Present Parenting: What my newborn daughter has taught me about communication
How communication is helping me be more present as a new parent—with my baby, my partner and myself
Are you able to be present as a new parent? My focus as a Communication Coach has always been on professional communication. But given that we spend 70-80% of our waking hours communicating, the work inevitably crosses over into the personal realm. Asking for a raise is directly transferable to having a tough conversation with a spouse. I recently took a work break to have a baby and I'm using my communication tools more than ever.
Having an infant is overwhelming and gratifying at the same time. As life is transforming, I’m trying to implement the strategies I remind my clients of—to be intentional, to be present and to listen—to my baby, my husband and myself.
I’m learning so much so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. New parents need an opportunity to explore these new ways of communicating. Join us with your little ones on March 14th at 10 AM at The Cobra Club for a Coffee Circle. We’ll discuss how we can use communication as new parents to be more present—with our babies, our partners and ourselves. More info here!
In the meantime, here are a few of the lessons my daughter, Billie, has taught me. And for those of you returning to work, some ways to bring these lessons into the workplace:
Put Yourself First
No matter how many times you’ve heard it on an airplane, most of us still take care of others before ourselves. Filling my water bottle before feeding a screaming infant feels cruel and selfish. But if I am dehydrated, I cannot make the food the screaming infant needs to eat. My body forces me to remember to help myself before helping her. "You can’t pour from an empty cup” has never been truer.
We have to manually override the impulse. The same is true for leaders and team members professionally. If your impulse is self-sacrifice, build self-care into your to-do list. Make it a priority. This week I’m determined to meditate in the morning before tending to the baby (even if it’s just for a minute or two!).
I'm always preaching about the importance of focused physicality and embodied cognition (the idea that what you do on the outside affects how you feel on the inside). Swaying back and forth unconsciously may lead someone to assume you are unconfident, unsure of yourself or uninterested. I call this “gray area”. I can spot a new parent a mile away by the swaying or bouncing. It may be consciously to soothe a child or unconsciously at a networking event with no baby in sight.
When I catch myself swaying unconsciously, I use it as an opportunity to get out of my head and into my body. I root my feet into the ground and take a really deep breath. (Of course, if your child needs soothing, sway away intentionally).
When presenting at work, remember to ground your physical energy. Being unfocused physically makes it harder for your audience to focus on what you are saying, and leads to the dreaded gray area.
Live in the Gray
Speaking of gray area, I’ve gone from Inbox Zero to Inbox Infinity. Thankfully, I implemented organizational strategies pre-baby to prevent important tasks from slipping through the cracks. The more challenging adjustment has been to be okay with the in-between. It is impossible to sit down and finish a task (or a blog post!) with the unpredictability of a new baby. And that’s okay.
Having a baby has forced me to take more time instead of rushing through a task just to check it off my to-do list. It’s also allowed me to be less precious. Done is better than perfect. And most of all, it’s made me super productive, picky and efficient with my time.
Do One Thing at a Time
Many of my clients want to have presence, but they fear it is not teachable. I disagree. I believe presence is simply the practice of doing one thing at a time. When you give someone your full attention, they feel heard and loved. They feel connected to you. That is presence.
My ability to be present is under a microscope when I’m with Billie. Multitasking is a disaster. When I grab my phone to capture a precious moment, she clams up. On the other hand, when I connect and make eye contact, she erupts in uninhibited joy. But the moment there is a phone, she feels my attention divide. Or my husband and I will catch ourselves scrolling our phones, looking at pictures of the baby instead of spending quality time together. Sure, we need the brain break, but we also need to be present with each other.
Technology is an incredible tool, but if a three-month-old can sense the imposition of a phone, imagine how your team feels if they are competing for your attention. This has made me pickier with when I use technology with clients, choosing instead to take notes on paper or forgo the use of PowerPoint presentations altogether.
Use Your Words
As a Communication Coach, I pride myself on being articulate and organized in my thoughts. Post-baby, I find I must think through my thoughts more carefully in stressful moments. Sometimes I have no idea what I need from my husband. I have to remember to intentionally put time aside to think about it. Once I figure it out, I have to organize my thoughts and be deliberate with the words I choose. And then I have to be sure I clearly ask for what I need. This week, that means putting time aside in the evenings to get work done, and sticking to it (instead of watching the Olympics).
In stressful, fast-paced work environments, it is easy to forget that minds cannot be read. It’s essential to give yourself time to organize your thoughts, be deliberate with your words and clearly ask for what you need. And at the same time, it’s important to remember that…
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Before becoming a mom, I hadn't thought about how applicable these tools would be to an infant who cannot communicate. But she can communicate. She has told us exactly what she wants since day one. And we've done an okay job at listening—another indispensable parenting skill. Recently, at just three months old, she's started talking. Sure, she's not saying words that I recognize, but she is talking.
It reminds me that 93% of communication is nonverbal. It proves just how important facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are in communication. Billie’s face goes from a smile to a pout in less than a second if she senses my mood change. This is further evidence that people make judgments within a tenth of a second of seeing someone's face. These are statistics we cite often in our work, but I’ve never seen them so acutely as I have in the past few months.