I had a wonderful chat with my older daughter last night and I’ve been thinking about it since. The conversation flowed naturally and there was an ease to it that felt wonderful. This despite the fact that the subject matter was the complex morass of early teen social interactions. I’m not sure we came up with any actionable solutions and I don’t think that’s what she wanted. She wanted to me to listen and she wanted my opinion. But most of all she wanted to hear me tell her she’s on the right path and to be true to herself. That’s what she’s been doing and it can be damn hard sometimes. Sometimes confirmation from a trusted voice is all we need to strengthen our resolve.
It’s during these moments where I am struck by how clear values, openness and vulnerability are what bridge the gap between generations. The technology will change and different clothes will fall in and out of fashion. Each generation develops their own language that sounds like gibberish to their parents. None of it matters when you have a solid foundation holding things together. Being loved and respected is infinitely cooler than being cool. I am super cool though….don’t get me wrong.
Teenage angst and social dynamics are tough to deal with for a kid….and her parents. There’s no shortage of drama, fluid tribalism and shifting allegiances. It’s enough to make a kid confused and frustrated while they try to decipher the mostly undecipherable. I remember these times vividly and the difficulties I faced trying to navigate them
I struggled to fit in as a kid. Even though there periods where I was one of the “cool kids”, I was usually aping the behavior of the cooler kid which often meant the one who was more of a jerk. Unfortunately that often resulted in me getting up to no good, drinking or being a bully to those lower on the social hierarchy. I didn’t have the self-confidence to do my own thing and be my own me. I’m not sure why but it was a problem that plagued me until very recently.
I don’t believe my girls will suffer from a debilitating need to fit in. They are comfortable with themselves and the safety of our family. They know our little fortress of solitude will always be there for them to return to when they need it. That certainly doesn’t mean that things won’t be challenging at times. They will make their fair share of mistakes. They will have their hearts broken and maybe break a few themselves. Whatever happens, we’ll be there to help them learn and we’ll learn from them along the way. The parent/child relationship is a powerful catalyst for lifelong learning.
We teach the girls the importance of everyone’s own unique awesome sauce. Sometimes people don’t understand yours and that’s OK and perfectly normal. If they judge you for it, it’s because they are judging themselves about something else. They understand tearing people down tears you down most of all.
They see us being comfortable in our own skin but at the same time we’re open about changes we’ve made and why. They need to see that we’re human and that we dream, and hurt, just like they do. When show our (mostly) unvarnished humanity we form deeper connections with each other. Those connections are what allow us to more fully enjoy the happiest times and feel anchored during those that are turbulent.
They won’t come to us every time and nor do we expect them to. We encourage them to work through their problems to the best of their ability. But they also know that admitting you need help is a sign of vulnerability and vulnerability is the path to strength, courage and wisdom. They know that because we model it. They need to know that if we don’t have the answer we’ll be straight up with them. That’s what leads to more questions and those questions to solutions.
And finally, not everything needs to be fixed. Sometimes we all just need an ear and a shoulder to lay our weary heads on. Being able to provide that for your kid is one of the greatest joys of being a parent. Simply listening will create the space where those beautiful moments can happen.
So I focus on the foundation because those principles are timeless. Trust, openness, vulnerability, listening, problem solving, collaboration, questioning. Those are the important things that will never go out of style.
And I will never understand the point of SnapChat.