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Stories

Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

Lead Like A Black Belt

Jenifer DeMattia

One of the many things I can not seem to do anymore since having children is get through an entire book. As soon as my eyes begin skimming the page, I’m gone. In a deep coma until the next morning when the drooling zombie of a 5-year-old wakes me with either a thought provoking question or a demand for chocolate milk.

But when I found out my former colleague, Scott Alexander had written a book, I was naturally curious. And also, I respect him and reading his book would be, well, respectful. So it took me only a few days to get through it, and I thought I would share the impact it had on me because it most certainly did. The book is called, Lead Like A Black Belt, but truthfully it could be titled, “Parent Like a Black Belt”, because I connected with it as a mom. I don’t have to be a black belt wearing martial artist to appreciate the knowledge within the book or to utilize any of the leadership techniques. I just have to be a mother, or a just a person for that matter who wants to touch someone else’s life or improve their own.

Becoming a mother for the first time was not as smooth and natural of a process as I had originally thought it would be. It was literally as though I was pushed in the water without knowing how to swim. The lack of sleep and diaper changing I could handle. It was more so my heart that needed to be resuscitated after children. Nothing can emotionally prepare you for your babies. As my boys grow, it’s the enormity of the task at hand that paralyses me from becoming the mom I want to be. Teaching them right from wrong, shaping and molding who they will become in the future is a job so important, rarely people see themselves as qualified for the position, myself included. But reading this book has helped me to see my experiences as a mom a little differently.

As their mother, I am essentially in the leadership role. I am not their boss, or just an enforcer. I have been given the honor of guiding them towards finding their greatest potential, a life long journey for us all of course. And just like a potential Black Belt moves through stages before they reach each desired goal, as a mom I do the same thing. I have been on a journey with my children this whole time. And the reason we continue to move forward is because they are not the only ones learning. It’s amazing when you read something you actually know but rarely remind yourself of as often as you should.

If I look at the gift of raising my children as a journey of learning, I will stop punishing myself for making mistakes.

 This is huge for me. Just like a Black Belt engaging an opponent, if they come out learning something new from each encounter, that is considered a win. Imagine the impact of this simple notion if a parent could grasp it. And then you think, “I’ve got this”, when your second child is born. I’ve done it once, this will be easier. But then you meet a totally different child with new challenges and expectations. A new unexpected journey begins.

Although this book has so many techniques to appreciate, there are definitely things that stuck out to me, flexibility and balance certainly being two of them. I’m not talking about holding a child while balancing groceries, with the other one hanging off your back kind of flexibility, although this is often the shopping experience. But this refers to your mind’s ability to change the way you think based on the information of a given situation. Every day with my boy’s challenges come up. Some of which I have no clue how to deal with. But if I can learn to look at things differently I will have different results.

And if I am off balance emotionally, it will be impossible for me to provide the kind of guidance my children need. And if my boys are on emotional overload, their ability to handle a situation will be greatly impacted.

Days can be hectic and I can loose it a little, raise my voice, start talking way too fast, things that I know are not helpful but the stress gets to be so impactful it can take over at times. I was relieved to read about the importance of doing one activity at a time. That multitasking is difficult for your brain to manage, so focusing on so many different activities at once does not allow for you to finish one of your objectives to it’s best desired outcome. Trying to get it all done in one day, the story of a mother’s life, can actually reduce your productivity. A good reminder to focus on the important pieces in my life.

As a person who generally worries about too much too often, who happens to also be a mother, I have to be able to sit back, care for myself, focus on what’s important for the moment, and use my strengths to get us through. If I can reflect on each day and think, “What did I learn”, and alter it the next time, I am winning as a mom every time. If I can remember that failure is just a word, just like fear and disappointment and everything in between. They are just words, but the key is what perspective will I see my life though. Will I focus on my shortcomings or learn new skills by the grace of my mistakes.

Reading the practices in the book remind me that focusing on building my children’s integrity is a key piece in guiding them in the right direction. I really feel this is the goal for me as a mother. I don’t need my children to be famous athletes or award winning people. I want them to be strong in their beliefs. I want them to be men of honor and dignity and respect. I want them to live a life grounded by the morals and standards they have set for themselves based on their ability to use the unique talents they each possess. And most of all, I want them to know that none of this will come easy, and that it takes a lifetime to become what we truly are. Much like I will spend my lifetime realizing my abilities and talents can take me beyond the role of a mother, and perhaps into the realm of a leader to many, including myself.

Being a mom is not a series of yeses and nos. It’s an art form, a careful dance of self-reflection and improvement. Leading through example, with acceptance and confidence of what life will bring and your ability to handle it.

Thank you Scott Alexander, for Lead Like A Black Belt, you definitely have inspired the importance of always learning and seeking inspiration.