Evaluating yourself honestly as a parent can be hard, but it’s also important since we all want to be better parents. Too often we just decide we’re failures because we’re not doing things the way other people do it instead of focusing on the unique positives we bring to parenting. Any transition, like the end of summer, brings up the inevitable questions: Did we do enough? Did we do too much? Did the kids get to have all of the experiences they wanted? Did they spend too much time on their screens? Did they learn enough? Was I patient enough? Structured enough? Fun enough?
I worked for several years launching new products and services for a couple of tech companies here in Austin. Once the launches were over, we would conduct post-mortem sessions to review what went well and what didn’t go so well so we could do better next time. Over time, I’ve learned that post-mortem sessions are incredible areas of opportunity that often fuel innovation. Based on the feedback, we built some of the most innovative processes and tools that are now being used beyond launches and are used to improve day-to-day activities.
A conversation with a co-worker the other day made me realize: parents need post-mortems for our summers to honestly evaluate what went well and what we could do better.
A co-worker of mine mentioned in passing the other day that he bought workbooks for his kids and that he makes them do 45 minutes of work in the books every day in preparation for school starting. I immediately felt guilty that I wasn’t doing 45 minutes of work a day with my kids and seriously considered buying some workbooks on my way home. The conversation also made me reflect on the summer and if I’d done enough with my kids or if I’d just wasted it. As a #1 on the Enneagram, my inner voice started sending me down a spiral of negativity telling me I hadn’t done enough. That night when I went home, I noticed a Summer To-Do list that my kids and I worked on together at the beginning of the summer. I realized we hadn’t done any of the items on the list except for sending them to camps, which didn’t help my feeling of failing the summer.
My wife and I decided to do a post-mortem of our summer to honestly evaluate what happened and decide what went well and what we could do better.
Here are the strategies I’ve learned for conducting a good post-mortem at a business and how you can apply them to parenting:
1) The Importance of Listening
Business: Launching new products and solutions in the marketplace disrupts day-to-day activities for several teams, especially when the launches are closely held secrets. The disruption causes confusion, ambiguity, and fear that teams carry with them until they’re given an opportunity to voice their frustration, usually in that post-mortem session. I’ve learned that giving teams an opportunity to voice their pains and frustrations is healthy but it requires the host to have thick skin to take the brunt of the negative feedback.
Home: When I asked my kids about how we did this summer and what they’ll remember, I was expecting to hear about the museums we went to in Washington DC, the long road trip, the things they wished we could have done. Instead, they remember eating breakfast and swimming at the hotels, riding the subway in DC, watching TV together during dinner, eating out. After listening to them, and based on previous summers, I’ve learned that these smaller moments are my favorites as well. It doesn’t matter how much we spend on a vacation or where we go, what they remember is the swimming pool, the slightly stale bagels and rubbery eggs, and jumping on the hotel beds.
2) The Importance of Closure
Business: While I would often leave post-mortem sessions feeling beat up, defeated, and deflated, I noticed everyone else would leave feeling lighter and somewhat happier. I think giving teams a chance to vent their frustrations gave them a sense of closure and some level of peace. They were now ready to move on fully to something else.
Home: I’ve noticed that my kids don’t actually need closure from the summer, but I do. It’s hard not to feel guilty when we exit the summer—especially when I see other people’s European vacations, beach trips, or Disney adventures. I start feeling like I didn’t do enough, I didn’t make enough memories, I somehow scarred my kids, our vacations weren’t good enough, etc. But I finally decided to examine those feelings and see if they were true. For the past few years, after I’m done reading to my kids at night, we fill out a notecard with the things they want to remember about the day. On the back of the notecard, they draw silly pictures. We’ve built up quite an impressive stack of notecards with some of our best memories. Reading through the cards for the summer helped me have closure and help me see that they’re thriving, which is what we want for them. We didn’t get to all of the things on the list we made because we were so busy doing other things that hadn’t made the list—their lives are full and they are happy. It is only when I compare myself to other people that I sometimes feel like a failure; when I make my summer about my kids, I can see that it was full of joy and good things.
3) The Importance of Connecting
Business: Relationships are messy and they’re often made stronger by tough experiences. I would often leave post-mortem sessions with a sense of camaraderie with the people in the room. We had just been through hell but we got through it together. By empathizing with each other, we were able to connect and build strong relationships that helped us in the next launch.
Home: At the end of the day, we want our kids to thrive. We want to make positive shared experiences with our kids, which we definitely did this summer. We want to connect with them, to be intentional in the small moments as well as the big ones, to be present and at their level during painful times and happy times. Our culture emphasizes that bigger is better, that you show people you love them by being perfect, by doing more, by spending the most. Instead, we focused this summer on connecting in small ways—over ice cream, through books, with friends—and it was perfect. Connecting happens all the time. Making connection the most important part of our summer means it doesn’t matter what we do, it matters who we’re with and how much we love each other. That’s a success by any measure.
What are some lessons you learned this summer? How can you tell your kids are doing well?