“If you live long enough…”

mom and teen PDOne of my favorite sayings from my friend Faye is “If you live long enough…”  I can’t tell you how many times this phrase has helped me to re-evaluate my perspective and take a longer view of my parenting.

When we’re in the midst of the day to day challenges of parenting, it can seem like every undesirable behavior is an indication of a dire future for our child. If she fights with her younger sibling or if she is unwilling to share with her friends, it means she will live a life of social isolation and failed relationships…or  we will be viewed as incompetent parents and shunned from our communities.  If our teen sleeps until noon on weekends or defies the curfew agreement, it means he will never be able to hold a job and will have trouble following rules out there in the “real world.”  Our minds can come up with some doozies of worst case scenarios and we wind up using parenting strategies that are based on fear rather than love.

It’s good to have a friend like Faye (as a grandmother, she’s “been there/done that”) to remind you: You know what?  “If you live long enough…” you’ll find that most of your worries about the future never pan out and most things work out satisfactorily in the long run.

We sometimes think we have to directly “teach” our children values and good character traits.  When really they come into this world hardwired to develop toward thriving and belonging.  We just have to prepare the soil and water those seeds in them.  They’re already there.  We really don’t have to “teach” them that much. We just have to provide the environment and the nurturance for them to blossom into who they already are naturally becoming.

So when my friend Faye says, “If you live long enough…,” it means if you prepare the soil, give it lots of attention and love, the seeds will blossom eventually in their own time

Some of you may be like I was and want your child to be a “mini-me.”  To handle situations the way you would handle them, to think about things the way you would think about them, and to act the way you would act.  What I’ve come to believe is my most important job as a parent is to love and accept my child as he is and encourage him to grow into who he is becoming…rather than grooming him to be a mini-me.  This is really hard sometimes, especially if your child starts to go in a very different direction.  But “if you live long enough…

Last night my older son came in from college for a visit and we went to eat breakfast this morning.  On the way out of the restaurant I was walking in front of him and I pushed my way through the exit door.  Then I heard my son behind me say, “Mom, wait!  I’d like to open the door for you but you’re walking way too fast.”  I had to smile, remembering the many years I tried and failed (so I thought) to “teach” him the gentlemanly act of opening doors for ladies.  Growing up, he refused to do it or did it with a lot of grumbling and resented it being expected of him.  Since I managed to get through those years by picking my battles, the gentlemanly opening of doors didn’t make the battle list and I let it go.

But I’ve lived long enough and …. He got it!  In his own time.  In his own way.

If I could give you the perfect gift it would be to give you…a friend like Faye.  Someone who invites you to take a “reality check.”  Someone who has gone before and can lead the way through the jungle of parenting with confidence and assurance.   Everyone needs a friend like Faye when they’re in the thick and thin of it, when it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Everyone needs a reminder of the natural unfolding of things…of the way time itself takes care of many imagined problems…”if you live long enough.”


What is it about your kids that you’re afraid that if you don’t “nip it in the bud” now that they will turn out irreparably damaged?  Whatever it is, I encourage you to expand your view and take a longer perspective. If they are resisting, and you fight hard to “teach” your value or your expectation, I predict your efforts will backfire.

I invite you bring some acceptance around it, knowing that if you consistently model the value that is important to you, your child is likely to learn the value on her own, in her own time.  See if you can model and encourage the value without it becoming a demand.  Prepare the soil, water the seed, and sit back patiently to watch it bloom.


What were you thinking?: a peek inside the teenage brain

boy-shrugging-cropped-paidIf you’re raising a teenager, no doubt your mantra is “What were you thinking?” Teens aren’t known for making the best decisions. Or planning ahead. Or considering consequences. The list of patience-trying teen behaviors goes on and on … here’s the good news. They’ll get over it. Here’s the startling news. When they say, “But, Mom, it isn’t my fault!” they may be partially right.

It’s their brains.
In terms of human development, the brain undergoes two periods of enormous growth: from birth to about age four, and then again from about ages 10 to 14. Dr. Jay Giedd, of the National Institute of Mental Health, says of the adolescent and teen years, “In many ways, it’s the most tumultuous time of brain development since coming out of the womb.”
Whereas an infant’s and toddler’s brain is literally growing, a teenager’s brain is remodeling itself, mostly by making and pruning connections. Instead of having a screw loose, as the old saying goes about someone who makes lousy decisions, teens-metaphorically speaking-have wires loose.
Up to this point, adolescents and teens have mostly been acting from their emotions (think limbic system) and pleasure-and-reward systems (think amygdala), which explains a lot about their behavior. Now, as they approach and go through puberty, they are preparing to become adults, and their brains know it. It’s time for the brain to rewire itself, adding millions of new connections between those emotional-impulsive behavioral centers and the frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex.
This is the “executive” center of the brain, the area that is active when we rationally assess situations, consider the consequences of our and others’ actions, set priorities-generally all those things we expect our teens to know how to do but that their brains are not yet fully wired to do. The prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to be developed, and the rewiring will go on well into their 20s.
At the same time that all these new connections are forming, your teen’s brain is strengthening already existing connections and pruning less used ones. Whatever your teen is focusing on-sports, study, friendships or, conversely, zoning out in front of the TV or endlessly playing video games-gets reinforced by the brain. Those connective pathways that are not continually activated get pared away.
What’s crucial about this rewiring is that it influences the skills teens take with them into adulthood. To some extent the old adage “use it or lose it” holds true.
To be fair, this spurt of brain remodeling is not an excuse for a teen’s sometimes exasperating behavior. But it does provide parents insight into why teens think something is a great idea when you don’t, why they can’t seem to plan or organize when you think doing so is a no-brainer, why they act without considering consequences that you think are incredibly obvious. Simply put, at this point in their development, teen brains have problems separating what’s important from what’s not so important.
So how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?
Experts suggest strategies that include being clear in your instructions and guiding your teen with advice, but doing so with a soft touch. Your teen needs to “practice” being an adult without being punished for not yet being one. Cultivate the patience to allow them to make mistakes with their growing independence. They are learning to curb their impulses and mediate their emotions. They are learning reasoning, logic and analysis. Whether they show it or not, they will look to the adults in their lives–meaning you–as examples.
This is a trying time for many parents, for while teens might seem to be pushing you away as they “practice” being independent, they also will be secretly watching and learning from you since you are the most important adult in their life.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
When living with a teenager is testing your own sanity, remember Erma Bombeck’s quote: Kids need love the most when they’re acting most unlovable. 

Choosing which conversation to have

28154944 - driver making phone call after traffic accident

About a year ago, my younger son had his very first driving accident.  I say “first” because we live in Atlanta and here people joke that it’s not a matter of “if” you have an accident, it’s just a matter of “when.”  Accidents are almost inevitable with all this traffic.

My son had driven to visit a friend in Savannah over Labor Day weekend and I warned him about the holiday traffic on the road.  How it is stop and go.  How you have to pay even more attention at all times.  You can’t be distracted by music or heaven forbid, a glance at your phone.  Eyes on the road at all times, keep proper distance from other cars, and stay within the speed limit…that’s what I told him.

We got the call from him on Monday afternoon.  He had been involved in an accident on I-75 about 30 miles away from home. Traffic had stopped suddenly, he had rear-ended the car in front of him, his car was leaking fluid, he was okay and everyone in the other car was okay, but could we come get him?

On the drive to rescue him, my husband and I mulled over the various ways we could approach our conversation with him.  I admit there was a part of me that wanted to greet him with, “Didn’t I tell you there would be stop and go traffic during the holidays? This is the exact situation I explicitly warned you about. You weren’t really paying attention were you?”

But thankfully here’s the conversation we had…Dad opened his arms and gave him a big hug upon seeing him and asked “Are you okay buddy?” We looked at the smashed grill and the crumpled hood and said “Bummer.”  Then I said, “You know what?  We can replace the car, but we can’t replace you.  I’m so glad you’re okay.  There will be people who lose their lives today on the road; it happens every holiday.  And I’m so happy you’re okay.” (big smile and hug and I truly meant it from my grateful heart)
At breakfast the next morning he said to me, “Mom I think I’m one of those people who has to learn things through experiencing them.”

I said “Honey, that’s probably most of us.”

He continued, “I know you told me to pay attention and I was paying attention, I wasn’t goofing around, but I bet I can guarantee that that won’t happen again.”

“Oh yeah? What would you do differently?”

“I would get in the slow lane and stay there.”

“And maybe leave more space?”

“Well I had plenty of space until she slammed on her brakes!”

“And if you had had even more space maybe you could have stopped in time too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well that sounds like a good plan when there’s lots of traffic like that…just chill in the slow lane.”

He shared openly how he could avoid the same situation in the future and how he planned to pay for the repairs and the ticket.  I didn’t have to say “I told you so” or “I’m disappointed in you.”

He learned the lesson from the inside out and that’s the best way.  Life is a very effective teacher.


Does your child have the freedom to make mistakes?  Do you ever say “I told you so?”
The next time your child makes a mistake, see if you can take a step back and let life be the teacher.  Better yet, come alongside him and support him as he deals with the natural consequences.  That way you’re his ally as you face life’s dilemmas together.
Oh, and do the same for yourself.  You’re allowed to make mistakes too! (in case no one ever told you).