Today I want to talk to you about those adults or almost-adults that are either still living with you or are just starting to find their way in the world. We end up talking about parenting a lot it my course Midlife Re•Imagined, Design Your Next Best Chapter. I hear a lot of complaints from my clients about their kids; they don’t listen, they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, what they need to. We talk about strategies to improve those relationships. But when I boil it down to the true root of the friction, it usually is stemming from our own sense of regret and a desperate plea for our children to avoid some mistakes that we’ve made.
Before we go any further, I want to hang a big ole disclaimer on this conversation. I am going to assume that you are not one of those parents living vicariously through their children and that also, you are not a mother in competition with her daughter. I don’t know how to quantify that distinction except to say I guess you know for sure if you aren’t that type of parent. If your sole desire for your children is for them to live their best and happiest life and if you hope with every fiber of your being that they are smarter, healthier, more successful, wealthier and more satisfied with their day to day existence than you ever could be, then we are on the same page and can have this conversation.
There is a new wave of self-awareness that hits us in Midlife. It’s almost as if we’ve been coasting from about 30 until that troublesome moment that we awake from a coma of living life on auto-pilot, rub our eyes, look around and start asking what the fuck… about everything.
And in the glorious poetic justice of life, that seems to coincide with your children coming into their teens and early adulthood. What a joke with the punchline being we were raising children when we ourselves weren’t even fully grown.
So now you are at the convergence of two adolescent journeys, their first and your second, more productive one. And I’m going to tell you that this is the best possible scenario for all of you.
I think there comes a point in parenting when you have to flip a switch in your approach. When you stop raising children and you start raising adults.
Which brings me to the shift in focus from life neatly organized when they were little to parenting people facing the rest of their lives. Think about it like this. It’s as if we start in the middle of downtown, and for let’s say 15-ish years, we can give exact directions as to how to head out of the city. There are clearly marked street signs and recognizable landmarks until you hit the outskirts of town. I think that’s where most of us are parenting right now. Gone are the defined paths. We are out on the open road. Scary for you and scary for them.
When your people are little, life is black and white. There have to be rules and absolutes. Not only do you need to establish guidelines and boundaries, but you need to model exemplary behavior and even disseminate a little personal legend; about how you may have done well in school, earned awards, played on teams or performed in school shows. Now is not the time for stories regaling your rebellious escapades. Little brains can’t handle nuisance so child rearing is a lot like puppy training minus the crate but who knows, maybe that would have been a good idea?
I think it works in your favor that you haven’t gotten Volume 2 of You: The Owner’s Manual for this stage. You just go ahead and accept the monotony, exhaustion and loneliness of raising those little people. At that point, I don’t know about you, but I was content to believe that’s what I was built to do anyway; just shepherd the little people from milestone to milestone, school year to school year.
But as those people hit their later teen years and beyond, I think it’s time to drop the facade and start sharing with them more of the human experience. I believe there is huge benefit to them, and to you, to show not only the highlight reel of your life that they are probably already familiar with, but to start exposing some of the challenges you face, some of the regrets you may have and some life lessons that you’d like them to internalize earlier than you did.
I’m a huge believer in “bad examples are good examples”. I have been accused of keeping it a little too real with my kids but I think if I weren’t, I’d be perpetuating the fairytale environment that isn’t an accurate representation of the lives we actually lead.
It makes no sense to set up a standard whereby everything is always good. How can someone learn what happiness and fulfillment is if they don’t know sadness and uncertainty. And if you don’t normalize those feelings of inadequacy and confusion, I think you inadvertently contribute to all the typical challenges that any young person faces.
Let me give you an example. My eldest just finished a very prestigious summer internship. It was an incredible experience for him that helped crystallize for him a career path he would love. If he were graduating this year, he probably would have earned himself a job offer because he did an amazing job for this company this summer. Naturally I’ve advised him to connect on Linked In with everyone he met, send thank you emails for the time he spent with them but most importantly, formally schedule to-dos in his calendar to call up and say hi throughout the year. Continue to forge personal connections and keep them updated on what he’s studying because he still has two years of school to finish. If I left it at that, all he’d hear would be the teacher from the Peanuts. Womp womp womp, womp womp.
Instead what I’ve shared with him was an epic networking failure on my part. I applied for a competitive internship at Warner Brothers television after my sophomore year of college. I got it and spent the summer learning how to write actor contracts for lots of your favorite 90’s tv shows. Now maybe I’m slightly off the hook because I didn’t end up wanting to do that. But in actuality, since I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, don’t you think those relationships may have been handy as lifelong mentors and even connections to other opportunities? Instead, I just bailed after the internship. Chapter closed.
Let me point out to you before you too let me off the hook, remember I used to have to convince very rich people to let me manage their money. Don’t you think that this group of studio lawyers I worked for may have been good clients? D-U-M-B.
So it’s embarrassing to share this story with you now and it’s embarrassing to have shared it with my son. It’s not easy to let your children know you as Human and not just Mommy. But I gave him a little extra impetus to actually hear me. Admitting your fallabilty is a powerful way to not only teach, but to build connection. Yes, I want to spare my children making the same mistakes I did. They’ll make plenty of their own. Admitting mine gives them the opportunity to sidestep a few landmines.
At a time in Midlife when we are in the process of figuring ourselves out, what this next chapter holds and acknowledging the uncertainty, it is unsettling to expose your, well, fuck ups. But I think it is the crucial next step in parenting.
While you’re busy evolving, you can take this opportunity to accelerate their process too. You may be working on 2.0. Why not help them be 4.0?
Nothing is off the table with my big boys. Yesterday’s convo with the 20 year old was about the drama he sees with his friends who have girlfriends. He confessed that he was really reluctant to let any relationship progress because of it. My revelation to him, we all cray cray. That’s right, baby boy, even your mama. I mean honestly, who among us hasn’t been “that girl” and wished for a Men In Black mind erasey thing to zap memories of pathetic or needy behavior. My husband just laughed and smartly added nothing to the conversation. But we also talked about what he should be looking for in a partner and tolerance for the other stuff we are all still working on.
I’m telling you, the chats in our house are like a constant Tony Robbins seminar. And it’s not just because I’m in the line of work that I am. Your kids are begging for the truth; how do I really live this life. Don’t be afraid to tell them.
So as your people are hitting the open road, here’s my best advice for directing them off into the sunset. Ahem, you may notice the similarity of my favorite themes that I am constantly harping on to them to those I am asking you to incorporate into your outlook on life as well.
That life isn’t about goals or jobs or accolades. Life is in the daily living. And more importantly, in the daily loving.
Do your best everyday and the results take care of themselves. This comes up A LOT, because I live with very lazy people with terrible habits. I’m considering tattooing “The way you do ANYTHING is the way you do EVERYTHING” on my forehead and just pointing at it 100 times a day.
The people in your life are paramount. Keeping up friendships and relationships are worth the time and effort.
Say yes to everything. Figure out a way to jump on any experience offered to you.
You are the only one responsible for your happiness. You have no control over the actions of others. You only have control over how you respond to others.
Choose kindness. Have compassion for others and for yourself.
Enjoy the mistakes. It’s the only way you learn.
Forge new paths. Know you have the luxury of time. There is no age by which you have to be married, have children, own a home, earn a title.
I have to remind you that all my opinions are the culmination of my personal life experience, validated by sharing that advice with my clients and seeing it implemented with similar success in their households and relationships. But I also want to point out that my initial lab rats are all male.
I have often wondered how I would have approached raising a daughter. I’ve joked that I’m not sure if it would have been best to raise her to be strong and ambitious and therefore face so many of the dichotomous challenges that I have or if it would have been best to hope she would have been dumb as a stone and real pretty.
But I guess the one thing I wish someone would have told me that I would encourage you to share with your daughters is that a woman’s life has chapters and they cannot be read all at once. The concept of having it all was a recipe for failure. As if you only got one serving of the deliciousness of life and so it better have appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert all on the same plate. What a mess. So yeah, here we are; sad, disillusioned and combating feelings of failure.
Instead, life is a 10 course dinner. I think especially for women. My best advice is don’t encourage her or lead her to believe that being Doctor Mommy President is a viable pursuit. If you are a Fresh Off The Boat fan, yes I’m ripping that job title off.
Don’t be afraid, or worse, ashamed, to share with your daughter where you are right now in life. While I doubt any of us would truly do it differently if we had a do-over, done better the first time around may work out with more of the good and less of the angst.
I hear from so many clients that they want their daughters to feel differently about their bodies. I think it’s worth investigating what messages you’ve been sending to your girl by being hard on yourself, holding yourself up to an unattainable standard and then perhaps not putting into action anything that would have actually moved you closer to a physical fitness goal. You know I strongly believe that our bodies are prototyped at birth, so are you exacerbating feelings of unworthiness she has about herself by constantly knocking what you see in the mirror? And oh by the way, did it ever occur to you that by you ragging on a body part you don’t like, you may as well be cutting your daughter down directly because she got the exact genetic copy of your appendage?
But on the flip side of that, are you letting what you can control go to hell? I do not think vanity is something we should be ashamed of and I KNOW you will feel more energized when you feel you look good. If you need more on that topic, check out my Episode Mirror, Mirror. But for today’s purpose, how you look, how you are aging is important modeling for your children, boy or girl.
No matter the flavor of child you been raising, there is an unsettling feeling as our children mature and partially it’s due to the loss of control. But it’s not a loss of control over their behavior, which certainly there is, but a loss of control over the outcomes they’ll experience in life. We’ve spent their lives making it better. Childhood is relatively easy to contain. Now there’s the scary realization that they are entering the same cage match we’re playing in. I think there needs to be almost an acceleration of divulging the rules of engagement. That’s your challenge now. Get them prepared to win a little easier and a little sooner. Make sure their eyes stay wide open and that they don’t get complacent and just fall into the rat race, lulled to into the coma of life by someone else’s rules. Even yours.
My husband’s favorite game is to catch me humming a tune only to pounce and make me realize that he was in fact the one who had been singing that song and the melody had now wormed its way into my brain. It truly concerns me that he can plant those refrains so easily and I worry that I’m probably a great candidate to be brainwashed by a cult leader and inducted into his army of hypnotized assassins. But today I get to be the music manipulator. When you read the title of today’s episode you started singing it, didn’t you? Hats off to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for one of the greatest songs of all time.
Before I sign off today, I just want to remind you that next week I’m hosting a free workshop called What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up: Midlife Edition. I’m blown away by the response so far with over 150 women to come hang out with me to get some guidance on how to start crafting a life you love full of purposefulness.
I will tell you the one thing we will not be discussing is what you want to do with the rest of your life. That is an impossible question and one of the reasons I believe women remain stagnant in Midlife.
You don’t need to figure out the REST of your life. You need to figure out next steps and you need to reprogram yourself to be open to a path that only needs to illuminate for you as you walk it.
If you’d like to join me, you can go to my website themidlife.co and click on the Free Workshops page or there’s a link in the show notes to register.
I’d love to see you there next week.
Wife of one. Mother of three. Writer, podcaster, entrepreneur, adviser. Don’t make me choose. Co-founder, The Midlife.