“It's been a long, cold and lonely winter, little darlin'
It feels like years since you've been here.
Here comes the sun, little darlin'
Here comes the sun, I say
It's all right
It's all right.”
–George Harrison, Here Comes the Sun
I have it in me to look over my daughter’s shoulder and make sure she stays on top of her assignments.
I have it in me to make “helpful” suggestions about her work and her athletic performance.
I have it in me to make a big deal over common kid mishaps and mistakes.
I have it in me to expect my daughter to know things she does not yet know.
I have it in me to push her to unreasonable standards.
I have it in me to accept no excuses and power through pain.
I know I have it in me because I feel it; I feel the pressure to achieve and excel every single day. And although my internal pressure has significantly eased through my soul-shifting practices over the years, it still arises from time to time. That pressure can be devastating to live with, and it can ruin a perfectly good life.
I refuse to pass this pressure on to my daughter. I am fully aware that each day I am blessed to be a part of her life is a day I can build her up. I am fully aware that the words I say and the tone I use is likely to become her internal voice. I want it to be affirming and kind.
As my daughter’s gone through her middle school career, I’ve surrendered control as she makes sound decisions for herself about her academics, extracurricular activities, and social life. They are not always the same decisions my inner over-achiever would make, but they are hers. She owns them. She takes responsibility for them. With each stumble or triumph from her decisions, she becomes wiser, stronger, more confident, and more capable.
I try to be a consistent voice of support in my daughter’s life, assuring her to keep listening to that still, small voice inside that has her best interests in mind.
My daughter’s teachers, friends, coaches, and employers have said (and will say) comments, opinions, and suggestions that may or may not have her best interests in mind. That is why it’s crucial for her to develop a strong internal guidance system and positive self-concept that can overpower damaging voices of judgement, condemnation, pressure, and toxicity. My daughter is coming to know her truth, and who she is at her core.
It is why I listen to her opinion when she decides she needs to stay home from practice to study.
It is why I listen to her opinion when she emails her coach to express a concern.
It is why I listen when she talks through what she needs to say to her teacher about a grade.
It is why I listen when she deems she’s done enough for one day.
It is why I listen when she expresses discomfort with a particular person or social gathering.
It is why I listen when she says she is not hungry and does not feel like eating.
It is why I listen when she says she needs sleep or rest.
I am showing trust for my daughter’s inner voice so she can learn to trust it herself.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
― David W. Augsburger
That quote is an anchor for me as I raise my daughter in a demanding, competitive, and pressure-filled world.
I remembered this quote the other day when she came home from school visibly upset. When my daughter said her day was “terrible,” I actually sat down. I sat down to non-verbally say to her, “I am here. I am listening.”
And this bright young lady, who normally keeps her emotions in check, released her pain, her stress, her disappointment for a solid forty-five minutes. It did not escape my attention that some of the words she used to describe school expectations were similar to the gut-wrenching truths Patrick Turner shared in his letters to school administration, friends, and family before his death by suicide.
Patrick’s letter to administration began with, “the ongoing stress has been inescapable,” and “putting this much pressure on me has caused me to do what I do.” In the letter to family friends and “whoever reads this,” Patrick wrote: “One slip up makes a kid feel like the smallest person in the world … you are looked at as a loser if you do not go to a certain college or if you get a certain GPA or test score.”
I read through the heartfelt notes friends, family, and strangers from all over the world left for Patrick in the online obituary guestbook. I noticed how many teachers and parents indicated that Patrick’s letters inspired them to talk about the increasing pressure children face in school, to let their kids be kids, and to put more emphasis on empathy and community.
As I looked into my distraught daughter’s eyes, I knew this was an opportunity to ease a stressed-out soul through a supportive response, as Patrick urged us to do. Although I have it in me to be overly concerned with grades, honors classes, and college admissions, I am choosing to be more concerned with the emotional wellbeing and mental health of my child.
I looked into Natalie’s eyes and said, “I love you, and I know you are doing the best you can.”
She released a long-held breath and her eyes thanked me.
I repeated my affirmation once more so that it might stick, so she might say it to herself when the pressure is mounting.
And then I said something I never expected to say to my child who possesses so much promise and potential:
“There is a great, big world outside the walls of your school and academic life where skills like relating, managing, critical thinking, leadership, risk-taking, and initiative are needed … where attributes like compassion, integrity, perseverance, honesty, and ambition will be needed to make important changes and breakthroughs happen in our world. And there you will be, using your skills and your attributes to better the world. I will never let grades, scores, or reports ever let us lose sight of your purpose or potential.”
Average grades do not mean you are an average person.
Below-average grades do not mean you will have a below-average life.
You are more than the marks you receive.
You are more than what you achieved today.
There is more than one path to success and prosperity.
And this girl, who is not much of a hugger, embraced me for so long that I felt her breathing return to normal.
Shortly after our discussion, my daughter and I took a walk. She excitedly talked about the application she was completing for a learning trip to East Africa this summer. I couldn’t help but give thanks for the timing of it all. Yes, this trip that has caused me great angst and fear for months was suddenly bringing me great peace and clarity. Because I know she and I will go there and the children living the Togetherness Center will be drawn to Natalie’s infectious laugh and her gentle ways. I know she will listen to the genocide survivors with the maturity of an adult and what she hears will cause her priorities will shift and her purpose to become evident.
As Natalie talked about the learning trip she hopes to take, I thought to myself, Patrick Turner would celebrate such a decision. In fact, the last words to his family were these wise encouragements:
“Make good decisions, do good for yourself & others, and treat others as you would like to be treated. Most of all HAVE FUN … live like there is no tomorrow.” (source)
Before I mailed Natalie’s completed learning trip application yesterday, I sat down and carefully read through her thoughtful responses. I paused on the question: Do you have any skills that could be useful on this trip? She wrote: “I am a teenager, so I can listen and empower other teens with a personal connection.”
Are there any life aspiration more important than building up other human beings so they believe they are worthy … so they know they matter … so they can overcome hopeless situations?
Such a noble aspiration could potentially save a life.
Such a noble aspiration could potentially change the world.
Our children will better the world, but we must give them a fighting chance.
It’s time to stop prioritizing academic success over health, wellbeing, and happiness … it’s time to stop perpetuating damaging messages that indicate mistakes are weaknesses and failure is the end … it’s time to reject the misguided notion that perfect grades are the only path to a good life.
It is time to look into the eyes of a stressed-out young person and say, “Yes, I see that score, and it does not reflect what you know … who you are … and all that you're going to be.”
I see you, less-than-perfect kid, and I see a perfectly beautiful life ahead.
* Crisis Text Line is the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis. Anyone in the United States can text 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor.
The parenting style described in this post requires letting go of control and separating our own worth from our children’s success and life choices. This is not easy, but it is possible; I am living proof. I have addressed this process in great detail in my first two bestselling books, Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. I also recently launched my first online course called SOUL SHIFT which provides a more guided and supported journey toward loving yourself “as is” so you can love others as they are. Registration for the next session begins in April. Click here to be notified when it opens. Truly profound discoveries and transformations are happening with course members currently taking the class. I hope you will join me in April.
Speaking events: I will be keynoting the 7th Annual Mom, Me, & Tea Fundraising Event for the MCR Foundation for the Prevention of Eating Disorders in Chattanooga, TN on Sunday, March 3. The title of my talk is: “Come As You Are: Being real in a culture of distraction, pressure, & perfection.” I will be speaking to the women in attendance while girls, ages 5-12, will have their own activities. Click here for tickets and more information.
In the spirit of spreading love for Valentine's Day this week, please enjoy free domestic shipping on all items in the Hands Free Shop now through Friday, including the beautiful new ONLY LOVE TODAY print and ultra thin ONLY LOVE TODAY metal cuff. Just use the code: LOVESHIP at checkout. Thank you for your loving support and presence, my friends of the Hands Free Revolution.