Middle School Misery

Today’s Question My son is finishing up 7th grade and had a terrible year. He is BEGGING me to homeschool him next year. He’s always struggled with reading but got through elementary school with help and support. He’s a bright kid, knows everything about every type of animals and their habitats. He loves turning over rocks and finding bugs of all kinds. My joyful nature-lover has turned into a miserable, despondent lump.

We made him stick it out all year, hoping things would get better but he struggles with just about everything school has to offer: sitting in a classroom, listening, learning, doing homework. He makes friends easily but I’m worried about how homeschooling will limit his socializing and mess up his opportunities for college and future. What should I do about my miserable middle schooler?    -Lynnette

Parent Educator Answer – This “middle school misery” is more common than you might think. Kids who have undiagnosed learning disabilities can get through elementary school just fine, but middle school magnifies problem areas. The work load creates a bottleneck for kids with attention problems. Too much information comes in (that they are NOT interested in) causing attentional fatigue. This mental fatigue causes kids to zone out and miss critical instruction.

Kids who struggle to pay attention at school do not have a focusing problem when it comes to things they WANT to be doing.  Some kids have the ability to HYPERFOCUS on things that fascinate them, but having too much uninteresting information at school doesn’t leave much time left over for one’s passion. When there isn’t time to learn about things that truly lights them up, you’ll end up with a grumpy, zombie child.

Kids without learning disabilities can struggle with traditional school as well. Highly sensitive children can soak up the insecurities on a middle school campus so that they feel lost and drained of their own energy.

 

With so much pressure put on kids to perform and the fast pace of society, the mental and emotional health of students is of high concern. Any kid who has a pre-disposition toward anxiety may find their symptoms ramping up during these sensitive years. 

Our brains are not designed for the amount of input we are currently taking in. I’ve even noticed a change in my ability to focus my attention.

I used to read all the time but now my mind wanders more and struggles to keep attention on the page. I have to be really selective about what books I read because so few will grab my attention. 

 

Life Coaching Answer – Let’s start by accepting reality as it currently is today. You could argue that society is too fast paced. Perhaps schools should be designed to nurture the whole human being, not being so focused on college and the workforce. It would be great if our educational institution were able to meet the unique needs of all children. Could your child learn to adapt better to the system he is in? Maybe.

For clarity and peace, let’s just accept the schools as they are and your child’s brain and personality as it is. Your son has an easy time making friends. Let’s assume that will continue wherever he goes. He has an appetite for learning the subjects he is interested in which will probably rekindle once he has some free time and mental space.

We don’t know what the future will bring. If he stays in school, he may enter such a depressed state that he can’t handle high school, let alone college and beyond. Same thing may be true if you pull him out and homeschool.

All we know is that, right now, he is struggling with school and he thinks he has found a solution.

An easy way to increase happiness is to offer contrast. When you are blazing hot and you jump in a cold pool, it feels fabulously refreshing. If you are cold and jump into the same pool, it feels terrible. Trying to drink 8 servings of water a day is tough for me, but when it’s hot and I’m thirsty, water is the best beverage on the planet!

I’m wondering if you could increase your child’s happiness by offering a contrasting experience.

I’m going to tell you a few different scenarios of other moms who were in your shoes and found homeschooling scenarios that worked for them. I can’t tell you what is right for you or your child, only you know what’s best for you and your situation, but perhaps these stories from others will help you access your own wisdom.

My son incurred a head injury when he was 11 and could no longer function at school. His hormones were completely out of whack (cortisol through the roof and almost no adrenaline). He couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t get up in the morning, and felt easily overwhelmed and overstimulated. He accrued many absences the first quarter of sixth grade and trying to keep up with assignments was stressing him out. By November, it was clear: he wasn’t getting better. We pulled him out and finally treated the concussion we should have treated back in May. He enrolled in online school, I worked from home, and he continued to play soccer. By April, he was well enough to go with his class to 6th grade science camp for a week in nature. The more down time he had, the more he could recuperate. Life at home with mom for six months made him appreciate his classmates and the structure of school. He returned to school for 7th grade and stayed.

Sheri pulled her son out of middle school at his request. Her job allowed her to work remotely so she enrolled him in a Shakespeare theater program where he read, studied, performed, fund raised, learned set design, etc. He got to study every aspect of theater with others who shared his passion, while she worked on her laptop and phone. For the other subjects, he worked online or with a tutor at the kitchen table. It’s been a few years and he has no interest in going back.

Katherine’s daughter’s anxiety was unmanageable. She felt pressured and was missing lots of school due to headaches and other vague symptoms. Katherine found a retired teacher on Craig’s List with dyslexia training who was willing to come to her house for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. Her daughter missed her friends and did not like this new arrangement. She still saw her friends after school and at gymnastics, but she relaxed, worked hard to get caught up academically, and learned to manage her anxiety. The next year she felt stronger, more capable, and ready to return to school.

Eileen’s 6th grade daughter was sinking into depression. Everything about school seemed like a chore: the work, the social dynamics, being pulled out for extra academic help. Her parents pulled her from school and divided up her studies between mom, dad, and grandma. They increased her time at her favorite horse ranch to 12 hours a week and watched the light come back in her eyes. They don’t know what they will do next year, but they will let their daughter’s happiness and mental health guide their decisions.

I hope these examples of other moms give you support and guidance as you make a difficult decision.

Supermom Kryptonite – information overload 

Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Too much information causes a bottleneck in the brain, increasing feelings of stress and overwhelm and reducing the quality of our decisions.

The amount of information that we take into our brains continues to skyrocket.

If you think of a typical newspaper being about 85 pages, in 1986 we received about 40 newspapers full of information every day. In 2007, this rocketed to 174 newspapers full of information we are taking into our brains every day.

Having too much information streaming in not only effects our children’s mental well being, but ours too. When we are trying to make important decisions, like what to do about our child’s education, it’s easy to get bogged down in information and choices. Be wary of spending too much time online, googling, and gathering information. The world is changing fast. It’s more important than ever that you slow down, focus on your child’s well being, and listen your gut intuition.

Which leads me to recommend today’s supermom power boost, Forest Bathing.

My happy place

Supermom Power Boost – Forest Bathing basically means to go into a forest and stay awhile. Breathe. Sit. Walk. Savor. Since I am writing this from my campsite in a magnificent redwood forest on the California coast, I couldn’t help but choose this for today’s power boost. Forest bathing was developed in Japan during the 1980s and is suggested for preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers in Japan and South Korea have gathered significant scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

Forest bathing (immersing yourself in a forest) is shown to boost immune system function, reduce blood pressure and stress, improve mood, sleep, and energy levels. Being in the woods is shown to increase focus, especially in children with ADHD. For moms, trying to make important decisions, there is tremendous value in cutting out all external input and listening to your own gut intuition, voice and values. Let the forest shift you into a relaxed, receptive state FIRST, then notice how your creativity and quality of thinking improve. 

Quote of the Day: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein 

He did everything right, but still didn’t get in to the college he wanted.

Today’s Question: On College Disappointment

My son is finishing up high school and did everything he was supposed to do. He worked hard, got good grades, did extracurricular activities, volunteer work- you name the hoop, he jumped through it. The university that he had set his heart on did not accept him and he is suffering from college disappointment.

He got into his “safety school” but he’s really not excited about it. I think it bothers him that so many of his classmates are going there. They offered us some great financial incentives so it makes sense for him to go there, but it’s a little to close to home for his liking.

I just wish he were happier. He’s got all these end of year celebrations coming up but there’s a dark cloud over him that’s keeping him from enjoying his accomplishments so far. I’m so sad for him. What can I say to cheer him up? -Anya

Parent Educator Answer:

Most of the advice you would hear from a parent educator when a child just came from college disappointment is the same advice you’ll hear from other parents. “He’ll be fine.” “Once he gets in there, he’ll realize how different the experience is and make it work for him.”

When these attempts at “cheering up” don’t work, it’s probably best to meet him where he is.

Agreeing with him by saying, “This totally sucks” or “It’s so disappointing” will help him accept his emotions, feel supported, and move on when he’s ready to move on. Being compassionate towards him teaches him to be compassionate towards himself.

Lots of people encounter a situation like this and think, “I’m such an idiot” “I suck” “Why did I think I would ever get in” and other self-defeating comments.

When we are our own cheerleaders, we can take chances and try new things, knowing we have our backs. The more we model this to our kids, the more they will learn to do the same.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed. If you are going to have ambitions, goals, and dreams, you are also going to have disappointment. It’s a natural part of the human experience and nothing has gone wrong here.

college disappointment

Life Coaching Answer:

The life coach in me has A LOT to say about this, starting with, I’m so sorry, Anya. It’s so hard to watch our kids work so hard for something that they really want and not get it.

It sounds like he found a school that really resonated with him and seemed like the perfect match. It’s hard to have figured out what you want and do everything you were supposed to do, and still not be able to get it.

I’m going to guess, Anya, that you live in a part of the country that participates in a “crazy college culture.” There are places in our country where people place A LOT of importance on which college children are attending.

It’s become a marker of success FOR THE PARENTS and THE SCHOOLS, as well as the kids. This is so screwed up. GRADUATION is the marker of a successful high school career! People are stressing their kids out, putting so much pressure on them, making them believe where they go to school is vital to success in life.

Do you know what the #1 predictor of success in life is? It’s not where you go to school. It’s not what kind of grades or test scores you get.

The #1 predictor of success in life is social and emotional well being.

When we, as a culture, prioritize grades, hard work, and competition over relaxation, peace, and kindness, we may actually be hindering the success of an entire generation by increasing their stress levels.

The purpose of higher education is to diversify your thinking, build a set of skills, and deepen your education in one specialized area for the purpose of employment.

You can do this right now, for free.

In the “olden days,” you had to go to a university in order to access this knowledge and higher wisdom. With Kahn Academy, Youtube, and free online universities, you do not need to leave your bedroom to learn the content you want to learn.

Pretty much anything you want to learn can be acquired online, anytime you want.

Today, the value of going away to a university is more about personal growth. Our kids are sheltered without a lot of opportunities to test their mettle.

We don’t send them away for a month at a summer camp, or to a grandparents farm anymore. We don’t let our kids travel alone, or even take a bus to the city by themselves. Today’s teens are even delaying getting jobs and driver’s licenses.

Going away to school has become a rite of passage into adulthood. It is personal growth and independence that has made going away to college so important, (but only because we stopped giving them other opportunities to grow).

My hunch is that the reason Anya’s son doesn’t want to go to this school is he feels it’s stifling his growth.

What else can he do that would be a growth opportunity for him? Could he take a gap year and travel? Could he join the peace corps? Teach for America? Become an au pair or teach English in another country?

If he really has his heart set on this dream school, he could get an apartment and attend a junior college nearby.

How about starting his own business doing something fascinating? Take up a new sport, job, or hobby? There are lots of ways to grow and explore one’s independence.

Our higher selves will rebel if we try to be happy about staying small. We are meant for continual expansion and growth at every age and stage of our lives. Help him think creatively about growth and you’ll see the light come back in your son’s eyes.

Think of your high school senior like a hermit crab who has outgrown its shell. As scary as it is to venture out into the unknown and try out a new shell, but it feels better than staying stuck in a shell that has become too small for him.

The way to help a hermit crab find a new shell, is to present him with a few different options with varying sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. He thought he found the right shell, he thought it was going to be perfect but it wasn’t.

Maybe it will be the right shell after a year of growth? Or maybe, after a year of growth, it won’t feel like the right fit anymore.

The important thing is to be patient and let your hermit crab be uncomfortable. Let him be disappointed. This discomfort is what will motivate your hermit crab and when he is ready, he will choose another shell.

I think it’s great that the system failed him at a young age. It was going to happen eventually.

I have so many clients who play by the rules and do what they are told, hoping for some future reward that never comes.

Better to learn now, that the key to happiness is making the systems work for you instead of you believing the key to your success and happiness, is in the hands of a system.

Supermom Kryptonite: Trying to fix a problem that isn’t yours to solve.

Anya is trying to fix this college disappointment for her son, understandably, but the effort of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t belong to her, will exhaust her and drain her energy. When a loved one is suffering, there are two ways people try to help that really aren’t helpful.

We feel bad for them

Many moms try to help by “feeling bad” for the suffering person. We think, “My son is so sad, I’ll feel bad along with him, so at least he’s not alone in his suffering.”

There’s this underlying belief that a mom shouldn’t be happy if her child isn’t. We feel guilty being happy when our loved ones are suffering but having two suffering people really doesn’t help.

You feel better because you think you are being a good mom, but your son feels even worse because now he’s responsible for creating a dark cloud over two people instead of just one.

Tell them what to do.

It’s so easy for us to see what someone can do to improve their life!

We hate watching them suffer, so we try to move into their life and take over: telling them what to do, how to feel, and even taking actions for them.

This ends up being a lose-lose situation. They feel disempowered because they can’t solve their own problems, we get annoyed that they don’t follow all our great advice.

Supermom Power Boost:

The way to help suffering loved ones is today’s supermom power boost. There are three things to think about when we watch someone we love going through a hard time.

1. There’s a reason they have a problem.

There is a skill set they need to build in order to solve the problem. It’s not that they need an immediate solution, it’s that they need to grow a capacity.

In Anya’s son’s case, if he had experienced many disappointments in his life, this college disappointment wouldn’t have been a big deal.

My guess is that it’s his first big disappointment, so he needs to decide what he’s going to make it mean and recalibrate his expectations with the reality he is experiencing. This skill set will serve him well and now is his time to develop it. 

 2. “Troubled? Then sit with me for I am not.” Hafiz (*I think I said Rumi in the podcast…oops!) 

Have you ever had a problem and someone else was more upset and worried about it than you were?

It feels icky. What helps our loved ones who are suffering, is for us to remain peaceful and untroubled.

We can hold the space for them to feel whatever they want to feel, while also letting them work it out on their own and making their life even better.

Do you know someone who is suffering? Picture your loved one standing in front of you, strong and peaceful, with an open, empty suitcase at their feet.

Imagine taking your worries, your fears, your sadness, and placing it inside the suitcase. Watch as your loved one closes the suitcase, thanks you, picks it up, and walks away. This is their problem to solve. You can give them advice if they ask because that’s a sign they are ready to hear it.

 

Quote of the Day:  “Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision and change.” Richard Branson

How to motivate your child

How to motivate your child in one simple step

Today’s “parent education” answer is a fabulous way to motivate any child or adult so keep listening even if today’s question isn’t reflective of your situation.

Today’s Question: “My son is quite smart and capable, but not motivated in school. He does his homework but forgets to turn it in. He could get top marks in his class but seems content with mediocrity. It bothers me that his grades don’t reflect what he’s capable of. How can I motivate my son to care more about his school performance?” Jen

Life Coaching answer: There is one simple thing parents can do to motivate their kids. There is also one thing that will BLOCK kid’s motivation that I think could become a problem for Jen here. Beware of attachment to ego.

When kids are little it’s not unusual for their success to feel like our success. Someone tells us how cute or polite our pre-schooler is, we say thank you. When our kids act out in public, or bite some other kid on the playground, we feel embarrassed. The line between where they end and where we begin, is blurred.

As they grow into their own person, it’s helpful to stop taking credit for their amazing-ness and stop blaming ourselves for their missteps, however tempting it may be. When our ego gets attached to their academic performance, their athletic performance, their drive or lack of it, we create a messy situation. Our ego will fight like crazy to stay in tact and often kids will sense our attachment to their success and deliberately sabotage themselves to take off the pressure and stay in control in their lives. When we can see them as a separate individuals, allowing them take credit for their successes AND failures, it keeps us sane. We have the privilege to guide our children but not steer their lives.

Parent Educator answer:

One day, I was on a road trip with my family, and my kids called from the backseat asking, “Mom, wanna play a game with us?”

I responded, “No thank you, I’m enjoying reading my book.”

“What book are you reading?” they asked?

“Oh, it’s a fascinating book, I’m absolutely loving it. It’s all about play and how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.”

My astute kiddo responds, “So you would rather read a book about play than play a game with your children?”

I pause with stunned realization, knowing the answer is yes, but also aware of how strange that answer sounded. I WOULD rather read about play! Why? What was motivating me to choose reading my book, over playing game?

Luckily, Dr. Stuart Brown had the answer right in my hands.

What motivates anyone to do anything is emotions. We are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It sounds like Jen’s son doesn’t get enjoyment out of turning in his homework, or seeing gold stars posted on the sticker chart. Jen, on the other hand, does enjoy that. She sounds like she is motivated by accolades, competition and identifying herself as a high achiever.

Emotions are crucial to motivation and the one simple step I’ve discovered to motivate kids, is to figure out what is their PLAY PERSONALITY.

Dr. Stuart Brown identified 8 distinct play personalities.

If you can figure out your child’s top 3 play personalities, you’ll have key insight into how to make things more fun, and therefore more motivating, for your child.

  1. The Joker  – Play revolves around nonsense, practical jokes, pranks, silliness.
  2. The Kinesthete – If I’m not moving, it’s not play.
  3. The Explorer – Goes to new places, discovers, learns and understands new things.
  4. The Competitor – Enjoys competing and keeping score, plays to win.
  5. The Collector – Enjoys collecting objects or experiences (can be social or solitary)
  6. The Artist/Creator – Joy is found in making things.
  7. The Storyteller – Imagination is the key to play. Movies, dance, acting, reading, etc.
  8. The Director – Enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. Loves being in charge and in the center of the social world.

 

The reason I enjoyed reading about play more than playing, is that my top play personality is that of explorer. I love traveling and seeing new places, but also learning and discovering what makes people tick.

Jen probably has competitor as one of her top 3. She cannot understand why her son wouldn’t be motivated to turn his homework in. He might be an explorer, more interested in the act of learning, than proving to anyone else what he has learned. To motivate him, she can tap into his play personality. If he’s a collector….for every paper he turns in, she’ll buy him something to add to his collection.

If he’s an artist/creator…..he could design a creative poster or method to remind himself to grab his homework before he leaves the house.

If he’s a storyteller, pretend his homework is the important key he needs to bring to school to open up the world to a new dimension, saving an entire species of alien beings. 

If he’s a kinesthete, hide the homework somewhere in the house and play a game of “you are getting warmer” in the morning before school.

The director can put his little sister in charge of his homework. The joker can attach a joke to his homework assignments for his teacher to read or “prank” her by doing his assignment upside down or backwards.

I think part of the way we stay attached to ego is by thinking our kids should do things the way we would do them. As we let go of our expectations, and learn to see our children as separate from us, it actually helps us grow closer to them.

Understanding your child’s play personality will help you motivate them, but also appreciate what a unique and wonderful person they are.

 

Supermom Kryptonite – valuing work over play

I’ve always loved working. As a teen I loved babysitting, waiting tables, garage sales, you name it. As a child, my favorite thing to “make believe” was playing store, bank, library or house. Today, I’d rather sell raffle tickets at the school auction than just mingle and socialize. But the reason I love working so much is because it feels like play to me.

When we value work, for the sake of work, without honoring our need to play, it’s like burning the candle at both ends. We use up twice as much energy trying to motivate ourselves. We can do it, because our ego values hard work & productivity but it’s a struggle on our soul.

Imagine a dog digging a hole to bury a bone. This dog is focused, intensely digging, not distracted by anything around him. It looks like he’s working hard and he is, but he is enjoying it. He’s doing work that he’s meant to do, that’s aligned with his essence, and so it feels like play. It requires physical effort, but not psychological or emotional effort. I think this is what work is supposed to be like for us, too.

I’m not a kinesthete. Ask me to do yard work or mop my floors and I will move at a snails pace, dragging my feet and complaining the whole time. UNLESS, I’ve got people coming over for a party or my girls summer camp and suddenly I’m full of energy. The director in me loves creating fun events for others. Be careful not to value work, over play. Use play to make work more fun and aligned with your highest self.

Supermom power boost – Step out of your routine

Stepping out of our normal routine encourages our brains into a more playful state. Life coaching encourages playful transformation because you take an hour a week to observe your life from the outside in, looking at what’s working and what isn’t. Getting a change of scenery can also help to offer a new perspective.

  • Getting swept away into a novel or spending time in nature are play states.
  • Attend a local cultural event for a holiday that is not one you are familiar with.
  • Learn to play a new game or understand a new sport.

Sometimes, stepping out of our routine is all we need to open ourselves up to our sense of play and imagination.

It is really common for Supermoms to lose their sense of play when there is so much work to be done. Stepping out of your routine, creating space for you, is a quick way to invigorate the soul and feel playful again. 

Quote of the day:What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’ activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.” Dr. Stuart Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I support my over-achieving teen

Today’s question: 

“I’m impressed, but also worried about my daughter. She’s 16 and has a 4.4 GPA, great friends, and excels in dance. She is amazingly driven, but averages 4-5 hours of sleep every night. Recently she got REALLY sick. Two weeks of flu symptoms so severe, she almost needed to be hospitalized. Now she’s back to her hardcore lifestyle. I encourage her to sleep and relax more but I’m wondering if it’s it all too much for her? Am I just finding things to worry about, or is there something I can do to support my over-achieving child?”   Marlene

Parent Educator Answer:

Our culture trains us to look for signs that our kids are on the right track. Developmental milestones when they are young, like walking and talking, grades, friendships, and extra-curricular activities when they are older. When your child is meeting all the societal expectations of success, it can cloud your judgement and make it harder to know if you should intervene or not. 

Here are signs your high achieving daughter could use some mama intervention:

  • -cranky and unhappy the majority of her days
  • -not celebrating accomplishments: deflecting and denying praise
  • -mean to siblings and parents.
  • -recurring illnesses that don’t seem to be contagious
  • -recurring physical pain
  • -acting out – doing something impulsive and out of character
  • -acting in – cutting, self-medicating, eating disorders, etc.

People have two ways to motivate themselves: love and fear.

I have coached teenage girls who are VERY hard on themselves. They have really mean inner critics that constantly tell them: “I need to work harder. I’m not doing enough. I don’t have time to relax.” Or they will say things to themselves like, “You are wasting your time. You have to do everything perfectly. You are going to fail, etc.”

Read these to your daughter and ask her if any of them sound like thoughts that bounce around inside her head. If she says yes, or if you see more than one of the warning signs, then she is using fear to motivate herself and it’s time to intervene.

The trick with teenagers is many are very resistant to thinking that something is “wrong” with them and they may shy away from counselors or therapists.

Life Coaching is a great solution. Teens have coaches who help them with their sports. Elite athletes still hire coaches because they can offer expertise and perspective to enhance their game. So there isn’t the same association with something being “wrong” with them. 

There is so much benefit to learning life coaching tools while you are young. You will save yourself years of suffering from the sneaky voice of the inner critic. In teens, this inner critic hasn’t been around long, so it’s easier to rewire that part of our brain, than it is with adults. Young brains are very malleable, so getting coaching while young would help her learn to support and motivate herself with love and passion for the rest her life. Knowing how to coach herself at a young age means that she will be happier, but also be a positive voice for her friends as she moves on to college and adult life.

Life Coach Answer:

Before mom can suggest any intervention for her daughter, she needs to make sure she isn’t worried. Worrying energy repels teens like crazy and will make her not want to listen or be around you. 

I see no problem telling her that some perfectionistic teens commit suicide when they get their first C in college, or when they don’t get into the premiere ballet school, or don’t win the scholarship they wanted, just don’t use it to fuel your worry.

Mama needs to let go of any thoughts around this being an emergency or her daughter “needing her help”. Instead, trust that she could go through her whole life this way and be very tired, but successful. Most of my clients have harsh inner critics and finally seek life coaching once their kids are born and they can’t do it all anymore. If you offer coaching to her, letting her know it’s a normal thing that people do to optimize their life experiences, she’ll eventually come around when the pain, illness, fatigue or frustration are too much for her.

What you can do to help, is to be mindful of your own inner critic and make sure your inner perfectionist isn’t fueling hers. Let her see you making mistakes and laughing them off. Encourage and model relaxation. There has never been a better time to lay around and do nothing.

Supermom kryptonite: busyness.

We live in a culture that reveres busyness. When a mom complains about being busy, all the other moms nod their head in agreement. We wear busyess like a badge of honor, but there is a cost to pay. Being busy robs us of our productivity and sense of well being.

As humans, we aren’t wired to be busy all day. How do we know? Think about the last really relaxing vacation you went on. Didn’t it feel good to do less? Think less? Accomplish less? The fact that doing less, feels good, means it’s more aligned with who we are meant to be. When we are busy, our brains are thinking about the past and the future. We end up spinning in circles, emptying half the dishwasher, doing half the laundry, drafting an email but not sending it. This unfocused, frenetic, busy energy does nothing for our productivity, efficiency, and joy. It keeps us out of the present moment but we do it, to keep our inner critic from rearing her ugly head to tell us we should be doing more.

 

Supermom power boost: honor a sabbath

The old fashioned idea of ‘honoring a sabbath’ could be very beneficial for today’s modern families. With lives full of places to be and things to do, taking time out to just sit and DO NOTHING is probably the smartest thing we could all be doing to improve our sense of well-being. But as soon as we sit to do nothing, our minds fill with all the things we ‘could’ and ‘should’ be doing. Or, we pick up our cell phones and find something to fill the void.

I propose a modern take on honoring a sabbath by setting aside 5 hours (or even just 5 minutes) every week, where no electronic devices are allowed. Where you and your family are forced to “do nothing” together. When the intention is to do nothing but just hang out together, it helps keep that inner voice at bay saying, “you should be doing something else.” 

When my family takes time to honor a sabbath this way, we go hiking, fly kites, go out to lunch, hang out in the back yard, make up silly games, etc. Slowing down and focusing on BEING instead of DOING, can make wonderful things happen that you can’t anticipate when you are busy.

Quote of the Day: “We are living under the collective delusion that in order to succeed we have to burnout along the way.” Arianna Huffington 

How to prevent “failure to launch”?

Today’s question: 

“My son is 16 and UNMOTIVATED. He gets by at school, but that’s it. He doesn’t play sports or have a job or even his driver’s license. I’ve given this kid every opportunity, and I’m resentful that he doesn’t appreciate it. I’m sick of nagging and trying to motivate him because clearly, it’s not working. I’m worried he’s going to be one of those “failure to launch” kids who’s thirty years old and just lays on the couch playing video games and smoking pot. This is unacceptable to me. How can I prevent a “failure to launch?” – April

Parent Educator Answer: “Failure to Launch” is a term used to describe a delay into adult independence and responsibility. Mom has a strong idea in her head of where a 16 year old should be (getting a driver’s license and job), but since he isn’t moving in that direction, she starts worrying about what this means for his future.

There are MANY reasons why we are seeing an increase in “failure to launch” scenarios in our culture. 

It’s common in Supermom culture to do too much for our kids. Optimizing children’s opportunities and focusing on kids instead of parental happiness is unnatural, and puts stress on the family. When we use stress and fear to fuel our actions (we’d better sign up for music lessons, private coaching, tutoring or else we’ll be left behind) our kids don’t learn to motivate themselves out of joy, passion, or interest.

With downtime and boredom, kids learn to listen to their inner wisdom and what interests they want to pursue for their adult life. American kids have less down time than ever before. When every spare minute is filled with a text, tweet, or video game, kids aren’t able to hear what their wisdom is telling them.

Our perfectionistic parenting culture puts too much emphasis on ‘doing everything right’ and meeting societal expectations. It’s really hard for a kid to transition into a new version of themselves when they are afraid of making mistakes or failing. Some kids think the safest way to avoid failure is to not try. Avoiding new things is a common way of coping with the anxiety and fear that naturally bubble up as kids grow into the challenges of adulthood.

Our culture creates the perfect recipe for “failure to launch”. While podcasts like this are trying to change the perfectionistic, work hard and blame the mom culture, what can this mom do to help her (possibly) fearful, avoidant son?

Right now, nothing. Because her emotions are rooted in fear, everything she says or does will add to his fear, increasing his tendency toward avoidance.

Life Coach Answer: I know it’s easy to look at your son’s current behavior and “futurize” and “catastrophize” imagining that he will never change. When you do that, you put your brain into the fight or flight response believing there is an emergency to be addressed right NOW. This angry, fearful energy makes you nag, complain, cajole, and TRY to get him to do what YOU want. He picks up on your fear, making him increase his desire to avoid the world.

Before you can take productive action, you need to release the anger and fear. Why? Because emotions are contagious. When you are calm and confident, he will pick up on that. In order to face the many challenges that lie ahead of him, he needs to have confidence in his ability to achieve AND to fail.

First, recognize that in this moment, all is well. There are no immediate threats to your safety or to his. Breathe and notice that all the drama is happening inside your own head. You are using your imagination to create a dreary future scenario. You could just as easily envision ten other futures for him instead of the one you currently are.

Most moms dread this “failure to launch” scenario because of what they would say to themselves and to their sons if this situation came about. “I failed. He’s a failure.” So let’s make a commitment right here and now that, no matter what, you will focus on love. “I loved him with all my heart.” “He is still 100% lovable, no matter what.” “Even if he never lives up to his potential, I will love him.” “My job is just to love, the rest is up to him.”

Now that we’ve got you out of fear, you can actually say and do things that might help.

Encourage small steps, rather than criticize. Find something to focus on that is a sign of growth or forward momentum, no matter how small. “You found the DMV website today, YEAH!” “You were nervous to ask your friend about his job but you did it anyway, that’s great!” Praising or rewarding him every time he faces his fear is how we undo perfectionism. Then, he can learn to associate the negative feeling of fear, with a positive result.

Meanwhile, you can hold a vision of him being brave and bold, until he can hold it for himself. Picture him taking chances, being brave, and feeling scared but doing it anyway.

Moms can help prevent “failure to launch” by remembering that the number one way kids learn, is by imitation.

I was introducing a group of girl scouts to jumping rope and how to run into it while it’s moving and then start jumping. One at a time, each girl positioned themselves to run in; studying the rhythm of the rope, trying to decide the optimal time to go for it. Their facial expressions showed fear, determination, interest, hesitation, and courage. One girl stood at the ready, nervous but determined, waiting for courage to kick in. Her mom felt uncomfortable seeing her daughter so hesitant, so she ran into the moving jump rope and said: “Look, it’s easy, just do it like this.”

Immediately, this girl’s face crumbled. She folded her arms, walked off, sat against the wall, defeated, and would not try again.

This was such a lesson for me. That sometimes, our competence can actually drain the confidence right out of our kids.

If we want our kids to do new and scary things, what helps them isn’t telling them about our successes, but about our failures. Instead of telling them about how you worked two jobs and got your license at 16, tell them about the D you got in Geometry and had to go to summer school for. Share that embarrassing story about asking that guy to prom who never actually answered you. Conjuring up your past mistakes and sharing them, might be just the thing your son needs to challenge himself.

Better yet, let him see you trying something new. Have him teach you how to use SnapChat. Let him laugh at your ineptitude at his favorite video game. Or, use this opportunity to pursue something you have dreamt of doing but haven’t had the chance.

Thinking about starting a side-hustle? Now is a great time. Have you been wanting to cut out sugar, carbs, or meat? Why not try it now? Sign up for that half marathon. Start that club you’ve been wanting to start. Budget. Meditate. Make sure it’s something personally challenging to you so he can watch you struggle and stumble. This is THE best way you can help your son. It takes your attention off of him and gives you compassion, remembering that change isn’t as easy as it seems.

Supermom kryptonite: Futurizing & Catastrophizng

Futurizing doesn’t sound like a bad idea, “Isn’t it good to be thinking about and preparing for the future?”  Yes, we like to know what to expect, but many people only envision the worst case scenario (catastrophizing). Our brains can’t tell the difference between a real life catastrophic situation, and the imaginary one we create in our mind. We react as though the terrible thing we’re imagining is actually going to happen.

Try this, keep the worst case scenario in mind, but, just for fun, imagine the best possible scenario in the same detail as you did for your worst case. The vision in your head will be wrong either way, but it is much more enjoyable to imagine everything going perfectly. Now try imagining the funniest case scenario. Then, the weirdest. Then, the most boring. Choose to imagine the one that feels the best to you.

It’s easier to have a life coach help you separate your current, present reality, from your catastrophic future but this will get you started. Your imagination is something you control, why not put it to good use?

Supermom power boostCompassion.

When we recognize that our frustration is really about us and our fears, we can let it go and make room for compassion. Compassion is a wonderful emotion but we can’t access it when we are trying not to feel embarrassed or think that we have failed as a mom. Accept that your child will NEVER live up to his potential but you get to decide how you want to feel about him while he is struggling, learning, growing, failing and succeeding. Love and compassion are always great options that feel good. Embarrassment and shame will not give you the result you want, which is to feel like a good mom.

Quote of the Day: “We change, we grow up, we fuck up, we love, we hurt, we’re teenagers. We’re still learning.” – By Unknown Author

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog, so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” Nora Ephron

Go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/work-with-me if you want help with your teen.