A Year Abroad Brought us F2F with the Power of Parenting

Written for EO by Russell Benaroya, a member of EO Seattle and currently the owner of Stride, a fully managed back office accounting and HR services company helping high growth organizations move forward faster.

My wife is a parenting coach and educator, a licensed therapist and a social worker. And I’m an entrepreneur. I see the world through a lens of abundance and possibility. You would think that we had this kid thing all under control. No issues, right? I ooze solving problems and I encourage my kids to think in a similar way. We got this. If all goes according to plan, we will have architected the most well-adjusted, abundance-seeking, emotionally intelligent kids around.

And that is when I wake up from my dream, in a cold sweat and realize that whatever fantasy I concocted going into this got thrown out the door quickly. And only then can I see that the road is about thousands of micro learning moments, not just for the kids, but for all of us. And those learning moments will not come without struggle and self-reflection joy and anger, but it is there, within those moments, that we find ourselves. Today, with a 14-year old daughter (Maya) and a 12-year old son (Shane), the journey for all of us continues.

This year and this part of the journey, we moved from Seattle to Costa Rica, the pursuit of a long-held ambition that my wife and I had to create a one-year abroad experience for our children. We wanted to teach them lessons about independence, breaking out of your comfort zone, seeing other cultures. We have done that but not without struggle as a family. We have all learned a tremendous amount about ourselves and our family unit.

Of course, you can’t get the entrepreneur out of me and I tend to think about the parallels with business and team building. Here is what comes to mind for me during this year of transition and change:

Choices Create Control. 

The power of giving choices cannot be underestimated. When we feel told what to do it takes away our power. When we are given choices, we can decide (within a set of constraints). “Would you rather make your lunch today or clean up after dinner tonight? Would you rather do your math work right now or write that English paper?” Giving our kids control of decisions has reduced conflict as they feel that we aren’t stripping them away of their ability to have choice.

Growth Mindset is the #1 Attribute to Foster.

Carol Dweck has famously published research around a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset which challenges us to embrace challenges and the unknown for learning rather than feeling that our talents and capabilities are static. This is not just for children. We are growing and learning as well, and we must be able to share our fears and goals and desires with our children to model what it means to be out of our comfort zones and wanting to improve. Just ask my wife how her tennis is coming along.

Courage is Speaking Your Truth

Kids have this incredible advantage in that they aren’t political yet and truly speak from a place of feelings. As adults, we tend to worry a lot about how we are perceived, what people will think, how we stay in control. My daughter came out to us as gay over a year ago. She was 12. I was scared. She was courageous. She spoke her truth and moved on. I have had a lot of introspective work to do. She is liberated.

Embrace Wisdom of the Group. 

There is a theory that says a better decision will be made with the input of a group rather than any individual acting alone. Two weeks ago, we all sat around the dining room table and spoke about how we were feeling living in Costa Rica. It was emotional with many tears (side note: There is something magical that happens when I show vulnerability and my kids comfort me) and a few laughs. We let each person speak for 5 minutes, uninterrupted. We put all the feelings on the table and we are using that as the basis for making our next decision. Nothing was left unsaid and from there, we can be better informed in how we proceed to the next chapter.

Express Gratitude. 

Every Sunday evening, we go around the dinner table and each person shares an acknowledgement of gratitude to each person in the family. It is sometime a bit of a struggle, but we have trained this muscle and it is so powerful. Gratitude is one of our most effective family foundations and even though we might be in a period with a bit of struggle, we can always find a reason to acknowledge each other.

Just Having a Plan is Not Sufficient. 

Every year we go someplace away from our home and spend 3-4 hours building our annual goals as individual and as a family. My kids hate it. I love it. I know the power of planning. Some years, however, these great plans get filed away because life gets “too busy. But this year, we have monthly check-ins for accountability. We post the current month intentions in a visible place. It allows us to better celebrate accomplishment and reinforcement that we are keeping our agreements.

What I have realized is that as parents (and as business owners), there will be thousands of moments when we are faced with having to react. Some moments will be celebratory. Some may feel existential. Others might feel downright depressing. But I have realized that this is exactly what the journey is about. There is no defined outcome of success. The only thing I can control is whether I continue to learn and live in accordance with the standards that we set as a family. The outcome will take care of itself and it will be perfect (whatever that may mean).

Russell Benaroya joined EO in 2007. To learn what it’s like to be a member like Russell, visit the EO Network. 

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