“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.


You can give them your love but not your thoughts


Before you read another word, click the link above and enjoy listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Your Children Are Not Your Children, based on the poem On Children by Kahlil Gibran.  Also, here’s the full version of Gibran’s beautiful poem:

on children poem

I love this poem; it resonates deeply in my soul.  Especially the line, “You can give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”

I see this all the time in my parenting work and I know it’s also more true for me than I’d like to admit:  we can get caught up in coaching our children to be little mini-me’s, holding the same opinions and beliefs as we do.  Oh, the early years are simple enough; our kids generally do mimic our way of seeing the world.  But as they mature and start to think thoughts of their own, it can be discomforting and downright unraveling to hear ideas and opinions so different from our own coming from the lips of our babes.

Especially difficult are those ideas and opinions that run contrary to our deepest held values.  We often spend a lot of intention and effort in an attempt to pass down our family values through modeling and teaching.  This guidance serves our children well in early life; our shared values become a compass to navigate life.  And yet, there must come a time when our children decide for themselves what their own values are, what they believe in, and what matters most to them in life.  We hope the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree…but sometimes it does.   Will the tree still recognize the nut as one of its own?  And can the tree still love and accept the nut and give it a sense of belonging?

As challenging as it is for me, I want my sons to find their voice and to speak it openly—even if it’s different from my own.  I want them to question ideas and beliefs that have been handed down to them (even by me!) and make sure they ring true inside.  I want them consciously seeking the values that will guide their lives because I know they have their own unique journey ahead of them, their own sorrows and joys to experience, and their own lessons to learn.

My joy is to be the steadfast tree, grounded in my own truth, with overarching branches spread wide enough to love, accept, and cherish the uniqueness of even that nut that may have fallen and sprouted a long ways off.


  1. Notice what happens in your body when your child says or acts in a way that is contrary to a value you hold?  Do you label it “wrong”?
  2. When you engage with him, is it an energy of trying to convince him to your way of seeing things…or is it an open exploration guiding him through self-inquiry? (i.e., asking “What do you think?” “Why do you think that’s true?” “Why is that important to you?”)
  3. Reflect on your willingness to accept (dare I say “encourage”?) your maturing child to think for herself.
  4. What needs would be met by allowing and accepting your child’s differences? What needs would not be met?

Mommy! Deidra won’t share with me!

Deidra, who is four, and her sister, Kim, who is three, are playing with their pony pals.  Everything is going fine until Kim asks to take a turn with Deidra’s special glitter pony and Deidra refuses to share. Kim starts to get upset and so you go in to see what’s causing the fuss. Kim is crying and asks you to please “make Deidre share with me.”  Deidra says no, this is her special pony and she doesn’t want anyone else to play with him.  Kim is in full meltdown by now and is trying to pry the glitter pony from Deidra’s hands.  What’s a mom to do?

First and foremost….take a deep breath and pause.  Notice that instant flash of heat in your belly and your thinking which has probably gone haywire with thoughts such as:  “Why can’t I ever get five minutes of peace so I can do the things I need to do around here?”  or “That’s just like Deidra, selfish and uncaring” or “They will never grow up and learn to get along with each other…this is the story of my life!”

When our buttons are pushed, the thinking part of our brain shuts down and we are hijacked into a fight or flight reaction where our thinking becomes exaggerated and fatalistic.  If we act when we are in this mode, chances are it’s going to be ugly and no true learning will take place. 

That’s why the pause is so important.  It allows us to calm that fire in our belly and shift back into our thinking brain where we can respond from a place of choice. So now that you’re back to calm, what do you choose to do?

Here are some options (and my guess as to the path each option will take us down):

1.  You take the pony out of Deidre’s hand and give it to Kim.  It’s important that Deidre learns to share whether she wants to or not.  It’s the polite thing to do.
The Path: Deidre will have a sense of powerlessness.  She will learn that if you’re bigger, you can exert power over smaller people.  She will start to resent her sister and take her frustrations out on her every chance she gets. Kim will learn that in order to get what she wants, she just needs to throw a fit and you will come running.

2.  You try to distract Kim with other pretty ponies and tell her, “That glitter pony is old anyway.  No one wants to play with him.”
The Path: If the ploy “works” and you succeed in distracting Kim away from wanting the pony, it’s not likely to be for long.  In a few minutes, the fighting will ensue over some new toy.  That’s because the issue of sharing has not been resolved and no learning has taken place.  Plus, Deidre may feel hurt that you spoke about her special pony in such a way.

3.  You tell the kids that if they can’t work this out on their own then they’ll each be sent to their room  to play alone.
The Path: If it’s gotten to this point, it’s unlikely that they will be able to work this out on their own without your support. They are both also hijacked by their limbic system into a fight or flight mode.  If you follow through and send them each to their room they will learn that when life gets messy, no one around here knows how to straighten it out. The message they internalize will be, “When the going gets tough, I’m on my own.” 

4.  You go deeper than the behavior and search for what is driving it…what is each child needing in the moment?  You show understanding for what’s happening with each child.
You might say something like, “Deidre, are you wanting to be able to choose for yourself when you’re willing to share your toys–or not?”  You show  that you understand what Kim is feeling by saying, “Kim, you really want to play with that glitter pony.  You really want your sister to let you play with him.”  Then, you might invite them to help you problem-solve: “It looks like we have a dilemma. What can we do?”  Chances are they can’t hear you…yet. Kim may try to grab, Deidre may clutch tighter to the pony.  But if you remain calm and confident that together as a “team” you can find a solution, then the odds are greater that you will. 

Respect Deidre’s need to make choices about her possessions and be there for Kim as she goes through her intense feelings of not getting what she wants.  When the commotion dies down, together you may come up with some guidelines around sharing: (1) if an item (such as the glitter pony) is not for sharing, then it will be left out of sight when the sisters play together, (2) if both sisters want to play with the same toy at the same time, then they will play “rock, paper, scissors” to see who gets it first, (3) if there’s a squabble over a toy, then the toy gets to take a break in another room for 10 minutes.

The Path: The bottom line is…we can’t teach our children to share by forcing them because true sharing comes from the heart. By respecting each child’s boundaries and willingness (or not) to share, we send the message that  “Your voice matters.  You can say no if you don’t want to share.”  Now of course we also want to encourage empathy and seeing the needs and wishes of others…but that’s hard to do if we don’t sense that anyone sees our needs and wishes first.  In the teen years, we will be glad that we instilled in our child that her voice matters, that she can set boundaries and say no.

And for the child who so wanted to play with that toy and was denied, we send the message “I know it’s hard. It’s okay to have your feelings.”  And you know what?  She survives and she builds up resilience to life’s many frustrations and disappointments.


Be proactive when teaching values to your children.  Don’t wait for a conflict over a toy to try to teach sharing.  Set your kids up for success by planning strategies to “practice” sharing when everyone is in a good mood.  Encourage them to come up with their own solutions, such as:  taking turns choosing a toy to play with, setting a timer then switching toys with each other, etc.

You can also model sharing by having your own toy box of toys which you joyfully share with them.  Share your toys with their friends when they come over too.