What I Learned About Parenting at BlogHer '11

BlogHer Original Post

BlogHer 11 RegistrationI have a Case of the Mondays combined with a Case of the Post-BlogHer Blues combined with a wicked case of jetlag. I'm behind on work, my inbox seems to have imploded and the laundry pile is mocking me. Despite all of the stuff I can or should be doing, I have purposefully been taking time all day to play games with my sons, read some books and generally soak them up. I missed them a lot while I was away like many other moms (and dads!) at the conference did.

In fact, while I was away from them and experiencing all of those things that come with conference life and interactions with new people, I thought about how some of the things I was learning could enhance my parenting. I was always conscious of how I was acting and reacting to others while in San Diego. Complete strangers. But at home, I've been known to not even think twice about how I (ahem, negatively) react when a child spills milk on the table... whereas I'll tell that complete stranger that it's a-okay that they spilled wine on my shoe. It really gave me pause when I stopped to think about it.

So while I learned a lot about blogging, writing, interacting with other adults, and San Diego itself, I learned quite a bit about parenting this weekend. Some of it I'm already doing right, but some of it, well, I could use a little more work to get to where I want to be.

1) Sharing is good. What I saw at BlogHer was a lot of sharing back and forth -- information, spots in line for the elevator, stories, love. A lot of people stepped out of their comfort zone and gave of themselves to others and were mightily rewarded for doing so. With friendship. With hugs. With an understanding tear rolling down the cheek of another survivor. With laughter. With beer. (What? It’s true. And wine. And margaritas. And drink tickets. And, and, and.)

I don’t know how many times a day I tell my sons to share. It’s hard sometimes, I agree. I understand when one child is upset because they have to give up a toy that they’ve been hoarding so the other can play, but usually the toy is given back in a matter of minutes and both children are happy. However, all of the sharing at BlogHer that took place made me reevaluate how much of my time, my stuff and my self I am offering to my sons. If I want them to grow up to understand the importance of sharing more than toys, don’t I have to show them how to do that? Don’t I have to be the catalyst that gets them talking about what’s important to them and get deeply involved in the nitty-gritty of their lives? I like to think I am, but I am sure that there are (uh...) many ways that I could improve in this important sharing lesson with my children.

2) Sharing may be good, but listening is even better. We ladies and men that attended BlogHer ‘11 liked to talk. A lot. I am one of them. I can talk with the best of them, as can my children. But when I took the time to listen, I was probably rewarded more than the one doing the talking. And I had some people take the time and listen to me, to my story, to my journey, but I still always felt this amazing special-ness when I was allowed to listen to someone state their cause, share their story or ask for help.

Similarly, I don’t know how many times I day I remind my sons to listen. In fact, I have been known to tweet “when you ask a question, listen for the answer,” because it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. All of this listening and talking and the above sharing made me step back, again, and wonder if I’m emulating good listening skills to my children. I do answer (five billion) questions every day, but sometimes they have to repeat the question because I’m off in la-la land or reading or working or just not present. I wouldn’t dream about doing that to a fellow blogger at a conference, so why on Earth would I do that to my sons (other than the fact that those five billion questions sometimes fray my nerve-endings)? I felt very convicted of priding myself in being such a good listener at BlogHer but realizing that, at home, I sometimes fail to be even a mediocre listener. Time to change that!

3) Simple praise can make a person's day, just like our children. I watched it happen a few times. "I read your blog all the time and I love it," one woman would say to another. The recipient of such a comment would pause, her face would light up and she would smile from ear to ear. "Really? Well, that's great! Thank you." Instant friends. A beautiful woman walked past me on Saturday night in a green dress -- and I love me a green dress. It was perfect for her and instead of just silently admiring it, I reached out, tapped her on the shoulder and told her it was absolutely stunning. She smiled and thanked me. One of my ultimate career heroes told my husband that I'm "an amazing writer." I felt just like that girl in the green dress who smiled.

And it's simple. I know these concepts work with adults and children alike. When you praise your children for a job well done or recognize their hard work or talents, the smile that you get in return is priceless. But, better than that, the instilling that you're doing -- teaching them that they are worth something -- is good, good stuff. As I watched other women praise, compliment and just love one another this weekend, I was reminded to encourage more than I yell. I’m not saying to praise every single thing they do or to reward half-assed attempts at cleaning their room, but I am reminding myself to point out the good and let them know that I am proud even when they fail as long as they’ve given it a try.

4) Sometimes people have bad days and may not act appropriately; it doesn't have to ruin the day for the both of you. Far (FAR!) less than the praising and encouraging going on, I saw a few, shall we say, choice encounters. One woman snapped at another when they were lost. One woman snottily asked another, "And who are you?" I may have gotten "hangry" (hungry and angry) at one point and grumped at my husband and friends. I was lucky enough that my loved ones wrote it off as a temporary lapse in judgment and forgave me. I forgave my one choice encounter person as well, deciding I wasn't letting a weird comment ruin my day. I told her to have a nice day as I got off the elevator -- and I meant it. It didn't weigh on my shoulders and I did enjoy the rest of my day.

So why don't I do that more often with my kids? When they're grumpy or cranky or generally -- get this -- childlike, it grates my nerves sometimes. And has been known, on more than one occasion, to ruin my day. Their grumpiness? Ruining my day? Dumb. Perhaps I need to recognize that they're also small little humans with real feelings, real issues and real reactions to their own stuff and grant them a little grace when they give me attitude. But not too much. I don't want them to think that they can attempt to ruin everyone's day for the rest of their lives. It's a fine balance, I assume.

5) A good night's sleep is the key. To everything. Ever. Well, and food. Food is also key. Food and sleep. Did you ever take your child to the grocery store during nap time? Or watch your kid melt when you're running late to get home for a meal? Apparently adults do the same things without enough sleep or food. I'm nearly certain that all of the above grumpiness came from a lack of sleep or a lack of food. Perhaps an abundance of alcohol also came into play, as Sarah Brokaw said during her talk about Fortytude on Friday afternoon. When you have one too many glasses of wine, you can't think clearly the next day. (She said this as I was drinking a rather large glass of wine. At 2:45 in the afternoon. Which is 5:45 on the east coast, so I was fine, right?) A few times, when people around me would get stressed out, they would pause and say, "Oh man, I just need to get get something to eat," or, "I'm feeling tired and heading back to my room to rest for a bit." We're pretty good at recognizing our needs for food and rest as adults.

But I've been known to push my boys' limits before. While I don't want them to whine incessantly any time we walk a distance longer than 50 yards, I was reminded this weekend to take a mental evaluation of how they slept and how much they've eaten before we take on any big tasks as a family. And again, I logically know this, but the reminders while watching adults fall into the same traps our kids do was good for my perspective.

6) There's no place like home. I mean, yes, when I walked out of the airport in San Diego and was greeted with 76 degrees of non-humid air, I really felt like I had come "home." I complain about the summer heat and have always said that I want to live somewhere where it's 78 degrees year round. My hair also stayed smooth all weekend due to the lack of humidity. In addition to the lovely weather, there was great food, great fun with great friends, a really comfortable bed which someone else (read: not me or my husband!) made every single day and no reason not to have a cocktail at four o'clock in the afternoon. Or ten in the morning, really. But as much fun as I had, the truth is that there's no place like within earshot of my loud, smart, occasionally whiny, sleepy, hungry kids. Their hugs and smiles make the six hours of plane travel on three hours of post-CheesburgHer sleep worth it. It's all very Dorothy and Toto, but there really is no place like home.

Did you learn anything about family, parenting, motherhood or your kids while at BlogHer '11?


Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

Photo Credit: Denise Tanton.

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