Whenever Lucy starts crying, I run through a mental checklist — is she tired? is she hungry? does she have a dirty diaper? is she overstimulated? does she want to be held? I quickly try to quickly assess what is bothering her and then take care of whatever that need is.
I never once assume that something intrinsic to who Lucy is as a baby is what is causing her to cry. The checklist is all external factors and all the “problems” are grounded in what Andi and I need to do for her. Think about it — have you ever blamed a baby for crying?
Although there are some evil people in the world, I generally believe that people are good. But somehow when anyone not a baby is upset, my first thought is not, “I wonder what their day/week has been like leading up to this moment that could have caused this behavior?”
We are *mostly* rational beings, but we all have moments of irrationality. Mine, right now, are at 3am. Lucy is going through sleep regression which has caused her to wake up every hour or two wanting to be held. I don’t blame Lucy for feeling lonely / scared when she wakes up, but instead blame Andi for anything my sleep addled brain can think of (it’s her turn to get up or if only she put Lucy in those pajamas to sleep). And then if Andi gets upset because she definitely hasn’t been able to sleep for more than 1–2 hours either, I go further down the blame spiral. This spiral is all about how her reaction to this situation is driven, not by the fact that she is strung out, but driven by my internal 3am commentary of who she is as a person.
And we don’t just do this to people we love but also to complete strangers. That person that cut you off on the highway (1) isn’t a person; they are an [insert whatever expletive you want here] and (2) they cut you off because they are the devil reincarnate.
Stephen M.R. Covey — ‘We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.’
How can we start assuming the best in those around us? I love the books Crucial Conversations and Tools of Titans because they have some practical advice for these moments. Here is some of theirs, mixed with my own:
Deep breathing when the spiral is starting
Start with heart — what do I really want right now?
Notice the role that you play in the stories you are telling — When I’m driving, do I subconsciously speed up to keep people from passing causing them to cut me off?
Think and then genuinely wish the other person is happy!
Over the past week, I have been able to take a bit more of my paternity leave to hang out with Andi and Lucy. Lucy is now almost 4 months old and is incredibly aware of everything going on around her — smiling when you smile, “talking” out-loud (think baby dolphin mixed with monkey) and looking with great interest at anything you are doing.
I started to notice over the past week that every-time my phone was in my hand, Lucy would immediately look at the phone. After a while, if I was holding her and still looking at my phone, she would start to cry.
The first time it happened, I brushed it off — she just wants attention and the fact that I didn’t give it to her right now was frustrating to her. The next time and then the next, it dawned on me. How many times have I given up the opportunity to have a real connection for scrolling through my phone?
We go to dinner with a friend, we walk down the street, we call our mom, we have a meeting or we rock our child to sleep all the while only giving half of our attention to the person right in front of us. And this action is self perpetuating — once you are no longer present, those around you also stop being present too. Amazing that this behavior now is just normal; it took my 4 month old daughter to tell me that I was being rude!
Luke recently recommended Ezra Klein’s podcast “Is modern society making us depressed?” (answer, yes and definitely worth a listen!) as we were talking about this issue. The salient point being that we have systematically alienated ourselves from others to the severe detriment of our mental health.
Just saying “be present” doesn’t seem to fix the issue so here are 5 actions that I am doing to be more present for Lucy and those around me:
Delete social media apps off phone (don’t need to go cold turkey, but easy to avoid scrolling Instagram if you have to open your laptop to view)
Connect daily with one person that I normally wouldn’t speak too
Stop checking my phone when I wake up (this one has been incredibly hard!)
Reflect daily on three specific things I am thankful for
Clear time in my day to slow down and enjoy the little things. Which right now is making silly faces at my daughter and discovering her laugh!