It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater. She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.”
A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.
Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater? Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”
She answered, “Not right now.”
Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed. The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy. I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her. Needless to say, I never saw it on her.
Part II – The Pile
My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall. Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top.
After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago.
This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.
I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.”
She answered, “I do care.”
I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.” I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.”
Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly. Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.
For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder. A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!” I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.
I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.
Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”
I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.
I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”
I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.
Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing. Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.”
I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.
I haven’t figured it all out yet.
It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments. I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
A few nights ago I was on a Zoom for parents of middle schoolers and an impromptu theme emerged – waving the white flag. One mom shared, that’s it, I’m waving the white flag when it comes to getting the kids to sleep at a decent time. What followed was a cascade of white flag waving.
In addition to bedtime hours, parents shared about letting go of many before time rules including keeping devices out of bedrooms, insistence on family meal times, and enforcing exercise routines. On my computer screen heads in squares were vigorously nodding in recognition. We shared the laughter that comes with the combination of, PARENTING IS SO HARD and I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE.
Being a so called parenting expert (believe me when when I say there’s no such thing), I wondered, “Isn’t there something we want to hold on to? What do we want to prioritize?”
There is something. Connection.
Even though many of us are in the presence of our children now more than ever, that doesn’t necessarily translate to quality bonding time.
On a recent evening, after a typical day of not crossing paths with my 14 year old daughter I told her I missed her and that I felt we hadn’t seen each other in so long. Mistakenly I asked, do you feel that way too? She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and laughed, no… not at all. I’ve seen you a lotmom.
Developmentally this all makes sense. It also makes sense that we’re experiencing this togetherness differently. I can only share what I feel which is intermittent connection and I’ll take it. My mom just shared with me this NYT op ed which brings more context to this story of my daughter. But back to me….
I’ve coached myself to be available (like I did 12 years ago), even when I feel I’ve got something important waiting to be done. For example, inevitably she walks into the kitchen just as I’m leaving and eager to return to a project I’ve got bubbling ideas about.
Stop lisa and stay. Stay here and just be.
So I linger and half the time she actually lights up, betraying that she wants my company. I take what I can get. I plunge my finger into her rice and beans to make sure it’s warm. A huge smile spreads across her face. What I’ve done is so gross and so hilarious that her body leaves the floor as she dances with laughter. Most days I enjoy laughing at myself so I smile not quite able to match her glee.
I’m unarmed, a white flag wrapped around my shoulders.
No two children are the same and you likely have a different dynamic but the constant remains:
Our kids, regardless of age, need us, at times, to hang out, unhurried and casually listening.
How have you experienced quality time during Covid? Have you found new ways to connect? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your story!
I’ve been thinking about you. This is a tough time for everyone, including parents.
It’s extraordinarily important that we’re compassionate with ourselves right now.
My hope for you is that in between the chaos and overwhelm of juggling it all, you have moments of sweet connection with your children and even some clarity for yourself.
You’re just where you need to be.
If you’re working in one of our many essential services, thank you, thank you, thank you. For my friends in hospital settings, you’re on my mind and in my heart everyday.
Sunday night, watching 60 Minutes, I was reminded of a phrase that is so important in this moment. The army general responsible for overseeing the building of temporary hospitals across the country said they were using a “good enough design.” Not perfect, but good enough is what’s called for right now.
Good enough is what’s called for right now. Embrace it.
The other day I lost my temper with my daughter as I found her empty dishes around the house (she knows they belong in the dishwasher) and a dog fur covered carpet (that I’d asked her to vacuum hours before). I found her in her room, curled up on her bed (this is hard for her too) when I came in and scolded her, “why haven’t you _________?!” She responded “You didn’t give me any time!”
Exasperated, I huffed and puffed (thankfully I didn’t blow the house down!) and left the house to do an essential errand, fully aware that trying to work it out in the heat of the moment wouldn’t be helpful.
The next morning I made a simple and genuine apology, “I’m sorry I got upset with you yesterday. Did that scare you or make you mad?”
She said it was okay and that she didn’t want to talk about it.
This is no time to push.
This is no time to push. My nervous energy and need to clean is a longing for control. I’ve decided to slow down, do the cleaning I see that needs to be done, and to ask for help when I feel calm (not angry or afraid).
It’ll be good enough.
In the midst of this new coronavirus life I notice I feel most calm, connected and clear when I’m engaged in helping others: cooking for my family, giving a box of disinfectant wipes to a friend (that’s love!), or picking up items for neighbors when I make a run to the store.
These past two weeks I’ve been collecting a list of free resources I thought you might find helpful.
Here’s a list of of free on-line meditation resources compiled by the Awake Network
Here’s an easy way to get local (Northern California only) produce delivered to your home. You’ll save money on your first box if you use my referral code: LISA8836
Here’s a 2 month free trial for Daily Burn, a fitness website offering everything from meditation to kettlebells!
At least 50 people have been charged with participating in alleged conspiracy that involve cheating on college entrance exams, like the SAT and ACT. Some of their children were admitted to elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Texas, by bribing coaches.
I listened further and quickly realized it was no joke. I felt stunned then disgusted and outraged. Then I noticed I also felt surprised. These were quite strong feelings to have over something that didn’t involve me or anyone I knew personally. My heart ached because of the obvious social injustice that permeates every aspect of our society but there was more.
I realized that the story drew me in because — if I’m being honest with myself — I could genuinely relate to the motivation of those parents.
While for the most part I’ve resisted the urge to fix everything for my children the way these parents so blatantly did, I have, on several occasions, had a panicky sensation that I’ve got to get ahead of this! One that’s accompanied by an intense fear that my child will feel badly … or even (gasp!) fail at something important.
Do these internal thoughts sound familiar?
If she finds out she’s not invited, she’ll be crushed by the social rejection.
I feel so sad for him that he wasn’t chosen for the team.
This learning disability will ruin his self esteem and likely his life.
She won’t be able to get over the experience of a serious illness or injury.
He’ll become depressed if I limit screen time or don’t get him a smartphone.
Why doesn’t she have more friends? What’s wrong with her?
These parental fears are more common than you think. The impulse to smooth it over and FIX IT for our kids is the norm these days.
What the Varsity Blues example makes so clear is that the short term fix leads to much bigger long term problems.
For our “little” issues its true, too. I recently heard a story of a mom who was distraught because her 13 yo daughter wasn’t being included in the activities of the popular girl clique. What that mom didn’t know is that her distress likely increased — and even created additional suffering for her daughter.
And, we’re mistaken if we think our unspoken fears won’t impact our children. Kids are energetic sponges. They feel our doubt and it colors their confidence and resilience.
What we need to remember is that when we excessively worry about our child’s life and sometimes even move to “fix it,” we’re telling them:
You’re not enough just as you are,
There’s a narrow range of what’s acceptable,
What matters most is what others think,
You’re incapable of managing your own live.
Believing in your child’s unique capabilities, embracing who they are, just as they are, is by far the most important stance you can take as a parent.
I’m not suggesting that you ignore or deny their struggles, but we can choose faith over fear as our guide and take a grounded position with them. In Positive Discipline we use the metaphor of a tree, strong, balanced and flexible. When we bring these qualities to parenting, our children they have a sure place to rest.
What inspired me to write this post was what my 12 year old daughter shared after she read an article about the admissions scandal.
“Mom, you know what the worst part is? Let’s say I got into Harvard and then found out that you had paid them to get me in… the worst part would be knowing that you didn’t believe in me.”
my 12 yo daughter
Believing in your child is a tremendous gift to them.
It is a parent’s belief in a child that helps them feel there is a way out of it all.
Here are 4 specific ways you can show your child that you have faith in who they are:
Give children of all ages opportunitiesto pitch in and be responsible. This often takes letting go of your expectations of how the task is completed. (The dishes may not be as sparkly as you make them!) Let them know their contribution makes a difference. More ideas.
Pay attention to your child and get to know and appreciate them for all they are, not just the easy to love parts. Looking back now, I see I could have spent more time learning about and even playing video games with my son. More ideas….
Love and connect with your child each day. While this sounds obvious, time gets away from us and it helps to be reminded to intentionally connecting. More and even more ideas….
Learn to tolerate and even embrace feelings, both yours and your child’s. When hard stuff happens, resist the “fix and rescue” mode and instead practice letting go. In doing so, your child will have an opportunity to genuinely feel their disappointment, anger, sadness… you name it. When appropriate, help your child name their feelings. Research shows that when we label our emotions, we’re better able to integrate them.
My friend shared a mantra she uses to help her remember, in the most challenging moments, that her child’s path is just that, her child’s path:
Love the child you have, her path may not be the one you imagined but it’s right for her.
The bottom line is, your child is going to be ok.
That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be fun or easy, but at a deeper level, she will be just fine, whether she’s reading by first grade or not, whether she goes to the prom or not, whether she attends college or not. She’ll always have a loving family and that’s the only part you can control.
After writing this post I listened to a discussion on the radio program, Fresh Air, addressing this very topic. I was struck by the guest’s advice for parents supporting their older teens:
Your child is the expert on himself or herself. We are 20th-century parents giving advice to 21st-century kids. They’ve inherited a brave new world that we never lived in.
Dr. B. Janet Hibbs
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
How do you show your child you believe in him/her? How do you keep perspective? What’s hard? Know that you comments in the section below will support someone who shares your concerns and questions.
Remember that day last summer when I took the girls to the pool and I decided to get out of the middle of the parenting road (because heck it’s dangerous standing there!)?
Here’s the scene: I’ve got two 9 year old girls, my daughter Sonja and her friend Gracie. These girls are avid swimmers, eager to get to the pool to play. I fantasize that our trip will include my making serious headway with my summer reading (even tho it’s September), while they amuse themselves.
As it is with parenting, my expectation of time for myself proves a pipe dream as they repeatedly ask me to watch their antics in the water.
I decide to go all in and be present with the girls. I see them with their faces all lit up and full of life because they can tell — I’m all in.
What does being present with them look like?
Their request for attention begins simply.
For the first ten minutes its,
“Mom, tell us who has the biggest splash when we jump in!”
This is easy.
For the next five minutes,
“Mom, now who’s got the smallest splash?”
Next the requests get more complicated.
“We’re going to each make up a dance and you tell us which one is better. We won’t care which one you choose… PLEEEEEEEEASE.”
What kind of attention do I give the girls?
These are the two choices I imagine:
The fluffernutter with jelly beans sandwich! Equalize the good stuff – like an overdose on sweets. I’ll go back and forth stating whose performance is best.
Wonderful, beautiful. Oh such great moves. I’ll continue with loads of oooohing and Ahhhing. Wow’s coming flying out of my mouth and a resounding you girls are amazing!
Hyperboles abound aimed at both girls, alternating names. They’ll each feel the rush of being the BEST!
I take a moment to process this request and then say to the girls,
No, that kind of judging is what we call ‘subjective’ — which means just one person’s opinion — and that’s going to be too hard for me.
“Please mom, I promise we won’t care which one you pick.”
As a result, the girls decide to create individual dances and ask me to watch them after a few moments of practice.
I support them by being present.
In this scenario I’ve decided to simply pay attention to them. I have the presence of mind to respond genuinely to their beautiful 9 year old bodies moving with the raw vitality.
I make eye contact.
My response doesn’t sound or even look like much. I feel mellow… down right relaxed even and heck I’m enjoying myself 🙂
I notice that when my daughter pops out of the water, during a particular dance move, her eyes are fixedon my eyes – am I looking at her?
She smiles and I smile back. A simple genuine and powerful encouragement connection.
The girls are laughing and having a ball.
They’re being graceful and silly at the same time; authentically creative.
I love being their audience and simply encourage them by noticing, laughing, hooting, oooohing.
My comments sound like,
“Looks like you’re learning moves from each other.”
“Did that hurt?”
I bite my tongue to keep from spouting judgments (albeit positive) and opinions.
After years of teaching parenting classes, I still find biting my tongue to be one of my greatest parenting tools :).
While the automatic over the top enthusiastic responses feel like the way to be a supportive parent, they aren’t.
Carol Dweek’s work on praise vs. effort vs. intelligence is explained in this short video.
Simply paying attention is down right relaxing for me and I can see it’s freeing for the girls as I watch them become more goofy, beautiful and collaborative with every new dance.
They’re not dancing to please me, but to please themselves.
During the next hour I have a singular, delightful focus. Even now, a year later, it’s a rich memory for me. I can still see the girls’ lit faces, their determination, their playfulness.
Deciding to pay attention without praising is powerful and allows your child to be playful— to be themselves.
Look for opportunities to be with your children — to pay attention to them without fanfare but with your full, genuine awareness. See what you notice in yourself and your kids. And then come back and share your experiences in the comments.