Cindy Pierce, speaks about accepting messiness, parental guilt, the value of family meetings, and the joys of being a “righteous imperfectionist”
Q: You’re juggling a lot.
A: I go from making beds to skiing with kids to jumping on a plane or scrubbing pots and cooking to reading with kids to stepping on stage. It can be tough when I can see a pot boiling over a few yards behind one of my kid’s crying and needing to process an emotional moment. Or I can feel the dirty toilets calling us when we are out throwing the football. It can get sloppy, but we are able to let a lot go to survive.
Q: What do you let go of?
A: One thing we loosened up on was our own housecleaning. As innkeepers who clean toilets, we weren’t too interested in scrubbing our own after doing ten at the Inn. So the kids have taken on that chore. Other overwhelmed guilty moms used to admire how I juggled it all so gracefully: “How do you do it? You own an inn, you are a mom of three, you speak, you wrote a book and you keep it all together.” Hah! I used to give a tour of our less than tidy family bathroom, our cluttered office/mudroom, and our bedroom (living out of laundry baskets). The Martha Stewart wanna-be’s would almost weep with gratitude. I could have charged admission for that tour. I am determined to keep up zero pretenses.
Q: How do you deal with the chaos?
A: I’m not attached to messes. Every time I run to the phone I see 200 things that need fixing. For sanity’s sake, I have to put my blinders on and let that go. Is it better to fix something, or read to my kid? I’ve set the bar low. If it’s out of control, I clean. Otherwise, I’m truly present. I ask myself: am I managing my family, or trying to have a relationship with them?
Q: You hold weekly family meetings. What’s that like, and how does it help keep life running somewhat smoothly?
A: We don’t always get to it, but once a week is our goal. I have to give credit to a program called Parenting On Track, by Vicki Hoefle, who got us into this. We start our meetings with each family member verbalizing gratitude for the others. My nine year old, for example, will say, “I really appreciated it when Zander let me play with his friends.” At first these statements were awkward and self-conscious, but now that the kids have come to appreciate hearing something meaningful from the others, they’ve learned to contribute something meaningful, too.
We use our meetings to assign family contributions – dishes, wood hauling, cleaning of common spaces, bathroom cleaning, etc…Then we solve grievances that the kids record in a special book during the days before weekly meetings.
Our kids have come to love these meetings. They have become a place where all kinds of truth can fly. We each find out who and how we are in the family. Sometimes the kids are uncomfortable with what’s said. But that’s OK—speed bumps can be productive. As parents, we are darn good at laughing at ourselves and admitting where we need help. Now the kids too are empowered to really give us perspective and ideas on how we are doing. They receive feedback with greater ease.
Q: How do avoid feeling guilty about being away so much, for your speaking?
A: I’m not like your average woman, in taking on guilt. I think when it comes to children, a little benign neglect is good. When I travel as a speaker, I have no issues about being away from my kids nor does my husband. The kids groove well. When I worked as a teacher, I often saw “doormat” parents, who put all their brain energy into their kids’ lives. While I try to be fully present with them at certain times, I believe in teaching kids independence. And kids develop stronger relationships with the other parent when one is away. Likewise, they can get a lot from their sitters and other adults. They feel more capable when they are contributing, like making breakfast for the family. We empower them to have a role in the family’s well-being.
Q: What’s your most important advice for businesspeople who also have children?
A: Be present for your kids when you are with them. Some parents feel they’re not truly parenting unless they are doing “for” their kids and nagging them about something. We can come to think that nagging is how to get things moving forward. How about just sitting there, being fully present? Turn off the computer, and sit on the floor with them to read Goodnight Moon, even if you’ve recited it 20 times in the last three days. Focus fully. If you’re distracted, they’ll smell it. It doesn’t take long to make a meaningful connection with a child. When you take the time to tune into them, a lot of the behaviors that bug us as parents disappear.
Q: Your overall philosophy and approach feel healthy to me.
A: I consider myself a “righteous imperfectionist”. I don’t spend time and energy worrying about what other people think. I am always ready to find the humor and the lessons offered by the setbacks in life.
People shouldn’t be so hard on themselves. Imperfectionism is liberating. It gives you so much more brainspace for joyful things.
(If you are interested in Parenting On Track, see their website at http://www.parentingontrack.com/)