Tag Archives: parenting

The Trick to Surviving the Teenage Years

The bases were loaded, score tied and no outs. Bottom of the 10th inning. I was playing catcher. Any infield grounder would be thrown to me. Otherwise they would score, and we would lose.

The batter took a few pitches to try and get a walk. But our pitcher delivered two strikes in succession. Not wanting to strike out, the batter got ready to swing. And on the next pitch he smacked a hard grounder to our shortstop.

The runner on third base took off like a shot towards me. It was a race to home plate: the ball against the runner. The shortstop scooped the ball and hurled it to me in one clean motion. I was ready. A perfect throw, right to my chest. It hit my mitt with a welcome thud.

But instead of staying in the glove, the ball popped out. Instead of prolonging the game, it hit the ground like a dead bird. I dropped it.

The runner scored and the other team went nuts in celebration. I went from stunned disbelief into Charlie Brown. I lost the game. I was the goat. The loser.

The other players were bummed, but handled it well. I couldn’t even hear them. I just walked off the field.

As I departed, my parents arrived and said to me, “What the hell is wrong with you? How could you possibly do that? You should quit this sport. Probably quit all sports. You used to be good, but now you’ve lost it.”

Only….it wasn’t my actual parents. It was my inner parents. And damn, they were angry.


As I write this, I am watching your plane take off with you on it, headed back to school. You turn 13 in four days (today now!), and I won’t be with you during this important transition. So I wanted to write about one of the most important things to learn at your age, or at any age for that matter: being a good parent to yourself.

charlie-brown-football-1

We treat our friends and family with respect (usually) and support (mostly), but the way we “parent ourselves” can be akin to a vengeful god, laying down vitriol to the masses from on high. Charlton Heston epic kind of stuff.

If you think about our inner-child as the joyful, free, life-affirming part of us, the inner-parent is the responsible, life-navigating part. Our work as modern Homo sapiens is to find a good balance. Too much child and we become irresponsible, selfish, candy-scarfing sprites, overwhelmed by life. Too much adult and we lose our zest – sad martyrs trudging through our existence.

Being a teenager is the ultimate test. Thousands of years ago, the teenage years were the time of transition to adulthood; when we finally got to hunt and gather. Now you get put into a school building with other judgmental teenagers while hormones wreak havoc on your bodies. That’s when you need an inner-parent the most.

But our inner-parent, instead of being the benevolent guide, can often turn against us, using our fears to find fault in anything we do. Instead of finding love and direction, we criticize and judge ourselves. “You’re not good/smart/talented enough. You’re broken/flawed/stupid. You’re not as good as [Insert name of person who was better at baseball]. You shouldn’t even be here.”

Could you imagine me saying those things to you? Or you saying that to me? No, it’s preposterous.

So how do you deal with it?

  • See the lies. Remember that the mean things you say to yourself aren’t true. They are oversized amplifications of traumatic events and interpreted narratives from our childhood. I’m sure I have inadvertently contributed to your insecurities, just as my parents did for me, but the storylines that take shape in your brain couldn’t be further from how I feel. You are amazing.
  • Love yourself. You are worthy just as you are. I grew up thinking I only mattered to people when I was achieving. Some people think they deserve love when they are attractive or dramatic or generous. Build the mantra into your life that you are good as you are. Channel Stuart Smalley: “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.” 
  • Cut your child some slack. It’s good to break out into hysterical laughter, wrestle with dads and dogs (ones you know), run around like an idiot, and enjoy the occasional bag of M&M’s. Humans thrived as a species in part because we have a proclivity for joy when we’re with experiencing life together. Animal psychologists believe that play is not only good emotionally but makes animals more psychologically flexible. (Note: still researching health benefits of M&Ms.)
  • Practice inner-parenting. Actual parents (like inner parents) don’t succeed by instilling fear in their children, but from empathizing and giving the child just enough room to explore on their own. Before coming down on yourself, think about how you would support a friend who had the same challenges you are having, and use that as your guardrail for parenting yourself.  
  • Find your tribe. Hang out with people who love you for who you are, and don’t contribute to the insecurities. People who aren’t afraid to speak their mind and their feelings while respecting the feelings of others. People who celebrate you and make you laugh till the milk and M&Ms come out of your nose. 

We are not binary creatures. While our brains want the black and white, good v. bad, golden v. broken, the reality is that we’re a study in growth and Darwinian adaptability. We change. A lot. 

So on this, your first teenage birthday, and because we’re not there with you, I can only offer this $.02: be a kind, loving parent to yourself, for you have all the potential of the world inside you. And doggone it, people love you.

Happy birthday.

Letters to Ellie: Being Real

The outpouring of support I got from my last post on my daughter going away to an RTC floored me. Friends from every phase of life offering love, reflection and empathy. A reminder that the connected era isn’t all bad.

What it also did was open up even more stories – heartbreaking but all-too-real situations that my friends are dealing with every day: death, divorce, mental illness, learning disabilities. And a common theme of feeling alone.

opendoor

It’s not easy being a remote parent, but one of the channels for me is that I get to send letters to Ellie every day during the week. While a lot of the content is light or focused on specific areas of her interest, I also try to infuse them with what I’ve learned in my first half of life. And on the heels of that experience of reconnecting with people, I covered the topic of real conversations in one of my recent notes to her, part of which is snipped out below. 

Enjoy. And thanks for the inspiration.

One of the things that’s top of mind for me right now is real conversations. It’s one of the reasons your Mom and I are together. We both want authenticity in our life and relationships. We crave it. 

And the shorter life gets, the less patience I have for “empty calorie” conversations. 

Just to be clear, I’m not saying “I don’t do small talk.” That would be even more insufferable than publishing my blog. Light conversation serves a valuable purpose: it’s conversational warm-up and an easy way to hang with people you’re just meeting. And it’s great while doing other activities. I’m not going to wax philosophical with other parents while waiting for the bus.  

I’m talking about when long conversations and social events never get past (in my case) microbrews, vacations, workouts, humble-work-brags, remodels, and kids sports; and (in your case) Kardashians, Taylor Swift, apps and whatever else is being meme-d about these days. 

I’ve always sought out real interaction, but often forget in the course of daily life as ego and busyness get in the way. However, when I published the blog post, the response I got was amazing. It drove home how little we share what’s really going on, and how much time is spent on the useless wallpaper of life. 

If those interactions aren’t paying the bills, helping others or making me happy, what’s the point? And why is it so hard to maintain the authenticity in our lives? Do we need difficult times to make authenticity happen or can we keep it up in good and bad times? 

I was going to events because I was supposed to, because they would stroke my ego, or because I just needed to be social. It may have felt good in the moment, but only made me more disappointed in myself as I sold myself out. And I was other people’s empty calories because I was doing the same thing. 

So like other times in my life, I have become a calendar sculptor: chopping off people and items that don’t pass the filter, and seeking out the environments where I feel I can be myself and others respond accordingly. 

I known you’ve felt similarly about some of your friends – that they can be stuck in superficial territory. I think it’s okay to have friends like that, but you need to be careful. In some cases, it may just take awhile for them to open up. Or they may have different expectations of how much to share. Life teaches a lot of people not to share. It’s scary and you can get hurt easily. But we need to keep trying. 

So keep looking for your deep-peeps. And be bold in opening up with who you are inside. Not being yourself around your friends and family takes it toll as we have nowhere else to turn but inward with the built up emotions. That leads to a fun mix of aggression, repression, addiction, depression and more. And the more you open up, the more you’ll realize they’re probably struggling with a lot of the same things. 

I know you know a lot of this already. You’ve got a very good intuition in this area. But wanted to share my thoughts as it’s something I would love to have told my neurotic 12-year old self.