There is a well-known theory in chess called the first move advantage that suggests the player who goes first is statistically positioned for the best outcome. When I first heard this, I went and found an old chess piece and placed it on my dresser to remind myself to make proactive first moves for my family, because I want to be positioned for the best possible outcomes.
Here are the five first moves I am working on perfecting:
Quirky Kid Communication Every few months I remind my kids that they are seen in all their uniqueness, so I do random things like write a personalized “Top Ten Things I Love About You” list with quirky and specific examples. I print them out and put them on their breakfast plate or in their lunch box. They usually open it, read it quickly and then joke with me about how “they already know that I love them.” But without fail, a few weeks later when I think the letters have been crumpled up and thrown away, I find their lists tucked in their pillow or taped on the wall behind their door, or I walk by their room and catch them reading it. Because we all need someone to go out of her way to remind us who we were first created to be, fully loved without any hustling, achieving or accomplishing.
Experts Don’t Know My People Recently on my “Have More Fun” podcast, I talked with my friend, Amena Brown, who said something so wise that I am still thinking about it weeks later. Her best advice about marriage is to learn how to be married to your person. Then she explained that so often we read books about marriage and relationships that tell us how to be married, but not one of them tells us how to be married to our person. The same is true for parenting. We can read a whole library of books about parenting but not one of them tells us how to parent our kids. Moral of the story: being with our people looks different on a daily basis. Going first to love our people means being willing to let our lives, marriages and parenting styles look different than what “the experts” say they should look like.
Set the Mood Here’s a secret that you probably already know and a lesson that I’ve had to learn the hard way more times than I care to admit … as a mom, your attitude determines the climate of your entire home, and there is no getting around it. All eyes are looking to you, watching for clues, absorbing your vibes, and modeling your attitude. This is a responsibility of motherhood; someone must inject the positive attitude, must smile first, and must make it OK to think about problems proactively … and that someone is you. If you don’t do it, who else will? You are the person who can change the things that bother you about your family culture, it just takes a first try, and then another and another.
No Make-up Weekends I have lingering melasma on my face from being pregnant, I regularly used baby oil as a teenager to procure the perfect tan, and the lines around my eyes share the fact that laughing is one of my favorite expressions. All this to say, going sans make-up can feel like I’m walking naked through the grocery store (if I let it). That’s why I intentionally don’t wear make-up on the weekend. This is a personal act of going first – to communicate to my girls that our skin is sacred and wonderful and imperfectly perfect. One first step toward what we fear the most, makes the next first step we attempt exponentially easier. It will also ensure the next generation of girls won’t have to feel so afraid because we have shown them the way.
When All Else Fails, Pretend I regularly feel like I am not enough, but someone shared with me the secret to get over that debilitating feeling. Now I try to share it with as many people as possible. A few months ago, a woman asked me for advice on how to write a book. I shared the universal advice for doing things you don’t feel equipped or worthy to do: pretend you are someone who can do it. Every once in a while you are going to feel like a fraud, but the truth is everyone feels like that at some point, so don’t worry too much about it. Write that book and say the thing no one else is saying, show up at that class you are scared to attend, but thrilled to try out; lead that MOPS group even though your biggest fear is public speaking. Go first and pretend you are someone who can do it, because you are and you can.
All of these first moves take a little extra energy and creativity, but if we are following the strategy of chess, as in life, the odds are in our favor when we go first.
Mandy Arioto is a mom of three and the President and CEO of MOPS International. Her book, Starry-Eyed: Seeing Grace in the Unfolding Constellation of Life and Motherhood, can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or The MOPS Store online.
This article currently appears in the spring issue of The MOPS Magazine.