You’ve heard the phrase “When the child becomes the parent,” right? I’ve started to experience this more in the past few years with my mom and it was especially heightened on a recent trip home to Chicago for my mother’s birthday. The experience reminded me of how important it is to step up into leadership roles, even when scared, uncomfortable, inexperienced and doubtful of one’s abilities to lead others, but more importantly, to lead one’s self.
My brother and I threw my mom a surprise 70th birthday party, along with several other surprises along the way. My mother doesn’t do very well with change and her resistance challenged me to the core during this visit.
As many people of her age, she has experienced a lot of loss in the last few years. Aside from losing my father in 1990, in the past two years she has experienced the loss of her boyfriend, as well as several friends and siblings. She’s become extremely reclusive, doesn’t work and doesn’t have friends. Granted, she lives this way by choice but it is still heart breaking for me. So, we thought we could lift her spirits by gathering some of our cousins (who adore her) at her favorite restaurant.
My arrival in Chicago alone was shocking for her because she had no idea I was coming. I surprised her at a restaurant bar that my brother took her to. I quietly slipped into the seat next to her and then obnoxiously asked the bartender for a drink to try to get her attention. Her body clenched up and she wouldn’t even look in my direction at first. As the bartender started interacting with me, she finally looked over. I stared her in the eyes until she jumped out of her seat. And she cried and hugged me tight and said, “You DO love me.” That was the kick off to her surprise weekend.
The next morning I announced that I was taking her to a salon to get her hair and make-up done. And that’s when the tables turned. She was upset and declared (like a child), “I don’t wanna go. Please don’t make me. I’d rather you take me grocery shopping.” (she loves to cook to pass the days). I tried to laugh it off and keep things light. But she was really getting upset. Tears-in-her-eyes upset. It was starting to rattle me. I was starting to feel bad. I certainly didn’t want to upset her, especially on her actual birthday. And the ego in me wanted to be the “favorite child” for my great idea!
Meanwhile I know we had a big surprise party to go to and knew she would be embarrassed if she didn’t look put together; she wasn’t going to put herself together to have dinner with her kids (which doesn’t bother me, by the way). The point is that I know her well enough to know she’d be mortified to see people she hasn’t seen in 25 years looking like she just woke up.
As tough as I may appear to be to many, I’m very much a push over. I was so close to throwing in the towel and saying, “Ok, we’re not going to the salon” just so I could make her happy in the short run. Frankly, giving in would have been less work and less painful for me instead of trying to convince her to do what I believed was best for her. It wouldn’t really affect me if she showed up looking the way she looked at the moment.
So, I stood firm in my decision and went into coaching mode (occupational hazard). I dove in to find out what was triggering her. I searched for her “pain point” and asked her why exactly she was so opposed to going. And she shared her reason without hesitation. She was afraid they (salon staff) would make her look like a clown. Apparently this happened to her in the early 90s when she went to the defunct Glamour Shots, a place where one could get glamorous photos taken after a make-up person painted one’s face. Once I knew what was really bothering her I could help her get over her fear of being pampered based on ONE bad experience.
I then declared, “I know what’s best for you. Trust me. The child has just become the parent. You’re going and you’ll love it.” And we were off. We arrived at the salon where she announced, “I am here against my will.” Everyone laughed. The salon staff was so amazing. They knew exactly how to handle her. They empathized with her. They offered her ideas. They told her she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. They made her feel safe. And they gave her wine!
Still uncomfortable, she committed to the experience. She complained a little along the way but that’s her nature to do so and we all just ignored that. And when it was all over, she looked beautiful and amazing and she loved how she looked.
We left the salon to go clothes shopping. That’s an entirely different story to write about another time. In summary, she now loves and owns several pairs of jeggings (and rocks them). The surprise party was a hit, filled with tears, laughter, love, memories and fun. She looked and felt amazing. She was even a little sassy. The next morning I said, “So, are you happy we went to the salon?” Her response: “Oh my goodness yes. I would have been so embarrassed.”
Victory for me! Standing firm in my beliefs paid off. If I would have given in to my own fear of committing to my decisions for her we both would have lost.
As entrepreneurs, business professionals, leaders and human beings we have to step up and forward to create success for ourselves and others. Here’s what I learned as a result of my mother’s 70th birthday that I believe are essential tips for your growth and development in your own business, job or life:
- Get uncomfortable in your current roles and commit to taking on new roles and more responsibility for others, even though you’re scared and uncertain of how to do so.
- Stand firm and believe in your desires, beliefs and points of view; ignore self-doubt.
- When you’re ready to throw in the towel, that’s when you have to commit even deeper; don’t settle for immediate relief and commit to the long-term goals.
- Discover (and empathize) with the pain others are experiencing so you can help them overcome their fears for the purpose of making them better, happier and more successful (in their definition of success).
- Accept that people will fight you along the way, but they are not fighting you; they are fighting themselves and secretly want your help.
- Take a team approach and be part of the solution. Realize that your own experiences give you the right and credibility to know what’s best for others in many situations.
- Celebrate the wins and remind others of those wins.
- Drink wine!