Parents Who Lead, by Stewart Friedman & Alyssa Westring
This book caught my eye while I was investigating business schools and searching for each school’s research areas. I think this particular book stood out because I already have a problem balancing work, social events, exercise, dating, church, and other aspects of life. How much worse will it get when I have children? I hope that this book will provide some insight into balancing a hectic lifestyle. The opening sections addressed the problems that the book was targeting. The authors want to help people that express the following views:
There is not enough time for me to be the kind of person that I want to be.
I do not have control of my situation, so I cannot change it.
People are too busy to help me, and I don’t want to bother them.
With regard to parenting, my partner and I cannot find much common ground.
I’m letting people down, and they deserve better.
The first thing that the authors ask is for their readers to identify their own goals. Perfect. What are my goals for reading this book? My goal is to solve a problem (life/time balance) that will undoubtedly get worse once I have children. I want to learn how to manage my time while pursuing career, marriage, community, exercise, and church. It seems impossible to do it all, and anything that I can learn will be welcomed. I’m especially excited to read about a secular perspective; it is clear that this book is not written from a religious viewpoint. And I look forward to reading and reflecting upon it.
Most of this book focused on encouraging parents to experiment with new ways for doing things, engaging their community, and having difficult conversations with their partners, children, and co-workers. Since a significant portion of the book asked parents to reflect on how conversations and experiments went with their children, I could not comment on these sections. Overall, I thought the book was worth reading, although I wouldn’t recommend it as one of my top books.
First, what are my values?
values: “stable, broad life goals that are important to people”
Understanding and clearly communicating core values is a fundamental skill of any leader. I like this. Regardless of the capacity that I serve in, the ability to communicate clearly about my core values is crucial. Work, church, and relationships all require clear values and the ability to communicate those values. After you are able to articulate values, then you can act according to those values.
I want to achieve. I value achievement and religion. I don’t want to sit back and be a passive observer in life. I want to drive change and progress. When I went on a business trip to Boeing, the engineers at the facility talked poorly about their executive management, and it made me realize that I wanted to be one of those management personnel who could drive the trajectory of projects. I did not want to simply be one of the common engineers. I don’t want to be a nominal Christian, and I similarly do not want to be a nominal engineer. Similarly, I was talking with a co-worker, and he was lamenting that their group did not have much funding, which is a problem, because funding is required to stay employed. His opinion was that he “doesn’t get paid to handle that stress.” He felt like it was the VP’s role to worry about finding funding, and he was perfectly content not being the VP. He did not want that responsibility. He embraced his position. He was aware of the lack of funding, but he was not doing anything about it, because he was not getting paid for that type of effort. This argument did not sit well with me. I don’t think that I’m content with being “just the engineer.” I want the opportunity to be burdened with the VP’s financial stress. Why can’t I carry that burden and the associated stress? Part of me wants the stress and pressure. I want to achieve, and I want to make an impact, and I realize that this will require stress and responsibility. I’m willing to accept those things in order to drive progress. I think that sitting idly by while others are striving towards larger goals would drive me nuts.
I remember the first time that this “achievement” value became clear to me. I was working at NASA, and I went to watch a surf competition with some co-workers. My co-workers watched the competition, expressed their admiration of the athletes, and drank their alcohol. They were content to watch. They had no desire to put in the effort to learn surfing for themselves. Clearly, they viewed surfing as an admirable activity, but they refused to put in the work to become proficient at the sport. Instead, they preferred to drink and eat while other people participated in this admirable activity. I was furious, and I left that group of co-workers to learn surfing on my own. I was not willing to sit and watch. How many people follow the same pattern of sitting and watching with their lives and careers? They put in only the minimal amount of work and do not strive. To me, this is sad. In my opinion, failing to pursue achievement is equivalent to laziness.
Another one of my core values is religion. I think God created us, and then sacrificed his life for us. Because of the Lord’s love and sacrifice, we owe everything to him. Everything we do in our lives should be focused on glorifying God. To me, bringing glory to God is at the center of everything that I do (at least that’s what I aim for, although I am often selfish). I think that religion and achievement pair well together. Hopefully, I can strive for God and sacrifice all of my time and talents for him.
The authors identify four major domains of life, and they asked us how much time (as a percentage) we actually spend focused on each domain, and how much time (as a percentage) we think should be focused on each domain.
At first, I did not know how to split my time between each of the four domains. I did not know how to separate the four domains, because they are all clearly related to one another. I value self so that I can give more abundantly to career, family, and community. Similarly, I value career so that I can provide for and serve my family and community. Maybe this means that family and community are the center of importance? Family is part of the larger community, yet I value my family more than the unemployed obese man next door. But my family will not thrive without a stable community. Similarly, having a stable and thriving community is fruitless and unimportant if my family is not doing well. Therefore, I place family and community as equally important, and career and self as less important. Following this logic, career should be more important than self. But without self, none of the other areas will thrive. So, self is the most important? Ahh, I’ve come full circle. Let’s keep thinking. By giving to self, I am giving to all other areas. By giving to career, I am also giving to community and family, but not self. All of my focus should therefore be on community and family? 100% should be dedicated to those two domains (family and community), and the attention to each should be evenly split! Yes, that’s the answer! By caring for myself and performing well in my career, I am doing neither of those for personal gain. Caring for self and pursuing career are for the sole purpose of benefitting community and family. Therefore, 0% of my time should be thinking about selfish ambition or selfish career ambitions. 0% - 50% - 50% - 0% is the correct division of time. The purpose of exercise, reading, and journaling is to be able to more fully serve my community and family. The purpose of my career is similarly so that I can contribute to my community and family. I feel well-satisfied with this response. I think this is the correct division. Upon reflection, I realize that a majority of my time is spent thinking about career and self, which is the opposite of what is should be. I need to focus on shifting the percentages towards the middle.
Here is a question that stumped me for a long time: “Why did you become a parent?” I re-phrased the question to ask, “Why do you want to become a parent?” Is it an evolutionary drive to propagate? No, I don’t think that’s it. Is it because other people are doing it, and it is the accepted norm? No, that’s definitely not it either. Why would you willingly ask for more stress, more demands for your time, and more demands for your money? Why ask for more responsibility? There must be a reward. Is having children an economic necessity, such as to work on the farm? Nope. One possible answer is that a woman might want to feel that intense love she has for her own children. But I don’t think that sufficiently answers the “why” question for me. Is it for the experience? To experience life more fully? Maybe. That answer sounds pretty good actually. To make myself a better person? To experience familial love? To add to life’s greater purpose? To make things better for my children? To carry on my legacy? All decently good answers, except the last one. Carrying on a legacy sounds selfish, and I don’t like it. Having a child is breathtaking. It is hard to understand without actually experiencing it. Love for a child can only be experienced by having one. Nothing is greater than love. Having a child produces child-like wonder that cannot be replicated any other way; this child-like wonder is attractive. As a parent, you learn to love unconditionally as you watch something beyond your understanding and comprehension. It is not possible to grasp the wonder of watching a child play, giggle, and mature. Is it a desire to experience something new and unexplainable? Yes, I think so.
So part of the reason that I want to have children is to experience something new. Having a child is a new experience that most, if not all people, recommend. People much wiser than me speak highly about raising children. Yes, I think the disadvantages are terrifying – loss of money, loss of time, additional stress, lack of sleep - but the price is worth paying. I think people are telling the truth when they say that having a child is worth it. I think there is something special, something that we cannot articulate about observing a young human mature. You watch the child grow up from a young infant, who can literally do nothing for itself (it relies entirely on mom), to an adult that is capable of changing the entire world. That’s amazing! At first, we can literally do nothing. We are a drain (so to speak) on the people around us. We consume resources, time, and energy, and we give nothing in return besides some entertainment value. But as we mature, we learn how to function and care for ourselves. And when a person becomes capable of caring for himself, then he matures further to be able to care for innumerable others as well. There is unlimited potential in a baby. There is anticipation to see what the child will do and become. That’s exciting!
I think that there is a reason women have an innate desire to bear children. Having a child teaches you what it means to care for and love someone who is broken, sinful, and selfish. Just like Christ’s love. It is a reflection of Christ’s love. I think there is also something special about watching the joy and carefree nature of children. As a single person, I admit that I love watching little children experience the world. Everything they see is new, and it doesn’t take more than a simple $5 toy to impress them. That’s raw. That’s fundamental! And it is a great reminder that life should be full of joy and that we should not focus our attention on big, extravagant, expensive things. Children are free from all of the world’s judgements, and they find joy in the simplest activities and objects. They serve as a continual reminder that we don’t need money, cars, beauty, or houses to have joy. So children are great for keeping our perspectives in check.
And then there is the aspect of love. Jesus tells us to love, and that without love we have nothing. What does it mean to love? And how do we love? I think that a child gives us insights, that we could not gain otherwise, into both of these fundamental questions.
Finally, there are all of the things about raising a child that I cannot explain. Why is it so special and engaging to watch children play? Why do we enjoy playing childish games with little kids? Why are we captivated by their hugs, honest words, and giggles? Why do these things make all the pains of child-raising worthwhile? I think that we all have questions about children that we cannot answer, and questions that we will never be able to answer. That’s part of the wonder. Unanswerable questions and phenomena teach us to be content with the pleasures of life. The positive aspects of raising a child remind us to be content in God’s design and God’s love. We do not need all the answers. Some things are simply pleasurable, and we do not know why, and not knowing why is ok. Humans are less than all-knowing, which means that there are many things we will never understand. A child, in one way or another, reminds us that we don’t know everything. They humble us. They give us joy that we cannot explain. And sometimes they bring us to our knees in frustration and disappointment, because we simply do not know. Not knowing reminds us that there is a God out there who does know, and it reminds us that a God who knows everything is indescribably powerful. We are not. I am not powerful. Children teach us about God’s love, power, and sacrifice. And this drives us to a deeper understanding of God. And with a deeper understanding of God, we can strive to be more Christ-like. And by being more Christ-like, we can bring more glory to the Father. This implies that children glorify God. With that, I’ve arrived at the cliché answer of life: glorify God. Children glorify God. That’s good!
It stood out to me that this book is driving at a point that all aspects of life are related – self, career, community, and family. No aspect of life works in isolation. They are all tied together, and they are all working towards a common goal: glorify God. I wonder what this common goal is from a secular perspective? Take God out of the equation. How can you explain that all aspects of life are connected? How do you explain the unexplainable? How can everything be working towards a common goal, and how can we be so blind to not see that something (God) must be orchestrating? From our understanding of science and the laws of nature, everything drives to chaos by default. However, I think this book is stressing that everything is connected and driving towards a unified objective. Therefore, our scientific explanations are insufficient. And the only remaining answer is God.
Experimentation. The authors argue to try something new. Think about alternatives, and then try experimenting with these alternatives. To me, this seems obvious. If you are unhappy about a certain situation, then do something differently. If you continue acting in the same fashion, then the results are going to stay the same. If you want things to work out differently, then “try a new way.” I think that is obvious to me, because I do it all the time. An approach at work is not making progress? Stop and try an alternate approach. Not making friends in your current cliques? Try new ones. Find a new activity or social group. Not getting fulfillment from your personal goals? Set some new personal goals. Try something new. Trying knew activities, social settings, and approaches is scary, and I think that’s why people avoid it. A recent example from my own life is that at one point I felt like I did not have any friends. I did not have the meaningful relationships that make life enjoyable. The primary reason that I was missing these relationships was that I was spending all of my time cycling, training, and working. Eventually, I realized that I needed to try something different if I wanted to establish meaningful friendships. So I stopped racing and tried new activities. I experimented with running, cyclocross, and motorcycles. At the same time, I became more involved in my church. It took a lot of effort to change how I was spending my time. And it was extremely uncomfortable. During that time of transition, I ached to return to training, because it was comfortable and I knew that there would be some level of success associated with it. But even more deeply, I knew that I was striving for something more, something greater. So I avoided the temptation to return to my previous lifestyle, and it paid off. I changed my focus, and I changed how I spend my time outside of work. Now, I have the meaningful relationships that I was seeking. After trying a new way, I found a better way. It was not without challenges and struggles, but I think it was worth the effort. If along the way, I felt like it was not yielding the desired results, then I could have returned to cycling. I think that is an important point to remember. Just because you try something new, it does not mean that you are fully committed to that new activity. If the new activity/approach is not yielding the desired outcomes, then abandon it. Return to the old way. Try again. At least you tried, and now you know at least one thing that does not work, which is one thing more than you knew previously. “The process of experimenting is more important than the specific examples themselves.” Reflect on your experiments and learn. It is not about finding the perfect solution every time. It is about learning. Learning requires reflection. So, reflect on your journey.