“Because everyone that I know,
Every place that I go,
Every story that I'm told,
That we're looking for.”
While staying at my in-law’s house over the Thanksgiving holiday, my 16-year-old daughter suggested we look at old photos. My mother-in-law pulled out a big plastic bin of albums and photos, many showcasing my husband and his siblings during their awkward growing up years. Needless to say, this activity provided hours of entertainment for my kids and their cousins.
“Oh, here’s one of you, Mom,” Natalie said unexpectedly, as she flipped through an old photo album.
It was from a beach vacation we’d all taken together when Natalie was a baby. Some beach vacation memories kind-of all run together – but not this one. I remember every shameful moment of that trip. Seeing Scott’s family members standing next to me so lovingly when I was so hard to be around brought a lump to my throat.
While no one ever came right out and mentioned how difficult I was to be around that trip… that season… that period of my life… I knew I was. I was controlling and critical; I overreacted to small things, and nothing was ever good enough.
Hard-To-Be-Around was an understatement.
I remember Scott kindly booking me a facial during that week in an effort to help me relax. About mid-way through the treatment, the esthetician left me alone for quite some time. Instead of viewing her extending absence as a chance to simply rest and breathe, I impatiently got up, got dressed, and left in a huff.
My face burned with embarrassment as I looked back on my behavior—behavior that I now know masked a deep, unspoken pain.
Thankfully, Natalie flipped to the next page of the album. I was relieved to see there were no photos of me in sight.
As shame and regret were about to sabotage the present moment, I gently told myself, “No. You’re not going there. Today matters more than yesterday; who you are becoming matters more than who you once were.”
For added measure, I recited Maya Angelou’s wise saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
I reminded myself THAT is exactly what I’ve done over the past decade of my life. By chronicling my most painful truths and using them as catalysts for healing and growth, I’ve become the person I didn’t think I’d ever become—
Someone who is easy to be around
Not “easy” as in pushover, but “easy” as in accepting… open… optimistic… forgiving… authentic…peaceful. And as a result, my relationships with the people I love have also been healed and strengthened.
Like any positive transformation, this growth didn’t happen overnight—and honestly, I’m not sure I would have connected the shift from a hard-to-be-around person to the connection I now have with my daughter had it not been for a late-night disaster that occurred last month. I was due to deliver a thirty-minute keynote for an important fundraising event for an organization that empowers young people. I’d worked non-stop on the presentation for two weeks, making sure to save it repeatedly throughout the writing process. But when I went to print out the script the night before the event, it was nowhere to be found.
After a two-hour search through my Word document files, including the “Cloud” where I’d been assured that everything was magically saved, I resorted to taking my pajamas-clad self to the end of my driveway where I rummaged through the trash.
Buried under a pile of coffee grinds was a barely legible rough draft of my presentation from about a week prior.
Realizing I would be up all night retyping and revising, I walked upstairs and knocked softly on Natalie’s bedroom door.
“Is everything ok?” she said, sitting up quickly in her bed.
“I lost my speech that I am giving in the morning. I just know I saved it, but I can’t find it,” I said trying to hold back tears. “Can you help me?”
Natalie promptly took my computer into her hands and started clicking buttons, opening folders, and checking recent documents. For over ten minutes, she searched by title and various key words.
While she searched, Natalie said not a word, which gave me time to think. I remember my thoughts in that moment quite vividly:
She is not shaming me.
She is not blaming me.
She is not doubting or dismissing me.
She is seeing me.
She is standing with me.
My problem is her problem.
I am not alone.
I can breathe.
Unable to find the document after trying everything she knew how to do, Natalie reluctantly handed the computer back to me, saying how sorry she was.
“Thank you so much for trying,” I said, feeling unexpectedly hopeful.
As I walked downstairs, I realized that watching Natalie open files triggered a memory from a few days prior. I’d been working away from home and when I tried to save my presentation, I got a message saying it could not be saved unless I was connected to the internet.
I sat down at the kitchen table feeling confident that my presentation was saved in a remote location. As I searched, a text from Natalie popped up.
I couldn’t explain why, but her compassionate response to my plight gave me added hope and determination; I felt like no matter what resulted, I could deliver that speech in a few hours. Had I not had Natalie to turn to and had she not received me so kindly in my moment of crisis, I’m certain I would not have felt that way.
Reflecting back on that moment now, there is also this:
Had I stayed the person who was hard to be around—
A person who couldn’t be pleased,
A person who held tightly to her plan,
A person who met mistakes with exasperated sighs,
I’m not sure my daughter would have welcomed me into her room late that night… and I’m quite certain she wouldn’t be welcoming me into her own catastrophes, heartaches, and challenges as she grows.
Interestingly, this experience relates to one of the most unforgettable conversations I heard when I spoke to a group of middle schoolers last winter. It was the kind of insight that fueled me to keep writing my book, even though it was the hardest endeavor I’ve ever done.
A few kids had gathered around a desk after my presentation. In reference to something I’d said, a student mentioned that certain adults are “hard to be around.” The other kids nodded in agreement and began to talk. Although I did not get any definitive examples, I was able to come to some helpful conclusions based on their commentary.
As kids navigate their path to adulthood, they begin to exert their independence by deciding who they will and won’t let into the sacred spaces of their lives and hearts. This is a short list of adult behaviors that increase the chance of being invited into these sacred spaces.
- Don’t always expect conversation. They accept that quiet is needed – and even welcome or create periods of connective silence with the young people they love.
- Don’t take bad attitudes and grumpy dispositions personally. They realize young people are coping with a lot, both internally and externally, and the poor attitude being displayed is most likely not about them.
- Don’t interrogate. Instead of peppering young people with questions. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults make themselves available and approachable. When the young people DO talk, the adult pushes aside what they are doing to listen fully and express genuine interest in what is being said.
- Don’t judge decisions. Maybe it’s not the choice the adult would have made, but that does not mean it’s wrong or won’t result in a vital learning experience. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults express curiosity instead of judgment by saying something like: “I’d like to hear more about why you took that route.”
- Don’t have all the answers. It’s hard to be around someone who knows it all, especially when it comes to one’s own personal life. Throughout a teen’s path to independence, they need more of a sounding board than a know-it-all.
- Don’t comment on appearance. Easy-To-Be-Around Adults trust that their kids are showing up in whatever way they feel most comfortable. They accept young people “as is,” knowing that even the most well-intentioned “suggestions” regarding appearance feel like rejections of who they are.
For those who want to know how the whole lost presentation debacle turned out, I was able to find it very early that morning in a remote location called OneDrive. Who knew that even existed? Although it was around one o’clock in the morning, I suddenly felt awake and excited. For the first time ever, I would have the opportunity to share pieces of my new book with an audience that would eagerly embrace and apply my insights.
I expected the audience to be receptive to my honest sharing, but nothing could have prepared me for the response of one particular teen.
I was talking to a group of people after the event when she came up and put her hand on my arm.
“Can I just hug you?” the young woman said.
When we embraced, I noticed she let out an audible sigh of relief, whispering, “Thank you.”
As she held on and I held on, several thoughts of gratitude came to mind –
Thank goodness for second chances… third chances… forty-second chances… and unlimited tries.
Thank goodness, the truth is not the end; it is the beginning.
Thank goodness, we can change… grow… learn… and love better when we know better.
Thank goodness, struggles shared are struggles halved.
I could not find what this young person had lost any more than Natalie could find my misplaced presentation—but simply SEEING this young woman and her pain provided the fuel she needed to move forward with hope.
“Feeling seen and heard enables human beings to reach their highest potential.”
I’d said those words in my talk.
But this young person knew by the cracks in my voice that it wasn’t just talk.
I live it… I practice it.
And now, the people around me can breathe easier and so can I.
Thank goodness, it’s not too late to become who you never thought you’d be.
My friends, thank you for your INCREDIBLE enthusiasm & support for my forthcoming book, LIVE LOVE NOW—a book that early readers are saying: “shows that adults and children can learn and grow together, and that perfection is not required to raise healthy and capable young adults” (Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell) and “This is a parenting book like no other you’ve read. It’s a must-read for parents of kids of all ages” (Dr. Shefali Tsabary).
A few days ago, a production team came to my home to help me put the final touches on something very special I’ve created as part of the pre-order gift package. Be sure and keep your receipt so you can claim your gifts when I share them in a few weeks. I have to tell you, I’m sad that Amazon accidentally listed a paperback version of LIVE LOVE NOW that many loving souls have purchased. Unfortunately, the paperback version not available in the US, so those orders have all been cancelled. If that applies to you, I would be so grateful if you would consider ordering the hardcover of LIVE LOVE NOW – you can do that through Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, or Amazon.
And finally, if you missed the tribute to Soul Builders on Instagram or Facebook and would like to gift a gorgeous cuff to a special encourager in your life or your child’s life, you can do by clicking here. Do it soon & get it in time for the holidays!
Thank you for walking beside me. I cherish you.
Michelle Nettles says
THANK YOU THANK YOU!! Everything about this speaks volumes to me. I have had that exact same “beach trip situation” in my life multiple times. I have learned a few things from that and this just upped that to a new level! I am so thankful for you sharing with us.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, dear Michelle!!!