The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc.
For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.
For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives. Continue reading “(Un)Happy Holidays”
I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.
Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.
When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.
Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.
Parenting is a distance run, after all.
Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.
He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”
The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”
Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”
Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.
Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Continue reading “Raising Resilient Children”
My wife is kind and compassionate, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever known. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she is strong. She will tell you like it is and somehow make you feel like she is on your side. And when it comes to being a mom, nothing will stop her. She is tough for her children.
She is the kind of tough that can handle trials that makes most women wilt. Just ask anyone who knows her. And yet she is kind toward others and displays a genuinely positive attitude most of the time, even though her days are full of service to others and hard work.
My wife’s strength is a large part of her beauty. Mel Gibson once described his leading lady in The Passion, Monica Belluci, as someone who looked absolutely beautiful no matter how much grime that the makeup artists put on her. They kept trying to make her look like a beaten-down beleaguered Mother Mary, and they just couldn’t seem to get her to look bad enough. That’s my wife, metaphorically speaking.
She is an eternal optimist and can be an unstoppable force. You can slow her down. You can make her sick, you can make her cry, but you cannot ultimately stop her. You can put her child in the hospital for major surgery, and she will go toe-to-toe with any nurse, doctor, or therapist. You can take away her sleep and give her a nasty sinus infection, but that won’t stop her. You can give her three days worth of work to do in one day and make her kids sick and whiney all day, but she will not give in. Day after day. You can knock her down, but you can’t knock her out. She is Rocky Balboa tough.
Beyond her ability to persevere, she is a protector of her children. She wants them to grow up strong, so she pushes them and is not afraid to let them struggle. She knows that strength comes from the struggle, so she passes that legacy along daily. Continue reading “Families Should Be Tough”
A friend of mine told me that, while reading my book this week, she had a random idea come to her about how to help her 15 year-old goddaughter who is an orphan. As she told me her idea, I was blown away by her wisdom. It’s the kind of story that I find deeply inspiring.
Her goddaughter — let’s call her Heather — has had an incredibly difficult childhood. Heather’s father abandoned her at a very young age. Nobody knows where he is. Her mother was a drug addict who spent years in prison, then died in her late 30’s of cancer. She probably could have survived the cancer if she had followed her treatments, but her drug addiction disabled her from caring for herself.
Heather, now 15, has been an orphan for a few years. She lives in an apartment with her older sister and her cousins. Due to her circumstances, Heather is very independent. She can take care of herself, to say the least. Because her older sister works long hours, she goes to school and does her homework on her own. She stays out of trouble. She doesn’t mess around with boys or drugs. In fact, she is a cheerleader and has plenty of good friends, the kind who stay out of trouble as well. She’s a really good kid, by all accounts, but her grades are pretty low, and she lacks direction about her future.
Still, my friend is concerned about her goddaughter. Continue reading “Helping an Orphan Grow Up Well”
Everyone has at least one book in them. Critical Connection is mine.
Ever since I was ten, I wanted to grow up and have a happy family. Since I was sixteen, I wanted a career in which I could help teenagers to grow up well. As a teacher, coach, and parent, it has been my privilege to do so – often ineffectively, of course. One of the things I have learned along the way is that there are very few good books out there about parenting early adolescents (10-14 year olds).
In 2009, I started blogging here at Growing Up Well, and over the next few years people would say to me, “You really need to write a book.” Continue reading “The Story of the Book”
First Connect, Then Guide
The best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.
Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”