’ve seen parents often do, and what I myself am tempted to do, is if it’s an emotional response that I find inconvenient, I try to squash, distract, or otherwise wiggle her and I out of that moment without actually processing through it with her and using it as a teachable moment. Here’s the thing:

Emotions properly applied and interpreted reveal what our heart’s response is to a situation. And when we learn how to mine out those depths of our hearts, we become more empathetic, attuned, and a wiser human. If Margot has a meltdown — i.e. not wanting to leave the coffee shop when it’s time to go — that meltdown is a primal response to what she is cognitively believing internally. (We ALL do this.) What she is believing could be any number of things, from “we’ll never come back" to “this book on foxes is more important than getting lunch.” The thought behind the emotion could be valid, or it could be false — but if we never actually address that underlying thought — if I teach her that we don’t actually try to understand those big feelings and process through it — I will instead be teaching her to shut down those emotions and actually do damage by making her senses dull to the depths of her own heart!

I believe we tend to shut things down because we think certain emotions like fear or sorrow are signs of weakness. The reality is, it’s not weak to engage with your own heart. That takes incredible bravery. Imagine an artist who is incapable of understanding and creating from that deep place. Or a scientist who doesn’t actually understand the formulas required to achieve a desired reaction. The more we acknowledge, understand, and respond to the things happening inside, the better we are as humans. It’s what I want for Margot, and for all the rest of us. So I’m working to give myself more grace, Margot more grace, and those around us more grace — and actually understand what’s happening inside that moment of emotion.

Simply put: Let’s have enough courage to feel all the feels, dear ones.

BATH TIME AND PATIENCE

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99% of the time Margot is the sweetest little gem of a tiny human. She’s gentle, full of joy, and carries a warm presence in her that makes me wonder how I’m the lucky one who gets to be her dad. Then there is that other one percent of the time when there are screams that sound as though they’re billowing from the black lungs of the devil himself. And nearly all of those times are connected to one regular occurrence: BATH TIME. Not even all of bath time. Most of her time splashing around is equally joyous. But when it’s time for her head and hair to meet that bathwater, all hell breaks lose. Last week we were right on the edge of that moment… bath time was in full swing, and it was time to wash her hair. It felt like that moment in Lord of the Rings before the epic battle for all of humanity.

But this time, it was different.

Normally I just take a deep breath, brace for the inevitable, and wash by force. This time, I paused. This time, while sitting on my knees at the edge of the tub, eye to eye, I told Margot it was almost time to wash her hair. She contested. Of course she did! I was compromising her sense of security and challenging what was comfortable for her. So this time I changed the play. I took her wet, pruney little hand in mine and said, “Margot, you know daddy loves you?” She nodded and said she loves dada too! — “And you know you’re safe with dada?” — She nodded. — “You know what, I know you don’t like water on your hair or in your face… but watch dada!” — And I tipped my head forward and poured water on my head and down my face. I then handed her the cup and said, “Go ahead, pour some water on dada’s face!” And she gleefully obliged. I laughed and talked about how the water tickled and she laughed too and told me I was silly. We continued this for a moment, then I took the cup and said, “Feel how it tickles!” And gently poured just a little water on the back of her head. She nervously laughed, but by the end of that bath, her head was clean, and we went from a moment of nervousness on the brink of chaos, to a moment of peace and trust. And also a clean kid.

See Margot Eloise didn’t actually have a problem with her hair getting washed. What she would bellow over was the fear of the unknown, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. And in those moments of complete vulnerability, she needed to know that everything was going to be okay. And not only that — if it was okay this time, it’ll probably be okay next time as well. It paved the way for a better tomorrow, because trust had been enriched rather than challenged.

I’d dare say that this is a pretty accurate picture of every one of us. We all want to know that we are safe, and that those closest can be trusted when we’re in a vulnerable state and we fear the worst. Conversely, we all have moments when we are confronting those we care for with a challenging scenario. What I’m reminded of is this: we all require an extra measure patience and love. I could have forcibly exercised my will versus Margot’s. And we know how that would have gone. But by humbling myself to the point of entering the moment with her — water down my own face — I showed her that I understand, that she is safe to trust me, and that I’m not above entering her world and her mess. Whew… if we could all be willing to do that for one-another.

I don’t know where you find yourself today — in the bath or bathing someone else. Possibly (probably) a little of both. But what I can say is — take a deep breath, go hand-in-hand, and it’ll be worth the effort. The only other options are clean but chaotic, or to just remain dirty and unattended.

Let’s double dose our patience and love, dear ones. It’s worth it for a better tomorrow.

FOSTERING CURIOSITY

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There are so many qualities I hope to foster and encourage in Margot. Gentleness, kindness, peacefulness, joy... you get the idea. But one thing that I think is incredibly important and often lost in an age of divisiveness and things like social media bickering is curiosity. To me, curiosity is a humble desire to say, "I don't know everything, and I actually WANT to understand, enter in, and explore the mysterious and that which is personally uncomfortable." From people to places, I desire that she would be the kind of soul that would rather look wide-eyed at the world and learn than assume she has nothing to gain from that posture. So here's what I'm practicing right now to encourage and foster her curious heart -- and perhaps they're things we should do for one-another as well.

CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

An environment that feels threatening or unsafe means she'll be primarily worried about protecting herself. And while self-preservation and curiosity may not be mutually-exclusive, they equally don't go hand-in-hand. That is to say - if she's worried about protecting her most basic sense of safety, she won't have the mental or emotional freedom to look beyond herself. To be clear, this is not a "safe zone" in the current socio-political sense that I'm fostering her to be incapable of having tough conversations lest her feels get hurt, this is the opposite of that. This is helping her to know that differences are actually a natural part of the human experience and it's how we choose to engage with it all that makes the difference. How does one achieve this? It's the little things. Like holding her close and squeezing her (communicating physical safety and security), and not over-reacting when she misbehaves, and even modeling it for her in how I interact with those around me (emotional safety and security).

ENCOURAGE QUESTIONING

I am a firm believer in at least two layers of questioning. In other words - what's the question behind the question? Going a layer deeper than whatever lies on the surface or just below it. I've found that's where wisdom and understanding begin -- when those deeper questions are asked and answered. And the best thing I can do for Margot is help her navigate and explore her questions as she begins to form them. Yes, she's only two - but it starts now. Example: when someone's a jerk -- it's not enough to say, "What's their problem?!" Perhaps a more powerful question would be, "What has led them to a place where they are operating from a place of hurt?" and then we could even get crazy and ask, "What could I do to be an agent of healing in their life?" 

DISPLAY HUMILITY

Ego and curiosity cannot coexist. Or at least that's my opinion on the matter. Humility is a sense of honest self-reflection, and then responding in like form to the people and circumstances that happen in each moment of life. It's releasing personal agenda. It's a jrejection of pride. And it's only when I release personal agenda that I'm able to engage with curiosity, and teach Margot to do the same.

You might notice that this particular music uses the personal pronoun "I" quite frequently. That's because if fostering curiosity in Margot will ever be a real thing -- it will first happen because she sees it in me. And my hope is that she'll see it in you too. (Assuming you know her? Okay whatever. I'll stop.) 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.

LET HER LEARN

I'm regularly amazed at how often folks comment on Margot's spry little self. Quips like, "She's so tiny but she sure is agile!" And while I suppose it's possible she is just plain gifted and has a future as an Olympian, I think the actual reason she's so spry and daring and coordinated and just plain sharp is -- I let her learn. And so does her mamma. What that means is -- she's given the room to explore, get bumps and bruises, and get dirt under her tiny perfect fingernails. It's actually an amazing thing to watch, and it's teaching her not only about the world around her, but teaching ME so much about myself too. It's a regular reminder that the only way I'll learn is by risking failure. Risking falling flat on my face every now and then. And that typically it happens right at the moment when I'd least expect it. It's a reminder that we're all incredibly vulnerable, and we all need someone to pick us up and dust us off and remind us we're immensely loved and it'll be okay and we'll get it next time. 

I plan to continue letting her learn. Because the only other option doesn't lead to a life of fullness and exploration. And really who wants a life without those things?