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Challenge: Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

Learning to find your balance as a parent

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The other day someone asked me if I had ever tried paddle boarding. I laughed to myself as I pictured what it would be like to try to stand my uncoordinated, clumsy self upright on a board while floating on the ocean with only my balance and a paddle to prevent me from being tossed into the water by a large wave. No, I have never tried paddle boarding. But, as I woke the next morning and quickly ran through the ever growing to-do list in my mind, I started to wonder if maybe I have been paddle boarding but just didn't realize it.

Perhaps the act of trying to balance parenting, wifeing (let's pretend it's a real word), friending (another real word), working, homeowning and all the other responsibilities that come with adulting, is a bit like balancing on a paddle board. As I carried the image of myself paddle boarding through my day, I became more convinced that paddle boarding is the perfect metaphor for how I approach my life.

Some days I can barely even stand up on my paddle board, no matter how calm or still the water is that day and no matter how strong my paddle is at the time. Sometimes there is just too much weight on my shoulders and all I can do is plunk myself down on my board, legs criss-crossed-applesauce and sit there. On those days, days when my 7 year old throws himself to the floor in a full-fledged tantrum because it is time to put his shoes on or days when I get into the car already late for work and realize that my low-tire pressure light is on, all I can do is float and let the waves and ocean guide me. I just hold onto the board for dear life, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day or that I might bump into a fellow paddle boarder along the way who can help me stand up.

Some days I find the strength to stand with ease and I am suddenly an expert paddle boarder. On those days I glide over the ocean's surface, making dinner, folding laundry, paying bills and shuttling my children to and from events on time like a pro. This paddle boarding thing sure feels like second nature on those days.

Sometimes I even find myself sitting comfortably on the board, legs dangling playfully over the edge without a care. My children are happy and polite, my work responsibilities are up to date, my house is clean and my financial stress is low. These are the days when I wish I could freeze time and soak up all the laughter, love, light and pure joy I see around me.

But then, inevitably, the water changes, as it always does, without warning. Flat tires. Sick children. Work emergencies. Sick pets. Health concerns. Broken washing machines. Suddenly I am sea sick and just want to angrily cast aside my stupid paddle and board and give up. It's too much. It's too hard. I'm not built for paddle boarding. What was I thinking? Why is everyone else out there balancing so beautifully on their boards today? What is wrong with me?

Always eager to learn more, I decided to conduct a brief bit of research on paddle boarding to see if this metaphor could really hold water (pun intended). In my research, I stumbled upon a very informative website for beginning paddle boarders. Here, Green Water Sports provides new paddle boarders with 10 tips to help them become successful at their new craft. After reviewing these tips in detail, it turns out that they could easily be applied to many of life's overwhelming aspects of adulting. Below I have included all 10 tips and their applicability to the ever challenging task of parenting or, as I may refer to it from now on, paddle board parenting:

1. Use a leash
No, not the literal leash. Although I have certainly met some children who, in some settings, could benefit from being on a physical leash, I am not referring to that kind of leash. I'm talking more along the lines of the type of leash that is a safety leash - just to make sure you don't lose your board when a wave tosses you into the water or you lose your balance. Who and what are your lifelines that you can turn to when you get knocked off your paddle board? Who can you tether yourself to for safety? Who do you want to make sure you don't lose along the way?

2. Make sure your paddle is the right way
While there is no wrong way to eat a Reese's, it seems that there is a wrong way to use your paddle. Sometimes our guts steer us the right way as we paddle board our way through parenting but sometimes our instincts are just wrong and if we truly reflect on it, we are using our paddle incorrectly. Sometimes we could benefit from checking with someone else to be sure that our paddle is the right way. It is ok to ask for advice and help. Who will let you know if your paddle is not the right way? Who can you turn to when you need to double check your paddle?

3. Face the right way
Initially this tip seemed rather silly and simple but as I reflected on how it could be applied to parenting, I realized that as parents it is sometimes easy to face the wrong way. We all have had moments where we look backwards, focused on the mistakes we've made behind us, or we look forward but only at the scary possibilities. Sometimes we need a reminder as parents to face the right way, face forward towards hope and the future, face towards the here and now, leave the past in the past. What is the right way for you to face in your parenting now?

4. Paddle with your core
Apparently, many new paddle boarders believe they should paddle with their arms. Doing so, however, uses more energy and results in quicker fatigue. Green Water Sports suggests that we should be using our core, the strongest muscles of our body, to do the work. What are your strongest muscles as parents? What is at the core of your parenting? How can you utilize that inner strength to help you steer your paddle board in a more energy efficient manner?

5. Look at the horizon
When you are trying to paddle board, looking down and constantly checking your foot position can actually make you lose balance and wind up in the water. Looking at the horizon helps paddle boarders to stay afloat. Looking at the horizon has also been known to help reduce seasickness. I'm going to try to remember this tip next time I find myself nauseous on my paddle board. As parents paddle boarding through life we should stand tall, look ahead and trust our feet. Let the horizon steady us. What is your horizon as a parent? What steadies you?

6. Stay out of the way
There are lots of other paddle boarders out there! Let's try to avoid cramming into the same space, sending each other toppling into the water. Respect each other's paddling and give each other room and space to fall. Some of us are having good days, filled with balance, strong cores and steady feet. Others are clinging to their boards in sheer panic. Respect each other's differences. Who do you want near you when you are paddling? Who do you need to stay away from?

7. Fall the right way
Even professional paddle boarders fall sometimes. No one is perfect. The same holds true for parenting. We all will fail and make mistakes along the way. How we fall and climb back on the board is what matters - both in parenting and paddle boarding. What is your plan for how you will get back on the board the next time you fall off? What is your plan to make sure you fall the right way?

8. Ride waves you can handle
Green Water Sports says, "Be smart and ride waves in the right conditions for your skill level." Ah, if life could be sure to only give me problems that match my skill level! However, life sends us giant waves and winds for which we are not prepared and while we can't suddenly develop the appropriate skills, we can find places to turn for help. Where can you turn when the waves get too big for you to handle?

9. Watch the wind
Know the forecast. Spend some time talking to others. Prepare yourself and notice the signs of changing conditions. But when all of the advanced planning fails (as it inevitable does!), Green Water Sports details a concept called "paddling prone" that paddle boarders utilize when the wind and waves get too strong. Sometimes all we can do is drop to our bellies, let go of the paddle and use our hands to steer us through the rough parts. How do you know when you need to paddle prone? Do you beat yourself up over needing to paddle prone sometimes?

10. Look after your board and your paddle
Someone once told me that self care is not selfish. Just as paddle boarders need to take care of their board and paddles, checking for cracks, dents and needed repairs, so too do we need to constantly take care of ourselves as parents. We can't paddle board our way through parenting if we are broken. How can you look after your own board and paddle?


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