Recently I had the chance to speak on a TEDx stage on the topic of parenting--to attempt to articulate the essence of parenthood in 15 minutes-or-less! In the process, I discovered that giving a TED talk and parenting actually have a few things in common. Listen to hear my 10 TIPS that apply to both of these seemingly different worlds!
Recently I had the amazing opportunity to give a TED talk. I got to stand on the famous round, red carpet on the TEDx stage in Gainesville FL and share an “idea worth spreading.” On one hand, I couldn’t believe I was there, yet on the other, it was the most natural thing—the most logical endpoint of the steps I had taken. That’s sort of how parenting is… Every moment we stand on a figurative navigational bubble saying “you are here.” We’ve landed where we are through a series of a thousand choices and circumstances (both in and out of our control).
Since my talk, my work, & my life all center around parenting, I naturally looked at my TEDx experience through that lens. Here are 10 “take home” lessons I learned from giving a TEDx talk that apply equally to parenting.
Learn by doing. The idea of stepping onto a TEDx stage was absolutely not comfortable to me. All the workshops, summits, podcasts and other speaking venues I had been a part of were preparation, but in order to become a TEDx speaker, I had to step on a TEDx stage before really feeling “ready.” I had to accept unknowns and imperfections and just trust myself to navigate the experience in real time. No one ever feels entirely ready to do something big or new.
I’ve had several people tell me they’re afraid to have kids. While I would hope that fear wouldn’t be the pervading experience, an awareness of the hugeness of the task is appropriate and actually much more a sign of readiness than overconfidence.
In my book, “Faithful Nurturing,” I say it this way: “Motherhood, like life in general, is schoolhouse to the soul; the learning comes experientially. The unsettling reality is that we must keep being mothers while still learning how—it is the only way one really does learn how.”
Now for #2
Start from a place of humility. When I applied to give my TED talk, I thought I had a great idea. But a few weeks before the event, my talk sort of blew up in my face and I realized it needed a major overhaul. In order to go forward, I had to start from a place of not knowing.
In parenting, we often start out thinking we know how things are going to go, but reality takes unexpected turns. When our preconceived notions don’t play out the way we thought, and we have to back up or start over, this is the beginning of true wisdom. Some call this a “child’s mind” or a “beginner’s mind” because it expands the realm of possibility and allows us to approach a challenge with curiosity and openness. It’s like the old quote says (attributed to various people): “Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.” Do you relate?
Use the time you have (to get to what’s most important). Though I dreamed of giving a TEDx talk, when I actually got the chance, I realized how daunting a task it really was. I had to decide what I considered to be the most important message for parents all over the world and then communicate it in 15 minutes.
In reality, just about everything we do is time-bound. Though once a parent, we’re always a parent, every stage is fleeting. We have a limited window to transmit what we know & to experience time with our kids. I remember reading a parenting book that estimated the number of dinners a parent would likely make over the course of a child’s life—it was a big, big number--but to suddenly realize that our shared family dinners are finite made me want to cherish each one. We also have a limited number of bedtimes, summer vacations, and just ordinary days together. To me it’s not a count down, but a reminder to make it count…
Seek out and accept help. I’m so grateful to the many people who helped me get ready for my TED talk. For the last 2 weeks, my sister met me over zoom everyday at 7am so I could practice. Certain friends and relatives read drafts or listened to run-throughs and gave feedback. My son’s drama teacher gave me some coaching and let me practice in front of the class (a little embarrassing for my son, but he was pretty gracious about it!) Each person had something different to offer and contributed to how my talk evolved. At the end of the day, though, it was up to me to decide what advice to listen to.
The same goes for parenting. We’re so much better off when we take the “village” approach—when we can surround ourselves with a supportive community of people who want the best for us. Still, no matter what help or advice is offered, it’s our call, because we know our kids best.
Don’t compare yourself. Initially, when I looked at examples of slides from other TED talks, I felt self-conscious. Theirs seems so polished and mine looked more like a photo album. But then I realized they were giving a different kind of talk. If I had used stock images, the talk would have become less personal and less meaningful.
In parenting, there are good reasons our parenting looks different from our friends’, our neighbors’, or our other family members’ parenting. We are different parents raising different kids in different contexts.
Learn by observation (and make a study of the possibilities). In my preparation, I watched a lot of TED talks and noted what I liked and didn’t. I couldn’t copy someone else’s talk style and make it mine even if I had wanted to—it just doesn’t work that way--but I could learn. Some of my favorites were by Valerie Kaur, Brene Brown, & Amy Cuddy. Watching their talks helped me clarify what I was really aiming for. Other talks seemed overly staged (like they were being read off an inward teleprompter). I knew I didn’t want that. My favorite talks were personal, yet grounded in science or history, and used metaphor and story in powerful ways. Hopefully I achieved that—you’ll have to listen and judge for yourself.
In parenting, learn from everyone around you. Notice what other parents do—their tone, their words, their systems—and how their kids respond. Things may not work the same in your family, but notice what you like and don’t like and think about why. Soak it all in and let these observations inform your own choices as a parent.
Play off your unique strengths. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want to give a talk that felt stuffy YET, I knew I couldn’t rely on a completely conversational style because I wanted to carefully choose my words. With a background more in writing than speaking, I knew I needed to memorize my talk word for word, but then know it so well that I could deliver it naturally. This worked for me much better than giving a speech from a bulleted outline.
As a parent, I’m pretty “go-with-the-flow”; strict routines and schedules have never worked well for me. Rather than beating myself up over that, I try to accept it. I divide my day into loose segments and have a running “to-do” list that isn’t bound by calendar days (except when necessary). I commit to ballpark times rather than clock times and that helps cut down on my stress.
Walk your talk. Since my TEDx talk was all about showing up to parenting with grounding, love, and presence, I knew I had to show up to my talk that way too. While speaking, I tuned in to feel the stage beneath my feet and was conscious about my breathing. As my fellow speakers will attest, I was backstage doing yoga poses and smelling my Chapstick to keep myself present and grounded in my body. I thought of my audience as real people—mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons who sometimes struggle, who perhaps have experienced trauma, who could play a role in healing themselves and others. I connected with a sense of compassion for everyone listening that night or who would listen.
In parenting too, it rarely works to preach one thing and do another. (Kids and especially teens can detect hypocrisy a mile away.) That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect before we expect anything from our kids, but it does mean we have to be working at the things we say we value. As Dorothy Nolte’s famous poem states, “Children Learn What They Live”—they internalize not only what parents say, but who they experience their parents to be.
Show up (despite limitations and imperfect conditions). The night before the TEDx event, we had rehearsal that started at 10:30 pm at a rundown (yet charming) theater that wasn’t even the actual venue. This wasn’t ideal, but by showing up, I was able to be inspired by the creative, articulate people who I’d be sharing the stage with the next day and get a bit more practice.
Parenting conditions are rarely ideal either. There may be physical or mental health struggles, financial issues, societal problems, pandemics, but we still parent “forward”—looking to who our kids can become and doing our best in the circumstances we’re in.
Make it fun. As we waited for our TEDx event to start, I enjoyed connecting with the other speakers. Some of us stood in the bathroom touching up our hair and make-up like high school students getting ready for a dance. We shared our stories and encouraged each other. After the talk, I loved mingling with the audience and having people share how my talk impacted them or made them think of things in a new way. Then for a few days, I visited my cousin in Boca Raton. We ate amazing food, sat on the beach, and took a boat ride. This was a huge treat for a mom that rarely eats out, lives in a desert, and spends much of my time supervising other people’s fun.
Parenting can be fun too. It doesn’t have to be something we endure or put off “living” to do. As Emily Dickinson says, “Forever is composed of Nows.” Everyday, regular, beautiful “nows.”
Yesterday, my 5-year-old ran in to get me to see a beautiful sunset. We sat together in our driveway and enjoyed it just for a few minutes. May you also experience the joy of parenting as you:
Learn by doing.
Start from a place of humility.
Use the time you have.
Seek out and accept help.
Avoid comparing yourself.
Learn by observation.
Play off your unique strengths
Walk your talk
Show up and
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xo, Dr. Mary