Parenting Parallels to the Profession

I’m a new parent, which is exciting on its own, but has especially brought joy, curiosity, and entertainment for family and friends since it’s me.

They all appreciate my parenting adventures from an intellectual/emotional perspective (INTJ, logic trumps emotion, very analytical, habit/routine follower) and physically (at 6’1” 250lbs, I look like a giant next to our baby).

For all of the five months of our daughter Natalie’s existence, we’ve done everything we can to figure out how best to soothe her random and intense bouts of fussiness. Unfortunately for our sleep, our troubleshooting typically occurs throughout the night. Being me, I approach every situation with a four-step checklist working towards a resolution:

1. Diaper check

2. Hunger check

3. Pacifier attempt

4. Movement (walking, bouncing on a workout ball, swinging)

Writing these out makes the four steps seem even easier and simpler to run through than they ever tend to be. In practice, frustration or concern sets in and I forget these things. Or, if I’m too tired to bounce on the ball, I may skip that step and try random other things (changing positions holding the baby, trying different pacifiers, begging for submission). It’s also easy to focus on just one area as the solution; trying to force what I think should work and only making myself more frustrated when it doesn’t.

Nat smile

There’s data for me here: diaper count, time of last feed, sleep tracking, personal observations, and qualitative feedback from my partner. I often forget or ignore this information in the face of a crying baby. What often dominates are the physical cues/behavior as feedback, which doesn’t always let me know if what I’m doing is helping or working towards state of comfort, as opposed to exacerbating the situation.I can’t help but draw parallels with my parenting adventures and professional practice. With colleagues or students, I know I get in situations where I make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Whether I was rushed, caught off guard, flustered, or focused on just one aspect of the situation, there are times I’d like to replay an interaction. We can get too involved or close to projects and lose sight of bigger picture/guiding objectives or goals. We may also feel helpless or stuck in an uncontrollable situation.

My fussy baby reminds me of the platinum rule: treat others as they want to be treated. I need to center her needs and perspective, not my own. When in a frustrating or seemingly helpless situation, I can brainstorm actions to try to improve the situation or minimize the stressors. While my daughter may not understand or appreciate my regret in approach, we can rectify situations with colleagues by apologizing, suggesting to revisit an approach, or giving fair warning of potential limitations or concerns. Just like I ensure baby resources are stocked and available, I can take proactive steps to guard against future potential work missteps by creating templates, agendas, and/or talking points for a project or with an area I’m collaborating. Work and parenting also instill a sense of flexibility and adaptability as circumstances can always change or routines just may never take hold.

Sometimes what we see as a “people problem” is really one of situation or circumstance. People may not be lazy or dragging their feet with a deadline, they may be slowed by barriers given the system/process/resources needed to complete the task. Looking at situations from a different perspective, considering multiple factors involved can provide additional insight or perhaps even avenues to pursue to improve the circumstance. Be compassionate in giving others the benefit of the doubt, as you never know what else might be going on in their lives personally or professionally.

As an assessment person, I think about the importance of multiple measures or complementary data sets to understand the full picture. Inclusion of diverse perspectives and efforts to collaborate can go a long way in setting up success. My parenting intention to both build capacity and best support our family is having a positive impact on my work in reinforcing the value of taking time to step back and examine my approach to routine work.

I encourage you all to reflect on your practices to be sure you’re acting as you should regardless of the people involved, pressure you are under, or other environmental factors. Where you should make changes or adjust your approach, take advantage of the ability to communicate with other parties involved, as well as being proactive to minimize future disruptions or obstacles. Despite all the preparation we may undertake for various situations, we all experience uncertainty which can knock us off course. We are best served remembering those core values or philosophy grounding our work. Take it one day (or baby outburst) at a time and keep the end goal in mind. For work, it’s student learning and student success. At home, it’s a healthy and happy baby (even if that means sleep-deprived parents).

Natalie and me

photo credit: Bethany Hope Photography

We’d love to continue the conversation about what it means to parallel our lives to the student affairs profession! Tweet us at @hellopresence & @JoeBooksLevy! Thanks for reading.

Joe Levy

About the author: Joe Levy is the Executive Director of Assessment and Accreditation at National Louis University. Joe is passionate about data-informed decision making, accountability, and promoting a student-centered approach inside and outside of the classroom. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBooksLevy! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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