≡ Menu

Advice For New Parents

Molly and I had our first son last August. It’s been great. Nothing is more fun for me than spending time with my family. It’s also been challenging.

I’m a fanatic planner/preparer. Before Ejay arrived, we went to the classes, read the books, watched the videos, etc. etc. All that helped. But babies are very complicated, and they’re all different. This inherent complexity/variability makes it impossible to fully prepare for a baby. In retrospect, there were a number of things I wish I’d known then.

To help future new parents, I’ve prepared a list of things I’ve learned since my son arrived. Ejay is only 6 months old, so I’m sure I’ll be learning more. I’ll post more as I do.

Your baby will cry.

For the first couple of days after Ejay arrived I operated in emergency mode. I treated every cry like a fire alarm. “He’s crying! Something must be terribly wrong! I have to figure it out! I have to solve it now!” All I did was wear myself out.

Crying means your baby wants something. It does not mean your baby needs something immediately, you have 5 seconds to figure it out, and if you fail the consequences will be dire and irreversible. Relax, figure out the problem, and solve it. Repeat as necessary.

You don’t have enough batteries.

Every product for babies must light up, beep, spin around, and play a tune. Accept it. Estimate the number of batteries you’ll need, then double it. Then double that. That’s a good start.

The first two weeks is boot camp.

For the first 2 weeks of his life, your newborn will require all your energy. You will feel like you can’t sustain that level of effort. And you will be right.

If you don’t expect the demands to lighten up, you might feel overwhelmed (I did). The good news is that it will lighten up. It gets easier. Just treat the first two weeks like survival mode. Don’t worry about the house, the yard, the laundry, etc. Just care for your family and yourself. The rest of it will be there when your baby’s demands ease up (probably about two weeks). Focus intensely for now, and know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyone’s an expert.

Did you know that the act of procreation qualifies you as an expert on all things child-related? And that it becomes your duty to correct anyone you find doing it wrong? And that everyone’s experience should match your own?

It seems that everyone who’s reproduced successfully has an opinion about what babies should eat, wear, do, watch, etc. Many of these people feel compelled to educate everyone else on the right way to do it. And a lot of them will get fighting mad if you disagree. So don’t. You have X amount of energy. You can spend it caring for your child, or you can spend it arguing with adults.

By the way, don’t judge these self-appointed experts too harshly. Generally, they don’t believe that they know it all. They just want to believe that they did (or are doing) the best thing for their children. One way they can feel that way is by having other people agree with them. So don’t let them sap your energy. Just be cordial, listen, consider what they say, and continue caring for your child in the best manner you know.

Improve incrementally.

Be attentive for anything you can improve. Maybe you can raise/lower your changing table a few inches. Maybe you can go to bed a half hour earlier or later. Maybe you can keep the baby’s room 1 degree warmer or cooler. Are your curtains open or shut? Fans on or off? How’s the baby’s bath water temperature? Does he sleep better in cotton or polyester? In which brand of diaper does he sleep better?

So many variables affect how your baby feels and how you feel. Every time you can extend his sleep a few minutes, save yourself a step or two, or avoid searching for something that’s lost, it adds up. String together enough of these small improvements and you’ve bought yourself (and your child) an easier, more pleasant day.

That’s what I’ve learned so far. What do you wish you’d known when your first child was born?

{ 0 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Wrap Up

I first read How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1996.  I did all the stuff it said, made a lot of friends, got along better with people, etc. etc.  But after a while I began to get tired.  It was taking too much energy to be positive all the time.  I got tired of remembering names.  I couldn’t always think of sincere compliments.  I decided that maybe this Carnegie stuff wasn’t for me.

Later I learned that several people whom I admire recommend the Carnegie course.  (If you read the latest Warren Buffet bio, he actually performed an empirical evaluation of the techniques, complete with statistical analysis of his results.)  I decided to give it another chance.  But this time I’d keep in mind something I learned from Stephen Covey: the difference in techniques and principles.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey points out that much of the modern self help literature focuses on techniques.  Say this, write that, go there, watch those, dress this way, etc.  The problem is that techniques can only help so much.  Real permament change must be grounded in principles.

My problem before was that I was treating the Carnegie material as techniques instead of principles.  I was trying to do those things instead of being the kind of person for whom those things come naturally.  As my enthusiasm waned, I burned out.

The Carnegie course is like anything else – what you get out depends on what you put in.  If you attend and then forget about it, it won’t help you.  If you attend, study the material, commit to it, and work on it, who knows where you can go.  This time I’m determined to practice this until it sticks.  Not until I’m good at it, or it’s easy, or fun, or I’m tired of it.  I’m working at it until it becomes my nature.

Carnege Session 12

{ 35 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 12

Session twelve of the Carnegie course was graduation.  Guests were invited (I brought Molly).  We each spoke about:

  1. What we originally expected from the course
  2. How we’ve applied the principles and how they’ve helped us
  3. Where we see ourselves in six months

Our instructor spoke some kind, encouraging words about each of us in turn.  Finally, we each got a certificate.

Carnegie Session 11

Carnegie Course Wrap Up

{ 0 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 11

In session eleven of the Carnegie course we worked on inspiring others.  We each recounted an incident where we’ve used Carnegie’s human relationship principles.  We used the persuasion magic formula (there I was, if you will x, the benefit will be y) to describe the incident, how we handled it, and what our classmates can learn from it.

In the second half of the class, we each told a story about a person or incident from our personal lives that inspired us.

Carnegie Session 10

Carnegie Session 12

{ 1 comment }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 10

In session ten of the Carnegie course we covered how to disagree agreeably.  We began by creating a list of things people disagree over.  No hot button issues like gun control or the death penalty; these were mild subjects like casual Fridays, smoking at work, speed limits, etc.  (I suggested the Federal Reserve and monetary policy; that went over like a pregnant pole vaulter).

Once we had our list, we took turns responding to provocation from our instructor.  He would pick a topic, ask how we felt about it, then defend the opposite position.  For example, I feel that dressing up for work is mostly overrated – that a good worker can do a good job in a clown suit.  Our instructor defended the opposite – that a true professional should dress the part.  In short, he was the devil’s advocate while we practiced disagreeing agreeably.

We were careful to avoid ‘weasel’ words – ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘even so’, etc.  Carnegie teaches that these words indicate to the other party that they’re words are being disregarded.

When disagreeing, we made it a point to demonstrate to the other party that we understand his position.  Once the other person feels understood, he becomes more receptive to our position.  One effective technique for demonstrating our understanding is ‘Feel, Felt, Found.’

Feel, Felt, Found works like this: when the other party takes a position different from yours, you can say, ‘I understand you feel x.  In the past, I also felt x.  What I found was y, so now I feel z.’  I’ve found this to be an effective technique for sorting out differences.

Carnegie Session 9

Carnegie Session 11

{ 0 comments }

Munger’s Mental Models

Recently I was reading about Charlie Munger, and I came across a speech he made before the USC business school in 1994. The subject of the speech was what Munger called “Worldly Wisdom.” Munger suggested that we all need a set of mental models at our disposal, and that we should apply these models to understanding and evaluating our experiences and circumstances.

That resonated with me. My professors at Millsaps used to make a similar claim when espousing the virtues of an inter-disciplinary education. Munger called these mental models a “latticework” on which to hang our experiences. I like to call them “lenses” through which to view and understand reality. You say tu-may-toh…

In this speech, Munger named several models we need at our disposal. This got me to thinking, and I decided it would be fun to see how many of these models I can name. Below is my list in no particular order. Obviously, most of these span disciplines. This is just my rough classification. Please help me identify those I’ve missed.

Mathematics

Economics

Psychology

Physics

Computer Science

Biology

Other

What have I missed?

{ 2 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 9

Week nine of the Carnegie course focused on demonstrating leadership and developing flexibility.  In the first half of the lesson, we each gave a talk about how we’ve practiced leadership at work.  We practiced employing the persuasion template – ‘There I was…’, ‘If you will…’, ‘The benefit will be…’ that we learned in lesson four.

The second half of the session was fun.  We took turns performing very silly mini-skits.  The goal was to force us to break out of our comfort zones.  Some of the skits were Jack and the Beanstalk, Tarzan, a coach giving a pep talk, reciting tongue twisters, and an inept traffic cop.  The point of this was lowering self consciousness by acting silly in front of others who were also acting silly.

Carnegie Session 8

Carnegie Session 10

{ 0 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 8

In session 8 of the Carnegie course, we focused on giving and receiving positive recognition.  We divided into small groups, and every person in a group recognized something positive about every other person in the group.  I took away several things from this exercise:

  • It can be challenging to offer praise and compliments, but it can also be tough and awkward to receive them.  Most of us don’t know how to accept a compliment.  We argue, explain, downplay, correct, or various other goof ups that make the exchange awkward.  It’s far better to just say, “Thank you.”
  • People appreciate compliments on their things.  They appreciate compliments on their achievements more.  They appreciate compliments on their personal traits the most.
  • Evidence makes recognition more effective.  It’s good to say, “You’re smart.”  But it’s better to say, “You’re smart.  I like the way you figured out X.  You’re understanding of X saved us a lot of money.”
  • We often neglect to offer recognition for a number of reasons.  We’re busy, it’s not our habit, or we feel awkward or embarrassed.  But if we practice it, it becomes easier, and we get better at it.

People normally respond very positively to recognition.  They want to live up to what you say about them.  If you tell them they’re a hard worker, and you mean it, they’ll try to prove you right.

I often hesitate to offer compliments because I feel that things aren’t my business.  I don’t want to seem nosy or meddlesome.  This is a mistake.  As Mary Kay Ash said, “Everyone wants to be appreciated.  So if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”

Carnegie Session 7

Carnegie Session 9

{ 0 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 7

Session seven of the Carnegie course focused on gaining others’ cooperation.  We emphasized Carnegie’s principles of influence.  We discussed each of the principles and various techniques for applying them.  One technique that I learned and liked was the leading question.  That is, instead of ordering – “Do X”, or even suggesting – “Let’s do X”, it’s better to get buy in through questions.  “What if we do X?” or “We can do X can’t we?” or “Would it make sense for us to do X?”

We each presented a two minute talk about how we’ve applied these principles to gain others’ cooperation.

Incidentally, I’ve heard Carnegie and his principles criticized as manipulative.  At first glance it might appear that way.  After all, the book is How to Win Friends and Influence People.  But if you read the book and study the principles, you’ll find that Carnegie didn’t advocate manipulation or deception of any kind.  Instead, he offered techniques for getting along with others and for presenting your position in the most favorable manner.

Carnegie Session 6

Carnegie Session 8

{ 0 comments }

Dale Carnegie Course Review – Session 6

In the sixth Carnegie session, we focused on two things: giving clear instructions and thinking on our feet.  For the first exercise, we each demonstrated and explained some procedure for performing some task.  The focus was on providing clear instructions followable by a person unfamiliar with the task.  We learned about painting, hair braiding, valve reading, and several other tasks.  We learned the importance of using small words and avoiding jargon.

The second exercise was on thinking on our feet.  We took turns responding to ordinary questions like, “What’s your favorite childhood memory?” or “What was your first car?” or “What was your first pet?”  We learned that we don’t have to respond to a question instantly; it’s ok to pause and think.  Silence is an attention grabber, so if you pause, it prompts the other person to perk up and listen.  Also, it’s ok to say, “Let me think about that.”  It communicates to your audience that you’re about to give a reasoned, well-considered response.  Your credibility immediately climbs, and you’ll likely give a better answer, too.

Carnegie Session 5

Carnegie Session 7

{ 0 comments }