Category Archives: Raising Kids

Working Mom – Making the “Right” Choices? A Look Back.

               Female lawyer working in office

A Chanukah gift from my sister arrived yesterday – a book called “Becoming Grandma” written by the TV journalist, Leslie Stahl. The timing of the gift was impeccable as my husband and I just returned from four fun, albeit diaper-change-filled, days taking care of our two grandkids while their parents spent a few nights away. I saw the author’s photo on the cover of the book – and was reminded of a draft blog post (see below) I wrote but never published. I’m still not sure if it was Leslie Stahl who had the seat next to me on the plane that day in 1990  – but seeing her photo prompted me to revisit the choices we make as working moms (and for some of us, working grandmothers.) And to think about the consequences of these choices.

Looking back, I still wonder if I made the right choices. Maybe Leslie Stahl or whoever she was on the plane wonders too?

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Life presents many choices – and one of them is whether or not to read a women’s magazine on a an airplane.

Some years ago when I was a Young Mom I took a late afternoon shuttle flight from New York City back to Washington, DC. I was returning from a business trip, traveling solo. A rare thing in my Young Mom days.

On the plane I found a seat and glanced to my right. My seat-mate was a Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person. I no longer remember her name.

Immediately I thought, “Here’s my chance.” 

I will make a casual but clever remark which will lead to an intelligent conversation with another adult (defined in my Young Mom days as someone who (a) did not wear diapers and (b) was not related to me by marriage –  a successful, talented woman, one who loves the news, all things media, as much as I did – and still do.

Or – I could just flip through the pages of The New Yorker magazine that I had brought with me on the plane –  and the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person will no doubt look my way, see me reading an Intellectual Magazine and initiate a thoughtful chat.

We would likely end up conversing all through the flight and as the plane taxied to the terminal, we would exchange business cards and talk about getting together in a week or two.

But being a Young Mom I had also brought another magazine on board with me.

Should I open up my women’s magazine and catch up on my Young Mom required reading such as: “10 Tips for Tantrum Free Toddlers”- OR should I stick with the New Yorker?

 I chose “10 Tips for Tantrum-Free Toddlers.”

About ten minutes into the flight the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person looked my way and glanced at the magazine on my lap.

By then I had moved on to “8 Exciting Easy Recipes for Week Night Dinners.” She turned her well-coiffed head and ignored me for the rest of the flight.

So I never got to find out if the Famous Tall Blonde TV News Person and I would have hit it off. Probably not.

In my Young Mom days I always felt like I had dual personalities – a Mom at home and a Lawyer at the office but never the twain shall meet. We were advised to low-key the Mom thing if we wanted to be successful at work.

A young partner at my first law firm once “helpfully” suggested to me that I should reduce the amount of kid-related decor in my office.  Too many photos of my kids and their crayoned pictures sent the message that I cared more about spending hours with my family than billing time for my clients.

Why was it, I wondered (although I didn’t dare say this aloud) acceptable, if not outright admired, for men to show off their Dad sides? If a male lawyer in my office decided to leave early for soccer practice, he would be lauded as a “family man.”

Funny, isn’t it, how the term “family woman” doesn’t exist?

But if I had to do it again – reflecting now on 30 plus years of working mom status (where is my badge?), I’d probably make the same choices. The office display of family photos and kiddie-drawings. Leaving mid-day to go to the school play. Not missing a school conference.  Taking criticism from certain of my male law firm colleagues when they “caught” me by the elevators, exiting the office at 6:30 p.m. and asking – “taking a half-day, Nancy?”

And not feeling guilty about reading a women’s magazine on an airplane, no matter who had the seat next to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Careers, Law firm life, Lawyers, Men vs Women, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Reading, Women, Women in the Workplace, Working Moms, Working Moms, Working Women

Say “No” to an Admission Offer from a Highly Selective College?

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Sometimes I cringe when I re-read some of my older Blog posts. And sometimes I think I was spot on.

Early April is here – and with it, I’m moving beyond the March Madness of basketball (that final game where the underdog team Villanova beat UNC at the buzzer was well worth staying up late for) – and again observing the annual “madness” that the college acceptance season has become.

I wrote a Blog post in April, 2015 expressing my thoughts on what really matters when making a college choice.

Here is what I said then  – I think it rings as true today as it did a year ago ———>

 

———> Yes, it is a ridiculous and harmful obsession that some parents, shared at times by their teens, have with getting accepted to an elite, highly selective college.

And yes, “getting in” can become the narrowest of goals in the madness of this college admission season.

But – can I be honest here?

I think it really DOES matter where a student goes to college.

But probably not for the reasons you think.

1st – Attending a college with a well-known brand name DOES open future doors.

I agree 150% that fit matters far more than brand name. Yet brand name can help, especially in the post-college years – – let’s not kid ourselves.

When I applied for internships and jobs, every interviewer I met labeled me (rightly or wrongly) as smart based upon the school from which I had graduated.

“You went to Smith? My (daughter/wife/sister/niece/cousin) went to Smith. You must be smart.”

The name of my college opened doors – got me interviews, introduced me to well-connected alums.

Here’s the key though: It was up to me to achieve once I got in that door.

So if your teen pushes for a brand name school, he understands its’ name will always be on his resume. He’s right; that name alone may ease his path to jobs and graduate schools. But he has to do the work once he gets there.

2nd – Going to a college that offers a diverse and intellectually stimulating community in which to live DOES matter.

Much of the learning in college comes from outside the classroom – which is why it is important to attend a college where you will be surrounded by people you will learn from.

And, assuming a student, is open to new ideas, because this is really what college is about, isn’t it? –  she will not learn as much from people who look like her, think like her and grew up near her than she would from people who are dissimilar.

Diversity DOES matter – because highly selective schools usually can and do offer more financial aid, a student may find a truly diverse student community, in terms of background, beliefs, ethnicity, race and social class in a more selective school.

3rd –  and most important to me  – Where a student goes to college DOES matter to that student’s Mental Health.

Parents and their teens must discuss the topic of college student mental health – before the student sets foot on campus next fall.

The absurd stress of the college admission process is but a harbinger of things to come. If a student gets accepted to the dream elite school of her choice, the prize is an entrance ticket into an even more stressful academic environment.

Highly selective schools function as pressure cookers, packed with intensely focused kids driven to succeed and achieve, to get that A, to find the best internship, to land a prestigious job after graduation or get into a top medical school.

And the impact of all of that stress?

An increasingly deleterious impact on the mental health of college students. More students than ever, according to recent studies, report feeling anxious, depressed and/or stressed.

The University of Pennsylvania, seeking its own answers after a series of student suicides,  wants to change its own campus culture of  self-described “destructive perfectionism” – – a culture sadly familiar to many at similar top colleges where driven students put immense pressure on themselves to achieve and then think they have failed themselves (and perhaps their parents) if they don’t meet their often overly ambitious goals.

So step back a minute.

If accepted to a highly selective school, congratulations – and yes, it’s true that its’ name brand will be a helpful lifetime credential and alumni connection.

And yes, a top college often offers the most intellectually intriguing and diverse community in which to study and make forever friends.

But perhaps – if your student gets accepted by the most tippy-top, elite of schools, because of his perfect grades, mega test scores, impossibly impressive list of awards, achievements and leadership positions, even if your son or daughter is the kind of student who could barely find time to floss in high school, given how busy he or she was –

Perhaps your student should do the unexpected –  and  consider saying “no, thank you” to that most elite of colleges?

What if your student instead considered instead a college with a culture that is not one of  “destructive perfectionism” – but instead one that will support as well as challenge a student.

Here’s the plan:

  • Colleges themselves must take the first step to lessen the pressure to be perfect in order to be accepted.
  • Parents should dial down their own expectations.
  • Students should put their own mental health first (and second, and third) – and start rethinking about college (and high school) as places in which to enjoy learning, to thrive in instead of being driven into a frenzy of unrealistic achievement goals.

Then the only March Madness will be the games we watch on T.V.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Job, College, College, Education, Mental Health, Parenting, Raising Kids, Young Adult Mental Health

The “Greige-ification” of the Spring Home-Selling Process

lilacs - spring, 2015

I am so not a beige person.

Yet here I am watching – sorrowfully – as the inside of our home – is transformed from its former colorful self into a bland, freshly-painted beige – or perhaps more accurately  – “greige” –  (you do know that gray is the new beige) –  to best attract potential house buyers.

Our realtor tells us that would-be buyers would be put off by my rather obvious fondness for color in every room. By my deep sea-blue dining room and my inside-of-a-peach family room with its chili-pepper red, built-in bookcase.  Seeing our lively green front hall would cause potential buyers to flee in dismay.

Farewell to my formerly colorful home – and welcome to my greige abode.

What is it, I ask the realtor (who happens to be my close friend, Liz and in her personal capacity, she likes color, but as a realtor, she does not), that would-be house buyers find so attractive about bland and boring greige?

She tells me that today’s would-be buyers want to walk into a clean and neutral canvas, freshly-painted walls, without any family photographs or personal items that would give any clues to the personalities of the current inhabitants.  Today’s home buyers apparently have trouble picturing themselves making your house their home if they are distracted by any signs that you happen to live there.

This has changed since 1983.

When my husband JP and I bought our house, a smallish, three bedroom brick colonial built soon after WWII, we purchased it from its’ original owners who made no efforts to hide their decorative preferences. As we entered for the first time, we were treated to a symphony of stuck-in-the-1960’s era color and texture – including thick, brown shag carpeting in the living room, a front hall covered in silvery foil/black/brown/fake tree wallpaper and a kitchen done up in matching harvest gold appliances.

We did not run out in horror, but instead headed to the basement, saw that its’ knotty-pine walls had been painted black to match the floor – and that the basement ceiling sported a large spinning silver disco ball. Did I mention the burnt orange built-in basement bar?

You can’t make this stuff up, truly.

Upstairs to the three bedrooms – where the master bedroom ceiling had a light fixture that resembled a giant wrought iron wagon wheel, ready to impale you the minute you lay down on the bed below it.  Instead of closets, there hung long strands of dangling beads from two alcoves. The one-person-at-a-time master bathroom was tiled in a fetching pink and black combo.

And the piece de resistance? Following our noses we spotted a large mixing bowl of chopped raw onions sitting on the kitchen counter next to the stove. Surely nothing says “I can’t wait to sell my house” as much as the smell of freshly cut onions in the air. Was the older couple selling the house sending mixed signals?

Somehow JP and I saw beyond the house’s distasteful (to us) decor – and aromas – and snapped it up. We were not deterred by its’ extremely overly personalized appearance.  In fact, we appreciated seeing evidence that another family had lived there, who perhaps once had teenagers who likely danced in the basement and a mom who put pencil marks in the linen closet door to show the height of her children as they grew.  It was time for their family to move out –  and for ours (I was newly pregnant when we first saw our house) to begin.

Fast forward, and later this spring our house will have been completed de-nuded of anything that would indicate that a family with real lives and personal preferences has lived here for 33 years.  Family photos boxed up, my prized collection of blue ceramic bowls packed away and all bathroom items removed (Because if someone sees the kind of deodorant you use that would tell them too much about you and we can’t have that, now can we.)

From inviting warmth to the most grayish of greige – our home is now in the process of becoming a boringly bland canvas.

Watching it as it morphs from a warm, lived-in home to an it-could-belong-to-anyone kind of a house distresses me. When it stops looking like our well-loved home, I tell myself, it will make it that much easier to say goodbye.

Or else I can leave a bowl of freshly-chopped raw onions on the counter in our newly-greige-painted kitchen on the day of our first open house. Don’t tell Liz.

 

*To Be Continued

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Empty Nest, Family, Female Friends, Husbands, Parenting, Raising Kids, Retirement, Women

Why Colleges May Offer “Parent Only” Dorms by 2025

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Why are we, parents in the U.S., a decade ago and still now, so ridiculously over-invested in where our offspring go to college?

Nearly ten years ago our daughter spent her spring college semester studying in Florence, Italy. Beautiful Firenze! My husband and I visited her in early March.

From my albeit brief experience as a world traveler, I can confidently tell you that parents in other countries may not be quite as invested in their kids’ college acceptance outcomes as we are.

Wrapping scarves around our necks in Florentine fashion to walk around the city every morning, my husband would ask for “caffe macchiato” and I said “prego” to every shopkeeper.  I’m sure we did not fool anyone into thinking we were Italians, but we liked to pretend that we were.

Being on vacation for a week that March distracted me from what was really on my mind. Waiting for college admission news for our younger child back home, then a senior in high school.

So while I was standing in line to get in to see the statue of David, admiring the crenellated tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and discovering the varied delights of crostini and ribollita,  inside my head I was partially back at home waiting for the mail to arrive.

This was in the day before email notifications of college admissions so I was visualizing thick envelopes (yes!) and thin letters (no) –  and worrying.

Whenever we travel, my Detroit-born husband likes to point out what kinds of cars the locals drive. He has gotten me in that habit, too. On our Italy trip that March it struck me what the cars I saw did NOT have.

Not a single car had a college sticker on its’ bumper or rear window!

How was that possible?

And in the other parts of Tuscany that we toured in our tiny rental car, we did not spot a car window or bumper sticker that said “Universita degli Studi di Firenze” or “di Siena” or “di Pisa”.

I remember thinking, if only we could never leave Italy, where there did not seem to be a parental obsession with where their children went to college. Unlike back home where parents wore college identifying caps, t-shirts, sweatshirts and drove cars sporting omnipresent rear window and bumper stickers as if we were the ones enrolled in college instead of our kids.

Our vacation ended, as all vacations (sadly) do, and we had to return to the land of overly-abundant college affiliation indicia.

Why do so many of us point with such pride to our kids’ Higher Ed affiliations in what we drive and wear as if we were the ones who actually did the hard work to get admitted?

Earlier this fall – prior to my recent Fabulous Fibula Fracture  – I had started to volunteer with a terrific college access organization which helps first-generation kids apply to, find financing for, get accepted by and once there, stay in college.

I can’t wait until my ankle is healed enough so I can hobble on back to it.

In this program I work directly with high school seniors. Not that I have anything against parents –  heck, I am one – but having been through the college admission process 2x, I would not want to deal with any parent who behaved as I did.

Thinking back to those past Octobers and Novembers when we were in the absolute thick of the college admission process, when the “C” word was like a curse word at our dining room table, I know that I was not at my best and highest self.

Those fall days when my kids snapped at me if I asked innocent questions such as “Good morning” or “How are you?”  – which my children wisely recognized as Mom code for “Have you finished your applications yet?”

The tension in our house was palpable. Luckily, my kids were accepted at great colleges because of what they, not me, accomplished.

This fall of 2015 the media reminds us that parents are even more involved (if that is possible) with their kids’ college choices. If this over-involvement trend continues, where might it lead to in another decade?

I see the future:

By the year 2025 The National Association of Over-Involved High School Pre-College Parents  (“NAOIHSPCP”) will have successfully lobbied for and won the right to be College Co-Attendees!

  • New “parent-only-variants” of the SAT and ACT will be adapted so parents will be able to submit their own corollary college applications.
  • Parents will be required to write their own “Why I Am Unique and Have Passion So You Should Admit Me” essays.
  • And by the 2025 colleges will have created specially configured dorms so parents may live on campus near their offspring.

Satirical, maybe – but really, if this hyper-pride-in-where-my-kid-goes-to-college trend continues on its current trajectory, perhaps Parent-Only dorms will be the Next Big Thing?

Take it from someone who’s been there, done that -> Rip up your NAOIHSPCP membership card now while your pre-college child is still talking to you.

Remember: Your kid is the one going to college, not you. Repeat as many times as necessary. And one small bumper sticker per family only, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under College, College, Education, Family, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Travel

Speaking of Hilarious Humor on a Serious Subject

Head Library - flat concept vector illustration

Friends in high places? I have exactly one. She is a top political reporter for a national newspaper and I am lucky to count her as a good friend.

Three of the best things about her are:

  •  she lives in my neighborhood
  •  she is a very generous person &
  •  she appreciates my sense of humor.

One night a few years ago, when we were sitting in her family room, as she had her ever-present iPad on her lap, following along on social media (reporters are allowed to do this at all times), she looked up at me and said:

Nancy, you know, you should be on Twitter. You’re funny!  You have a lot to say. You should start a Twitter account.”

Now you have to understand this was said by someone who currently has (I just checked) 56,300 followers on Twitter!  People follow my friend because she is astounding insightful on all things political, but also because she is very generous in sharing the work of others.

Plus she has a wicked sense of humor. Which is extremely hard to do in a maximum of 144 characters,

I thought sure, why not give this a try, I love to communicate, to stay on top of the news, Twitter will be fun. Just after I created my account, my friend tweeted to her thousands of followers, something like:

Be sure to follow @_nwolf, new on twitter and very funny”

Within a matter of hours, I had nearly 1,000 Twitter followers!  And then within a matter of days I had nearly lost them all.

Why?

Because being funny on Twitter is an art form I could not master. As soon as my friend told her twitterverse to pay attention to me, her funny friend, my sense of 144-character-driven humor disappeared.

Since then I’ve figured that my sense of humor comes through better when I speak than when I write. Not that everyone gets  my sense of humor. Some do not.

Humor like cilantro or olives, is an acquired taste. You either enjoy it right away or sniff in distaste and never come back. I happen to love both cilantro and olives; you may not.

And oddly enough my sense of humor really shines through when I talk about difficult topics.

A few years ago I gave a talk about the parenting of teens and young adults with mental illness to a roomful of Jewish clergy at a DC area organization. The rabbis wanted to know to respond when a congregant with a troubled kid came to them for advice. What did they need to know about awareness, stigma and support?

I launched into my tale of my experience as a parent, laced with insights from the many families I’d gotten to know while I was leading the parents’ support group (“parents of young adults who struggle”) I founded at my synagogue.

My audience nodded appreciatively as I spoke, laughed often. When I finished, one of the rabbis came up to shake my hand, and said something like –

Thank you so much for your candor and helpfulness; you really have a knack for being hilarious when talking about mental illness.”

I smiled, said thank you but as I was driving home, suddenly thought, what did he say? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be funny when speaking about such a serious subject?

I decided it was a good thing. Humor can often reach people in a way that solemn speech cannot.

Ever since then I’ve tried to talk about “mental health” (which everyone has, even your dog or cat) and “mental illness” (a diagnosable medical condition which everyone does not have, but some do) in a relatable way.

To carry the message that mental illness is a disease of the brain – you can think of it as a broken brain. You’d go to a doctor and easily find the appropriate care if you break your ankle (as I did 3 weeks ago), but when you have a broken brain, it is inexplicably much harder to find the right treatment. (and to stick with it.)

When is the last time you saw someone stigmatized because of a broken ankle?

(I thought so.)

If in February, 2016, you find yourself in or near Marin County in northern California,  I am thrilled to tell you that I will be speaking there at a reform synagogue about young adult mental health and mental illness. Fair warning that what I will likely say will not be solemn or serious but it will be heartfelt.

And in case you are as fascinated by the connections we make on social media, I have not given up on Twitter.

You can follow me @_nwolf  – where I tweet about books, college, mental health, parenting, women’s issues and other topics that strike my fancy.

Just don’t expect to laugh out loud when you read my tweets. For reasons I am still trying to comprehend, my funniest moments come when I am talking about the most serious of subjects.

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Filed under Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Jewish, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Raising Kids, Social Media, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

You wear my shoes, I’ll wear yours: Changing Perspectives, Parenting and Mental Health

Four pairs of various running shoes laid on a wooden floor background

What does it mean to “walk in another person’s shoes”?

One of my favorite children’s books was “The Really Real Family” by Helen Grigsby Doss.

Set in Hawaii, it’s the story of two young girls, orphans of multi-cultural background, living with a foster-mother while they waited to be adopted by a “really real family.”

After the girls quarreled, their foster mom suggested they could best understand the other girl’s true feelings if they actually walked in each other’s shoes. So they switched shoes, walked in them for a while, and came to see the other child’s point of view. And thus the quarrel was patched up.

Not sure why this book has resonated with me for so long  – was it because as a kid growing up in Connecticut, Hawaii seemed like a far-off foreign land where people ate odd things like “poi?” Or because I was intrigued by kids who lacked a family?  Or fascinated by the idea of actually switching shoes to find out how another person really thinks?

Last week I had a chance to understand what it means to see things from inside another person’s mind, if not their shoes.

On Thursday and Friday I was invited to participate as one of 14  mental health “experts” in a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) advisory group on “Engagement.” Our group was composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, advocates, family members – with diverse mental health perspectives from around the U.S.

And what, you may ask, is the concept of “Engagement” and why does it matter? Let me explain in non-jargonese.

One of the hats I wear (Except I don’t wear actual hats. Ever. I look terrible in hats.) but figuratively one of the hats I wear is as an advisor/advocate/writer on young adult and college-related mental health.

In mental health lingo, “Engagement” traditionally has meant methods of reaching out to people who have mental illness, at whatever stage of their experience, so they will enter into treatment and hopefully, comply with it.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? And in many small discussion forums, the participants accept, without question, the written agenda set by the sponsoring organization.

But (thankfully) not this group!

Right from the start, even as our group’s facilitator was hand-writing the standard definition of “Engagement” up on the flip chart in the front of the conference room – hands shot up in the air to challenge it.

The conventional definition doesn’t work, most participants contended. We need to start thinking of “Engagement” not just as a one-way-street (doctor engages patient), but as an active, two-way process where the person receiving the treatment has an opportunity to express his goals, then a plan for reaching those goals is mutually designed and both the provider and the patient work together to get there.

I started to listen more closely – fascinated as the older model of “Engagement” was tossed aside and a new one evolved from lived experience.

As the Mom of a teen and then young adult with mental health challenges, I had always subscribed, without giving it much thought, frankly, to the conventional  “Engagement” model of health care  – the provider as the knowledgeable giver of a remedy and the person with the illness as the quietly docile recipient.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Person develops symptoms, sees a doctor and the doctor says ” You are ill, you are broken. I can fix you! Here take this pill and come back in one week.”

As a parent my perspective was always a narrow one:   “Did you take your medicine? Did you go to therapy? Are you doing what the doctor says you should do?”

I rarely, if ever, thought about how mental health care must feel from the perspective of my child.

How my child must have felt about the experience of being on the receiving end of a scary sounding diagnosis, of being thought of as a broken object to be fixed  – so focused was I on wanting my child to get better – and as soon as possible, please.

What I should have done, I’ve realized, is somewhere along the way –  figuratively or literally – was to switch shoes (sneakers in this case) with my child so I could walk in another person’s shoes to see how it felt to be him.

During last week’s meeting two participants in our group made this concept come vividly alive for me.

Two amazing young adult women, both in the early years of their professional careers, both living with mental illness. They spoke eloquently about what it was like to leave college, how it felt to be hospitalized, to feel socially rejected by some peers, to experience discrimination in educational and professional settings and to deal with a mental health system that was all about “fixing them” – and not about understanding them.

You will no doubt be glad to know that during last week’s meeting I did not actually take off my own shoes and try to exchange them with any other participant.

But just listening to the other participants gave me an “ahah” moment. For real understanding to happen I needed to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. The other person who has actually lived the experience, beyond having my opinions shaped from where I sit as the knowledgeable-yet-worried parent figure.

Likely this concept translates to the parenting of children with all sorts of challenges, big and small. And to other kinds of broken systems, not just the mental health care system.

For we won’t know what needs be changed – and how to make those changes – until we really listen to the people on the receiving end – or we get a chance to walk in their shoes, literally or figuratively.

 

 

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Filed under Adult Kids, Books, College, Communications, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

“Let Them Learn From Failure”: Does it Apply When Parenting Our Adult Kids?

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Wait, so you can’t insist that your adult “child” do what he/she doesn’t want to do?

All joking aside, this question has been an ongoing life lesson for me – and also a much discussed topic among my friends who also have adult “kids” (italicized because while they are no longer little children, we are still their perennial parents.)

What can we do if we think our adult “kid” is about to fail?

It is our strongest instinct as parents to rescue our children.  But we shouldn’t always do so, says author and teacher, Jessica Lahey in her recent, thoughtful book “The Gift of Failure”. Parents of growing children do them no favors by scooping them up on the playground of life to save them from every slip and fall. When our children are young, Lahey explains, they learn from failure so we must let them experience it, rather than always rushing in to protect them from its’ consequences.

(a concept I well knew in theory, but then again years ago when my high school son left his biology textbook in his locker at school that evening before a big exam…)

But what happens when our growing children are all grown up?

If our young child falls off of a playground slide, his scraped knee heals. If our teenager doesn’t get accepted into the college of his choice, likely he will do fine at another school.

But if we think our adult son is about to enter a disastrous marriage, our adult daughter is in a relationship harmful to her mental health or our son’s partying ways are spinning out of control, the stakes are much higher, aren’t they?

Lately my friends and I have been sharing our worries about our adult “kids.”

  • My friend L.’s 30-year-old daughter struggles in a tumultuous  relationship with an unkind man. Upset and crying, the daughter calls L. and says that despite how he acts, she really loves him and can’t part ways. Can’t she see, L. wonders, that she is hurting herself by staying with him?

 

  • The 26-year-old son of my friend H. recently began his first post-grad school job at a big financial firm. He’s always been a model kid, dutiful, well-behaved but suddenly (?) has started to go out to bars with friends every night, partying till the wee hours and arriving late at work. He just received a warning notice from his boss. Can’t he see, H. thinks, that he is messing up at a critical time?

 

  • C.’s  29-year-old son brought his girlfriend home to meet C. and her husband.  The girlfriend’s strongly controlling manner upsets C., as does her son’s changed behavior. She thinks her son is about to announce his engagement. Should she tell her son she thinks that marriage to this woman would be a mistake?

Do parents of adult “kids” always know best?

Parents believe that we have clear (yet hardly objective) vision with our kids’ best interests in mind. That our kids are the ones with the big blind spots that prevent them from recognizing bad choices.  Surely, if we point out to our adult “kids” what we know to be true – they will promptly turn to us and gratefully say, thanks, Mom and Dad  – you are so right, I was so wrong. I will do exactly what you say and change my life!

Not happening.

If I ever tried that, my adult kids would dismiss me as intrusive, give me the silent treatment or get angry and the carefully nurtured bonds of Parent/Adult “Kid” communication would greatly fray.

Does the “let them learn from their failures” concept apply even when our adult “kid” is poised to make a major life mistake with possibly painful consequences?

My carefully thought out answer? And honestly, I am not waffling here. But both Yes and No.

Yes:  While they are adults, we are their perennial parents, and with great delicacy and respect, we still can tell our adult kids how we feel.

AND

No, we shouldn’t tell them what to do.

Telling them how we feel  – versus – telling them what to do = a BIG difference.

I’m not writing an advice column here (but hey, wouldn’t that be a great job to have? Kind of like my lawyer job where I gave advice to clients for many years, but their questions were far less fun. Not that my clients weren’t fun. They were. But legal issues, not so much. I digress.)

My friend with the daughter in the struggling relationship could tell her the next time she calls:

“It makes me sad when you tell me Boyfriend says such nasty things to you.”

For the son whose job may be on the line:

“I worry about your health when you talk about going out and drinking every night during the work week.”

The controlling serious Girlfriend?

“Son, it made me very uncomfortable listening to how Girlfriend talks to you during your last visit home.”

Assuming we can limit our remarks to how we feel – a major assumption that – might our parental comments prod our adult kids to think things through and start on different paths?

Or not.

As Jessica Lahey said, failure teaches a lesson. It breeds resiliency. Second chances. Growth.

Marriages don’t always work out. Young adults lose jobs. Mental health can worsen and then improve. Even when the stakes are so high, do we owe our adult “kids”, not just the littler ones, the right to make their own mistakes and learn from them?

It’s complicated.

 

 

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