Ismet: When I was 10 years old, I started writing about parenting. I felt that there was plenty of room for improvement in how I was being raised. I wanted to make sure that when I was a parent, I wouldn’t repeat the mistakes my own parents made.
When I became a parent, I discovered that it wasn’t enough to have detailed notes about what “did not work.” All I had was a void where workable strategies should be. Studying creativity gave me the opportunity to learn how to craft the solutions that filled those gaps.
In this blog series, I will be reflecting on what I experimented with in order to create a different parenting experience for my children.
Hana: When I was 10 years old, my mom went back to college to get a Master’s degree in Creativity. She started bringing everything she learned home, and she raised my sister and me using all sorts of “creative methods.” There were many successes and many failures. Overall, I think both my sister and I benefited greatly from being guinea pigs for all my mom’s creativity lessons.
In this blog series, I’ll be reflecting on the things that I think had the biggest impact on my childhood experience.
Lessons Learned: Modeling Creative Behaviors
Ismet: One of my core values has always been integrity, even before I knew the word. As a young child, I felt that integrity was violated when someone didn’t practice what they preached. I couldn’t trust that person anymore, so I’d challenge their authority and trustworthiness.
In recent years I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of young adults, and repeatedly I hear them voice the same criticism of many of the adults in their lives. Unfortunately, I’ve also met many adults who dismiss this criticism as “teenage rebellion,” refusing to even acknowledge that this is a valid expectation that is often left unmet.
Determined to learn from my own experiences as a young adult, I try to walk the talk in all aspects of my life. Consequently, when I started to study creativity and became aware of the mindset and heart-set that comprise a creative nature, I made a commitment to practice it to the fullest. After all, I couldn’t ask my children to defer judgment if I couldn’t model that behavior. I couldn’t encourage them to be more curious without showing them how curiosity looked and sounded. I couldn’t expect them to develop a tolerance for risk and novelty if I didn’t do the same.
I started with a bang! Brimming with excitement about this new way of thinking and being, I rushed to share this awakening with my family. I even shared my commitment with great enthusiasm.
This was a mistake.
Living in creativity is no different from any other habit: it takes time and repeated effort to stick. My all-in attitude wasn’t sustainable, and my family pointed out the many instances where I failed to be open, curious, or even original. I floundered. I stopped speaking about creativity altogether. This plan had backfired!
I was stuck in a tough spot. My core value of integrity demanded that if I was going to advocate for creativity, then I had to live it. At the same time, my inner overachiever was disappointed at my seeming inability to get it right. After some reflection, I realized that I had to come clean to my family. I had to share that while I believed creativity was of great value, I was just a beginner, and I would appreciate their support as I worked to develop the habit of being creative as a way of life. I had to be vulnerable and transparent. I was doing something new, it was sometimes hard, and I needed their help.
The impact this revised approach had was magical. My family stepped up and started to help me evolve. They would still point out when I failed to walk the talk, but now it was constructive feedback, as we discussed how I could have handled the situation in a way that was more creative. We explored different ways to embody being open, curious, original, and even mindful. My children started to show me the way by leading with those behaviors. They became my creative role models. How wonderful it is to have the tables turned.
Hana: When my mom first started coming home from her classes, she would tell us about all the new tools she was learning. Brainstorming, clustering, and more! Over the years, with practice, we’d learn to understand and actually use these tools on various problems in our everyday lives.
However, these creative tools aren’t what made the biggest difference in our family. The big change came from the more subtle creative behaviors that my mom had to develop in order to support them. There are certain behaviors that are necessary to support a creative environment, and in my experience, they are also critical in order to have a creative household.
One of these behaviors that I especially appreciated was vulnerability. As kids, it’s implied, or even outright stated, that adults, particularly our parents, are always right. Of course, it makes sense why adults would want to be portrayed this way: it sure makes it easier to handle kids. As a summer camp counselor, I know how much easier it is to tell kids, “do this because I said so—I’m the adult” rather than take the time to explain it to them. However, it is simply not true that adults are perfect, and it can be harmful for kids to think that they are.
In my family, showing vulnerability as an adult meant that my parents did not pretend to always have the answers to everything. They admitted when they were wrong or when they needed help figuring out what to do. I learned that not only are adults not perfect, it is okay not to be. It’s actually normal to ask for help, make mistakes, and ask for forgiveness. I had a lot more respect for my parents knowing that they could make mistakes and own up to them. Kids model their parents’ behavior, so this is something I was able to do at a young age. I think being able to be vulnerable is essential for growth, and like many other things, it is easier to learn to do at a young age. Having my parents model this behavior allowed my sister and I to both adopt it early on.
Another creative behavior my mom shared with us is adaptability. I liked things to be a certain way when I was a kid and didn’t deal well with disruptions. I’m still that way today, but as we were growing up, my mom pushed my sister and me to be more adaptable, and I appreciate those lessons.
Both my grandparents live across the world, which meant a lot of traveling to visit them. With traveling you can pretty much expect disruptions: delays, lost baggage, and so much more. My mom always made the effort to turn these disruptions into “adventures.” We would roll with all the punches that traveling would throw at us. An overbooked flight turned into a chance to surprise my cousins with an extra day of fun. A 10-hour layover meant a chance to dash out of the airport and see as many sights in Paris as we could squeeze in before our next flight. We adapted to all the hurdles and made every trip fun.
Seeing my mom embrace challenges as an opportunity to practice adaptation had a big impact on me. Although I still prefer structure, I am now much better equipped to deal with things not going as planned. In our ever-changing world, I think it is obvious how important this skill is. Adaptability is a creative behavior that is valuable in pretty much every aspect of life.
Overall, having creative behaviors modeled by my parents had a huge impact on me as a child. As kids, we learn so much from our parents, so it is essential that they are teaching us skills and behaviors that will be valuable throughout our lives.
- Model the behavior you want to see. Consider how your responses, choices, and behaviors match with what you hope for from your child.
- Embrace your vulnerability. Consider acknowledging when you need help, asking for it, and accepting it when it is offered.
- Take a team approach. Consider inviting your children to the decision making process and think about how you might work together to accomplish your shared goals.
Ismet Mamnoon is the founder and guardian of imagination at Beyonder, which offers training and facilitation for Parents, Educators, and youth with the mission of using creativity as the means to unlock the human potential of the next generation. She integrates polarity thinking and appreciative inquiry along with creative thinking techniques into her work. Ismet was recently featured in TIME magazine’s article When Schools get Creative in their special edition on the Science of Creativity for her approach to parenting and for the work that she does globally to weave creativity into education. She was first drawn to the field of creativity and innovation when she became a parent and she speaks intimately about her journey on the TEDx stage. Ismet is a graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State where she received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
Hana Mamnoon is a student at the University of Rochester studying Psychology and Business. She is trained in Creative Problem Solving and facilitation and has been using it from a young age since she grew up in a household run by Ismet, the Director of Beyonder. She has experience in teaching her peers Creative Problem Solving techniques as well as helping facilitate workshops for a variety of clients, including educators.