Being a mother of three children under three is life-changing – from shifting schedules and living / working on little sleep to dealing with the multitude of personal and professional perceptions regarding new mothers. This is compounded with a whole new semi-permanent body and the urgency to organize, grow up, and pass seamlessly from simpler adulthood to mommyhood. A new mother is responsible for a little being that’s so vulnerable, and in so many ways, the children begin to define her – for better or for worse.
Motherhood is not just a full-time job, but it’s an act of utmost love and devotion, a transformation. And that’s precisely why it has taught me so much about the foundation of loving relationships. These are lessons that I wish I had had all my life about how to deal with others, recognizing that we’re all different and judging people by predefined standards is inherently flawed – no matter how much we’re inclined to do so in a world of relativism.
Lesson #1: We all have very different developmental needs and strengths. Help a loved one work on the former while never forgetting to appreciate the latter.
As adults, I think that we’re often designed to expect and appreciate perfection. Children are viewed as works-in-progress while adults are viewed as final products. Yet, we’re all growing and learning each day.
We are all expected to “know better” or “understand,” performing a high levels of empathy and cognitive function. There’s little room for errors, which are met by irritation or arguments. Yet, as the cliché goes, there’s a child inside each of us, and not only are we not going to perform optimally at all times, but we each have different strengths and weaknesses. We simply cannot be everyone to everybody.
So, just like one would with a child, it is important to understand developmental needs and approach them from the angle of understanding and skill-building together. For example, if someone has a hard time seeing when he or she is wrong, the person is not flawed, it’s a developmental need. Make it a point to come up with a plan that will help remind the person and play a role in helping them change, by rewarding the baby steps and embarking on the journey of growth together as a form of love. Park the hurt that you feel when it doesn’t happen, too, keeping in mind that this is a developmental need, work-in-progress, and we’re all human.
Additionally, because perfection is expected, we often fail to praise one for exhibiting their strengths. We get used to people who are always nice or used to the routine gestures and ways of being that make us love the other person. However, we all need affirmation and often so make appreciation a part of your lives on an ongoing basis, not a fleeting thought. You’ll find that your love for the person may also grow as a result of recognizing what is good.
Lesson #2: The most significant way to teach is by example.
Often people talk about much. We discuss. We rationalize. We argue. We make-up. Yet, this must be accompanied by introspection and the ability to begin to practice what we preach or appreciate even in the smallest ways, over time. It can be a very difficult thing to do when one feels slighted or as though the other person is not being fair. It’s natural to want to reply in in-kind, but like children, we need demonstrations to truly understand the mechanics and appreciate what is going on.
Like children, we, too, learn best from observation. Actions speak at a far higher volume than words. Words also can leave key pieces missing. Humans – adults and children alike – are inclined to mirror. So, as difficult as it may be, to remain effective, we must work very hard on embodying our own expectations and values. If we realize we cannot or do not, we need to afford that same leeway to others – recognizing that we’re all human and in this together.
Lesson #3: Just like tantrums, emotions can be inexplicable and irrational; even adults have tantrums or unfathomable losses of control.
In society, there is much pressure on us to remain in control of our emotions at all times. People often try and inquire or think about “why” someone acted the way he or she did. But just as in a child’s life, even in adult lives, there will be moments of irrationality, loss of control, and child-like behavior. We have to recognize those instances for what they are – deviations that cannot be explained. We have to learn to work them into our longer-term developmental plan but ignore them – revisiting them continuously does not get anyone anywhere in the relationship.
This is not to say there should be no consequences. We have a right to express our disapproval through silence or a “time-out” or firm clarity on what we feel is right. Yet, there is really no point dwelling on the instance, as nothing productive will come of that. These times may be difficult to distinguish, but as we get to know the person, it should become clearer as to what sets of his or her “child-like adult tantrums.”
Further, knowing that each person has not only tantrums or moments but also a set of irrational emotions, we should stop trying to put those into the terms of factual reality. Rather, we should accept that certain desires another person has will be inexplicable, but that doesn’t change that they exist – they do. We can try and honor them to the extent possible, recognizing that although we don’t get it, the other person clearly places importance on it.
Lesson #4: It is important to speak from a place of love, even when we are losing our patience.
In an ever-busy world, it may seem easier to just be impatient and gloss over explaining where we are coming from or what bothers us. This may work in the short-term, being more efficient or keeping the peace, but in the long term, it only widens the chasm between two people. It is important to take the time to explain one’s point-of-view from a place of love and understanding, with the benefit of the doubt. Just like children, adults may need repetition and extensive explanation and coaching.
Specifically, screaming or losing one’s cool is not a way to have a lasting impact on who the person becomes; rather it is through active listening and true communication, rooted in acknowledgement, understanding, inquiry, and room for error. We are not only after certain outcomes, but developing a secure and loving relationship, in which people trust and understand one another.
Lesson #5: Love must be fun, and it’s critical to laugh and play together.
We all know that laughter is healthy, and I think we often forget how comforting and uplifting human play can be. This extends beyond the bedroom to daily life – joking around, being playful, and spontaneity. The more we can build in the daily play, the more space we create for lowering barriers, easing tension, and relieving stress. Play has a unique way of revealing human desires and is a way to learn about one another – not only for children but also for adults. It makes life more enjoyable.
The fun may include doing things you both enjoy together or embarking on new mini-adventures and projects together – whether in the community or in the home. Fun could be playing small games, repartee, or exchanging small gifts. The idea is to lift moods and create an environment of good cheer.
Lesson #6: We need to know what to expect and routine is good.
Just like children, adults value a certain degree of predictably. Some routine of when you’ll spend time with one another or what your day looks like is helpful. Into this routine, one can build in all sorts of joint commitments – it also helps one communicate clearly about their own schedule and constraints. Adults get eager for human contact as well so it’s good for us to know when to expect one another and what to expect. Consistency or consistent messages gets two people closer to desired outcomes.
Lesson #7: Each person takes their own time; we can only be clear and consistent and cannot demand or dictate the future.
Each child I have is very different in terms of when they learn to do things. They also each warm up at different paces. Rather than normalize them, I have learned to work with their different emerging and evolving rhythms. As adults, we have a tendency to want to normalize people and when it does not happen, we get frustrated. Yet, it’s much more stress-free and productive to mentally accept that people have different paces of learning. When we love, we commit to working with those paces and going with a flow.
Lesson #8: You cannot do it all in your relationships and you have to reward yourself for what you do accomplish and not beat yourself up too much for what you do not.
As mothers, we often aspire to do everything – from reading to our children, to feeding them organic home-cooked meals, to being career women to serve as role models, to planning elaborate birthdays. When we don’t get one of these right, we feel badly and I hear women beating themselves up over it. With three children, it is physically, mentally, and emotionally impossible for me to be the type of mother that meets all of the aspirations / standards I once had. Now, I try to do the best I can – as much as I can, while remembering to always care for myself in the relationship as well. There’s no point beating oneself, and so long as we’re trying and reflecting in our relationships with others, there should be something to celebrate each day.
Lesson #9: Consolation, indulgence, and care are not only for children.
In our busy lives, we’re often by ourselves fighting unique and complicated internal and external fights. As children, we often run to our parents for consolation, but as adults, it is not that straightforward. Everyone needs a go-to person for consolation.
Also, children aren’t the only one who want their unique and sometimes, unreasonable requests met. Just as we feel we can spoil children once and awhile, it’s not a bad thing to show this unabashed love to adults – or to fawn over them a bit. It feels good.
Last but not least, intuitively, we know that we must care for one another in relationships, but we don’t always show it. Love is showing an interest in everything about the person that makes up their well-being, even the mundane – from health, diet, hygiene, to hobbies. We must remember to embrace full beings when we love and immerse ourselves in getting to know them even in daily life, while allowing them to retain their individuality and freedom.