On a recent spring day, I pulled out my bicycle for the first ride of the season. I rode frequently before my kids were born and I’ve been easing back into it now that they’re getting older. But while the old adage that riding a bicycle comes back to you as soon as you start up again, the ability to ride smoothly, at your best possible cadence, takes some experience. We live in a hilly town and adeptly maneuvering the gears can make the difference between an exhilarating or frustrating ride. Perhaps the same holds true for parenting.
Let me explain. A hybrid bicycle has three large front gears and nine smaller rear gears. Until recently, I focused my attention on the small gears, believing that if I switched between them often, I’d find the right one for a given hill. But I struggled up smaller slopes thinking, I have twenty-seven gears at my disposal – this should be easier!
The truth was, I needed to get in the right large gear first and then manipulate the smaller gears. Getting in the right larger gear mattered more on challenging hills. In other words, if I wasn’t in the right large gear, it didn’t matter how many small gears I tried, the hill would be harder to climb.
The same could be said for parenting my children. If one of my large gears is off, it doesn’t matter how many little things I try, everything is harder.
The Three Large Parenting Gears
- Health (food and sleep)
- Marriage (or supportive partnerships, relationships and community)
- Personal Fulfillment
Here’s an example: If I miss lunch or don’t get enough sleep the night beforehand and one of my kids misbehaves, I’m less likely to use the more effective “1,2,3” approach and more likely to lose my temper. If Husband and I are taking the time to get out by ourselves or catch up with each other even when our days are harried and we’re fatigued, then we’re more supportive for each other when the kids act out and one of us can’t handle it – instead of bickering ourselves. And if I make time to do even one thing I love, that’s just for me – such as yoga, fiction writing, or lunch with a friend; then my fulfillment streams through me to how I interact with my kids.
I have learned something in my last nine years of parenting: Fill the bank so you have some resources when you need them. For me, that means committing to enough hours of sleep and a workout every morning. Getting the health part right, when it’s in my control, means I’m in one of the right large gears no matter what else happens that day.
Your three large gears may be different from what I’ve listed but chances are, good health, support and personal fulfillment are as important to you functioning as the best parent you can be as they are to me.
Nine Smaller Gears
The smaller gears may vary by person but here’s the broad list of parenting responsibilities:
- Setting limits
- Time management
- Values coaching
- Meal prep
- Sleep management
At one point or another, I’ve lost patience, forgotten a smart way to handle a situation, or found each of these areas challenging in the moment. But while sometimes it’s due to factors beyond my control, I know that when I get my large gears right, these smaller ones are easier to manage.
We see the same thing in our kids. When they’re tired, they’re cranky. So the lesson is not just to find my own best gears, but also to teach my children why it’s important to get in their right gears. For life.