At the end of a recent evening talk, a woman came up and said, “Eighty percent of my relationship with my twelve-year-old daughter is amazing. We’re close and connected, but there’s one thing I’d like to run by you.” Lifting her eyebrows, she confessed, “My daughter’s embarrassed by me!”
The woman continued, “I mean, when I was her age I was embarrassed by my mom, but that was different because my mom WAS embarrassing!”
She rolled her eyes at the irony and we both smiled.
I reassured her, “Your daughter’s embarrassment is normal, and it’s something I’ve experienced regularly from my own sixteen-year-old daughter in recent years. But I can almost promise you she will outgrow it. The best thing you can do is have a sense of humor about it with yourself and with her. If you can hold her criticism lightly and keep laughing, she’ll experience you as a mom who’s strong and grounded in her self worth.
I’m no stranger to the pain and vulnerability that comes with parenting a young teen, so my advice for this parent stems from my continuing to move forward, ego bruises and all!
As I reflected on her question, I thought about how Gretchen Schmelzer describes how trust between parent and child is built through our “endless thereness”:
…. trust is built not because you are loved, but because someone loved you anyway. They loved you when you were angry, or messy, or cranky or a total and complete pain in the ass. They loved you when you forgot, or remembered—when you said it or when you didn’t say it. They didn’t love you because you could do it—they loved you anyway, even when you couldn’t.
As a parent, loving our child despite the hard times is what builds trust. This call for our endless thereness is one reason parenting is so challenging, but it is also why it has the potential to radically change us. Kids give us the opportunity to love another person not because they are always lovable, but because we’ve made the commitment to love them.
We’re there and love our child anyway when:
we get yet another voice message alert that our child has cut class.
we learn that our child lied to us about their plans.
our child climbs on the dining table while we’re trying to share a family meal.
our child is embarrassed by us, for no good reason 😣
We love them anyway.
Can you relate to this story? Do you have questions? It’s so supportive to know we are not alone! Please share in the comment below.
I use the word “empathy” a lot when I’m talking about parenting. Sometimes I forget it might not be entirely clear exactly what is meant by using empathy when communicating with children. When you hear or read that children need empathy and that parents can help resolve conflicts and bridge connections with empathy, what do you think? Do you know right away what to do or how to respond?
As Brene Brown so succinctly says, “Empathy is the antidote to shame.” It is what’s needed when a child feels bad, struggles emotionally, or has made a mistake. What children don’tneed in those moments is additional shame tacked on to their mistakes and unpleasant feelings to make them feel worse or unlovable. What children do need is empathy to see them through those moments. Empathy to reinforce your relationship. Empathy to help regulate brain chemistry; to assure a child, “The way you feel is normal. You’re normal.” Empathy to provide validation. “You have a right to feel that way.” Empathy to help a child get on the road to self-acceptance and self-love. “You may have made a mistake, but you are not a mistake.”
Here are five things you can do that will help you respond to a hurting child with empathy:
1. Take your child’s perspective. See the world through his eyes. His problems might seem trivial to you, but try to see them as he does. Broken crayons, lost toys, stuck zippers, or nightly clean-up time mean more to your child in his world than they do to you in yours.
2. Refrain from judgment. Yes, you may disagree with your child. You may think she was “wrong” for what she did, said, or felt during the conflict she had at school that day, but put that aside for now. Your child doesn’t need your judgment, she needs to be able to impart her own judgment. Help her do that by focusing on her feelings regarding what happened.
3. Communicate your understanding of your child’s feelings. This can be a glance, a nod, a knowing look. It’s kindness in the eyes and an “I get it” arm-wrap. It can be words, sure, but above all it’s a message. It’s a message that you understand because you’ve also had similar moments and similar feelings. Let him know you are here as his equal in this moment.
4. Stop before you say BUT. “Yes, you got into an argument with your friend. That happens. He got angry; your feelings were hurt. You’re very upset. BUT, you still should not have hit him…BUT that’s no reason to quit the game…BUT you need to learn how to control your temper.” It’s that last part that needs leaving off–that’s not part of empathy. Empathy is just sitting with the feelings for a bit. That might be really hard! It might feel unfinished. It might feel awkward to stop at, “You were really embarrassed.” and not add on some kind of resolution or suggestion. Don’t go there though…not yet.
5. Instead, try AND. After a period of empathic listening and probably plenty of tears, you can move on.
“…and your friend got hurt.”
“…and now what should we do?”
“…and what if this happens again?”
“…and is there something that will help you in the future?”
“…and is there a way to fix this mistake?”
“…and is there a way I can help you?”
Only after you have helped your child process her feelings through validation and understanding will she be able to move on to problem solving and the “what-to-do-now”s.
When we raise our children with regular expressions of empathy, they will learn through experience just what empathy looks like, sounds like, and feels like, and they will, in turn be able to give it to others.
As a kid, I often heard: “Don’t be full of yourself.”
I remember my mom sitting on the hamper beside the tub as I took a bath.
Holding out my arm to her I said “Look at my tan!” My parents worshipped the sun.
“Lisa,” she said. “Don’t be so vain.”
“You’re So Vain” was on one of our six 8 track cassettes and I knew every word, would sing along and ponder its meaning, staring out the car window. (The song has a very cool intro.)
Our family had an unspoken mantra: Even if you’re good at something, don’t show it. Make yourself small so no one can cut you down.
Decades later, when I picked my daughter up from pre-school, I asked her teacher, “How’d it go today?”
Our beloved Gay Gay replied,
“It was great! Your daughter is so full of herself!”
She smiled her huge smile and laughed her cackling laugh, like this was news to be celebrated!
Her words and positive energy seared into my brain.
This new interpretation felt like a window opening letting a cool breeze into a hot yoga studio.
“It was great! She is so full of herself!”
Here was my daughter: a self-possessed three year old, full of her interests, her curiosity, her body, her life… full of herself!
This past weekend, driving home from a glorious walk along the San Francisco Bay, I listened to my friend Suzie telling a story and the old expression escaped her lips: “So and so is so full of themselves” and not in a good way.
Remembering Gay Gay and my epiphany that day, I interrupted Suzie, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were all full of ourselves?! Isn’t that what we want because, sh*t, what’s the alternative?”
She squeezed my arm. “You’re right. If we’re empty — void of ourselves — then who or what will fill us? Whatever comes along and these days there’s too much bad stuff to fill us if we don’t fill it with ourselves.”
Here’s the bee in my bonnet for the start of 2022…. Let’s all be full of ourselves and encourage that in the ones we love.
I aspire to be more full of myself this year and invite you to do the same. I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I’m excited to pay attention and find out.
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 and I’d become more able to keep my cool.
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 white flag signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with an intent to surrender or a desire to communicate. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. – wikipedia.org
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!
I currently offer parent coaching and writing circles via Zoom. In both you are invited to show up with the most important details of your life. In both, my goal is that you leave with a broadened and refreshed perspective.