“Ask Jesus what he wants from you and be brave!” Pope Francis
My friend Brooke thought she was taking her child to a routine 2-year-old checkup.
But when the bloodwork looked abnormal, the doctor ordered follow-up tests. From there a nightmare unfolded as Brooke and her husband learned that their vivacious little girl had been diagnosed with childhood cancer.
They were devastated, and while their daughter now thrives as a teenager and has been in remission for years, it was a frightening time of uncertainty. Nobody knew what the future held.
Brooke, a self-proclaimed introvert, shies away from attention. She enjoys her comfort zone of nesting at home. But as thousands of people followed her on CaringBridge.org, Brooke received invitations to share her story in person. She always said yes even though she hates public speaking and would get so nervous beforehand that she wouldn’t eat for days.
“I’m so grateful for what God has done for us,” she told me, “that I want to do something in return for Him.”
Her courage intrigued me, and when I told my dad about it, he said, “An introvert can become an extrovert when they do something for God.”
Wow. What truth. Little did I know, I’d need this truth myself years later when my book released, and I got invited to speak. As I questioned these opportunities since public speaking made me nervous, my dad told me, “When you’re nervous, you’re thinking too much about yourself. Focus instead on your audience. Think about the people you’re trying to help and the message you came to share.”
My friend’s teenage daughter and her friends have a weekend routine.
While Saturday night is friend night, Friday night is self-care night. When possible, they stay home to rest and decompress after a stressful week.
These girls are high school juniors, and given the demands of junior year, I like this habit they’ve adopted. I think it’s a good example of how the next generation values self-care.
The mothers raising them, on the other hand, are still playing catch-up. Unlike our children, we didn’t grow up hearing buzzwords like self-care, self-love, and self-compassion. To no surprise, it’s left us a little confused. While some moms eagerly embrace self-care, others roll their eyes and see it as vanity or self-indulgence.
Maybe it’s because we associate self-care with two opposing extremes. We feel like we must choose one:
- The spa day mentality (a constant mindset of “I’ll treat myself because I deserve it”), or
- The mommy martyrdom mentality (a mindset of “my kids are my world, and I can’t do anything for myself”)
Neither extreme is healthy because real health means moderation. Overdoing it in either direction can lead to self-worship or self-neglect, both of which hurt a mother and her family.
Am I saying it is wrong to visit a spa, and that motherhood does not require a lot of sacrifice? Absolutely not. Most of us enjoy a good massage and would sacrifice anything for the good of our family.
But after parenting for two decades, I’ve learned there must be a middle ground. There must be self-care that strengthens us – and expands our bandwidth – so we can thrive and handle life trials.
I felt like a good mom as I drove my daughter’s car to get blessed before her 16th birthday.
Having a new driver gave me anxiety, and this extra protection gave me a little peace.
The priest sprinkled her car with holy water and recited a Greek Orthodox prayer for vehicles. Afterward, we conversed a few minutes, and then we parted ways.
It was a tight squeeze inside the church parking lot, but I didn’t think much of it until I was backed up and heard a Bam! and felt a jolt that threw me forward.
Somehow, I’d missed the concrete column behind me – and just rammed my daughter’s car directly into it.
I called my husband in tears, so mad at myself and the damage I caused to her bumper. With her birthday a week away, the timing was terrible.
My best lessons in friendship came during my loneliest season of friendship.
I’d just gotten married and moved to a place where I only had a handful of connections. As a newlywed in a new city, I started at square one. I got invited to parties, yet I didn’t have deep connections. Every girl I knew already had a best friend, and since many of them grew up together, I felt like an outsider as they shared childhood stories.
After one girl’s night out, I came home and cried to my husband. I told him how I just couldn’t compete with friends who had known each other since birth and taken baths together at two years old. Everyone was kind, but nobody needed me like I needed them.
It took me six months of effort – and accepting every invitation that came my way – to finally get my bearings.
My turning point came when I met Mary Alice, who had just moved back in town. We immediately clicked and became close friends. From that friendship we grew other friendships and expanded our circle. When my husband and I moved away four years later, we were genuinely sad to leave these friends who had become our second family.
Looking back, I realize how my problem was insecurity. I had a void in my heart that longed to be filled with the gift of female connection. Rather than letting it happen naturally, I tried to force it. I was so eager to find my place that I was petrified of making mistakes.
“Girls, more than ever, are in need of emotional support from their parents because they are not getting it where they are spending most of their time: online.” Lisbeth Splawn
One challenge of raising teenagers is teaching emotional regulation.
As Dr. Lisa Damour says, teenagers often have the right feeling on the wrong scale. They need help bringing their feelings down to size. As parents, we do this by naming their feelings, talking about them, and using a tone that conveys warmth and confidence in them.
It sounds easy, but in the moment, it can hard, uncomfortable, or irritating to witness a teen’s unpleasant emotions. Personally, I want to rush my daughters through them. I want to give pep talks or life lessons. I’ve told them how they should feel before listening to how they do feel. I’ve expected them to master emotions that still elude me.
I didn’t realize my tendency until my daughter told me one day, “You and Dad are always like, perspective, but I’m allowed to be upset over dumb things for five minutes.” And you know what? She was right. While my instinct is to “fix” emotions that make me uncomfortable (or make me want to cry) my girls benefit more when I let them feel what they feel and give them room to vent. After all, emotions buried alive always resurface.
“Other than showing your child love and affection, managing your own stress
is the best thing you can do to be an effective parent.” Sissy Goff
My friend’s 16-year-old daughter called her from school, panicked and stressed.
“Mom, you’ve got to check me out! Everybody is saying how hard this history test is. I know I’ll fail it. Please come get me so I don’t have to take it today!”
Immediately my friend knew that her daughter had spent time in the Mall. The Mall is our high school’s common area where the students congregate. Often, they make each other panic as they discuss the difficulty of their classes.
My friend often warned her daughter to beware of the “Mall Mentality,” and this was exactly why.
“I’m not going to check you out,” her mom calmly replied, “because you’re ready for this test. Get out of the Mall and go to the library to clear your head. You have studied, and you know the material. I promise you’ll do fine.”
Her daughter wasn’t convinced, but she listened to her mom. She made an A on that history test, and 2 years later, this straight-A student was named a National Merit Finalist. She won a full scholarship to the college of her choice. She graduated with top honors.
Clearly, she is an intelligent student who prepared for this test, so why did she suddenly doubt herself? And what does it say for the rest of us when even the brightest people lose sight of their ability to handle challenges?
In some way, we all relate. We all have “Malls” in our life that trigger self-doubt or panic. Even when we’ve done the work, even when we leave home feeling confident, it only takes a voice or two to stir up worry, stress, or anxiety.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver
When I was younger, I didn’t believe in rest.
Especially as a new mom, my reserve didn’t feel empty because my heart felt so full. When I was tired, a nap made everything better. I was good to go again.
But with age I have changed my tune. I have seen firsthand how not making time for rest leads to burnout, exhaustion, loneliness, emptiness, and lost joy.
Some exhaustion can’t be cured with a nap, a vacation, or traditional ideas of self-care. Some exhaustion seeps deeply into our bones, and only time with God and healthy lifestyle rhythms can truly restore us.
Sadly, we often feel like we can’t rest as moms. We worry that if we stop moving, we may crash or lose momentum.
And what then? Who will hold the family together? What if it all comes unglued? What if our rest leads to chaos – and we end up more stressed than before? Nobody knows the family juggling act quite like mom, so we stay in motion and resign ourselves to living with overwhelm.
I thought my friend was the luckiest girl in the world.
I didn’t say it, but I was jealous that her boyfriend of 3 weeks did more for her birthday than my boyfriend of 2 years.
We were sorority sisters, and our shared birthday fell during Rush. This year, her new boyfriend went big, sending dozens of roses and a huge birthday banner to our sorority house that covered the staircase.
It was a grand and splashy gesture that made hundreds of girls simultaneously swoon. As a naïve 20-something, I thought he was madly in love. What I realize now (especially given the fact that they broke up soon after) was that he did it for attention – and was probably a narcissist.
Nobody warns girls about narcissists, yet they should. Why? Because narcissists are rampant in today’s world. They look like Prince Charming at first, making it easy to fool a girl with little life experience. And in the worst divorces I see, the husband shows signs of narcissism and mental abuse. I wouldn’t wish it on any girl, and that’s why our daughters need education on how to notice the signs.
When I asked my Instagram friends for help with this article, the responses floored me. Women eagerly shared their experiences to help today’s girls. In every email, one theme emerged: The red flags were there – yet I ignored them. Many women said, “I could have saved myself years of heartache if I’d just trusted my instincts and that first red flag.”
When my daughter became a teenager, she did something that baffled me.
It happened when she was tired or had just woken up. She’d stand in front of me, drop her head, and not say a word. When I asked a question, she’d mumble or shrug. I could tell she wanted something, but I didn’t know what.
Then one day it hit me. I noticed her body leaning toward me, ever so slightly, and waiting for me to respond. I realized then what she wanted was something I hadn’t given her in a while.
A big maternal hug.
After this epiphany, I formed a plan game. I knew what to do when she planted her body in front of me. You want a hug, kid? Well, I’ll show you one! I’d wrap my arms around my daughter and hold her as tightly as I could. I’d embrace her as long as she let me.
I knew my instincts were right when my daughter relaxed in my arms. In these moments, I was her safe place, a source of comfort when she was tired.
Sometimes she didn’t hug me back. I didn’t take this personally because I knew the hidden truth. She still craved my love and affection, but she didn’t want to ask for them.
What if taking care of yourself was the first step to helping your family thrive?
If you’ve parented long enough, then you’ve learned firsthand why your personal wellness matters.
You’ve felt the pain (or consequences) of devaluing yourself. Whether your wake-up call came from a diagnosis, a breakdown, an issue with your child or spouse, heightened anxiety, or simply feeling depleted, joyless, or numb, it most likely unveiled this truth:
Mothers are humans too. We require love, compassion, rest, and renewal.
Taking care of our needs strengthens us and equips us for the road ahead.
In my rookie days as a mom, I ignored the advice on self-care. Honestly, I thought it sounded self-indulgent, like an excuse to take bubble baths and visit the spa, and I didn’t feel like I needed it. I assumed my early exuberance and adrenaline would always exist, and I started my journey as a Giver ready to crush my parenting goals. Little did I know, there would be days that crushed me.
Fast forward 20 years, and I know better. I am older and wiser, and I feel the wear-and-tear of engaging in a lifelong marathon. My body suddenly dicates what I can and can’t do. Only now do I get the analogy about mothers putting on their oxygen mask first to take care of their family. How can we help anyone if we get knocked out? What good are we to those we love if we end up on the stretcher?
“You can get all As and still flunk at life.”
From Walker Percy’s Second Coming
I heard it yet again, another mom who is frustrated because her hardworking teen is struggling in a class.
“I’m tired of my kid coming home and telling me she’s stupid,” she says. “She makes great grades, but she’s failing science because it’s really hard for her.”
As moms, we see unvarnished truths. We watch a child’s confidence plummet as they face a major challenge that isn’t in their natural skill set. We know our child’s strengths and weaknesses, and we witness their hard work. While hard work often pays off, there are also times when even the best effort leaves a child hoping to pull off a C.
I believe in education and challenging students. I was once a classroom nerd who got excited about certain courses. Although I had to work hard, my efforts were reflected in my grades. This led me to believe that discipline + effort = desired results.
What I know now, being older and wiser, is that:
- Some personalities are better suited for a classroom than others.
- Some talents can’t be measured or seen in a classroom.
- You can’t predict a student’s potential based on current performance.
- The world is full of successful adults who struggled in some realm of school.
In the real world, people specialize. In any job or career, you don’t have to excel at 8 different subjects because you discover what you’re good at – finance, people, sales, design, food, organization, sports, etc. – and concentrate your efforts there. While students who thrive in a classroom are typically good at staying on a track, entrepreneurs get off traditional tracks. They think outside the box and create new tracks of their own.
As adults, we largely get to choose our environments.
We can spend our time with people we like, people who help us thrive.
Our children, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Instead, they’re thrown into a pressure cooker, locked into closeness with a wide range of personalities that can bring out the best or worst of humanity. It’s a rite of passage, and very few of us finish our school years without some painful experiences and scars.
It’s impossible to create a perfect environment – not when we live in a broken world – but we can make school a better environment, especially after a stressful and lonely COVID year. Here are 5 things to tell your child to foster more warmth and connection.
1. Many of your classmates are hurting. Many face problems that you’d never guess based on their appearance. Today’s students face adult-sized heartaches. What amplifies their heartaches (and stress) is not having strong support systems in place, or being in environments where people act self-absorbed, dismissive, or rude.
Chances are, over the summer, someone in your class lost a parent, a sibling, or a grandparent. Someone learned that their parents are getting divorced. Someone got betrayed by a best friend or kicked out of a friend group. Someone had an injury or a surgery that puts them out of their favorite sport. Someone is depressed and wrestling with dark thoughts or anxiety. Someone got a scary diagnosis, and they’re not sure what it means.
You never know what your classmates are facing, and it shouldn’t take knowing their problems to be an uplifting influence in their life. Assume upfront that everyone has struggles, and if you knew their full story, you’d have a heart for those struggles. You’d never want to make their bad situation feel worse.
She called my house in the middle of the night – and kept calling until someone listened.
She knew I’d want to know, and she was spot-on about that.
I was in 10th grade, and earlier that night, I’d gone out with friends. After they dropped me off, there was tragic car accident. One of my best friends, Rod, did not survive, yet I had no idea.
The girl calling was once my best friend. In 8th grade, when I started a new school, she was the first friend I made. For months we spent every weekend together, but things changed that spring when she dated a guy in a different group. We slowly parted ways.
There were no hard feelings, just an unspoken agreement to do our own thing.
We never spoke after that, and that’s why her call surprised me. She tried several times because a relative staying with us kept hanging up, and she persisted until my sister answered. My sister took the message, then woke me up with the devastating news.
I was shocked and confused, and when I learned that the accident happened hours earlier, I felt hurt that my closest friends hadn’t told me.
To this day, that phone call is my #1 memory of my 8th grade best friend. I don’t dwell on how we drifted or barely spoke in high school, because that call trumped everything.
A sorority sister of mine came in town for a funeral.
A high school friend had lost her dad, and she told me this was her 9th funeral to attend in 6 months. All her friends were losing parents, and we talked about how this is, sadly, our current stage in life.
I have another friend whose mom has dementia. While she is thankful her mom is alive, she misses the strong Southern woman who raised her.
“I just wish she’d call me,” my friend says, “and tell me to get off the couch and quit being lazy. She was funny like that, and I miss it.”
When my husband and I got married in our 20s, we entered the wedding season of life. We had a party every weekend as our friends tied the knot.
In our 30s, those same friends got pregnant, and the celebrations continued as we entered the baby season of life.
Now, in our 40s, the overarching theme is funerals. Everyone our age is either losing parents or taking care of ailing parents. This isn’t a joyful, party-filled season. There is no playbook to go by as the roles reverse and the generation ahead of us starts to depend on us – and slowly slip away.
What nobody tells us when our kids are young is how there comes a day when we realize WE are the adults.
Great attention is paid these days to the subject of “mean girls”. For moms raising daughters, it’s a hot topic, something that adults can, understandably, get fired up about.
People talk as if girls have the monopoly on being mean, but I hear stories about boys that are worse than mean girl saga. What we have is not a gender issue, but a societal issue. In short, we live in a mean age. We have a culture shaping our children that is darker, more narcissistic, and less empathetic than the culture that shaped us.
One thing I have learned about parenting is that kids grow up in stages.
Just when you think you have one stage figured out, circumstances change, and suddenly your child is thrown into a NEW stage that puts you back at square one.
In preschool and kindergarten, boys and girls become friends. They invite each other over to play and don’t really see their differences. But around first grade, the two genders part ways. Invisible lines get drawn, and the boys hang out with boys, and the girls hang out with girls. They fall off each other’s radar until typically the spring of fifth grade, when they notice each other again.
In middle school, the boy-girl interactions amp up. They get crushes and have awkward conversations. Since their relationships are short-lived, a parent’s concerns are short-lived too. Give it a week, and a break-up is forgotten.
I have a friend who has a hard time trusting women due to a mindset her mom instilled in her.
As a child, whenever a girl hurt her feelings, her mom would say, “She’s just jealous of you.” It was an easy answer, yet over time it made her skeptical of her own gender.
Today, she struggles to unwire herself of this mindset and let down her guard. While it may have been true that some girls were jealous, hearing this repeatedly has kept her from forming deep relationships.
I thought of this after receiving an email from a mom whose 3rd-grade daughter was hurt by friends. What stood out about this mom was a realization she had after telling her daughter “girls are mean” in a desperate effort to soothe her.
“I didn’t like hearing those words come out of my mouth,” this mom said. “Afterward I thought, ‘That can’t happen again.’ It didn’t make me feel better, and I don’t think that is the way to go through life. How will girls ever see themselves if everyone seems to agree that girls are mean? I don’t accept any other blanket statements, so why should we accept this one which has such long, destructive tentacles?”
For the record, her daughter had every reason to feel hurt. A game called “5 Things I Hate about You” had gone around their class, and a close friend turned it on her. Yet even in the aftermath, this mom searched for a better response, something to help her daughter stay confident and find a position of strength.
It is heart-wrenching to see your child upset.
Typically, it is conflict with a peer that gets them down.
Kids can put on a tough act at school and in their extra-curricular activities, but when they get home (or in your car for pick-up) the walls come tumbling down. They save their heartache and hurt for you, sometimes in the form of a meltdown.
As a parent, it’s hard to choose a response. Do you get involved or not? Is it enough to comfort your child and guide them – or should you take it a step further?
While some events are clear bullying and warrant parental involvement, most incidents fall in a gray area. Many incidents today get called “bullying” but are really kids being mean, rude, or insensitive.
There are no tidy answers, but I do know this: Not every problem your child faces will have immediate closure. Not every offense deserves a call to another parent, a school, or a coach. Your first instinct is not always your best instinct – especially if you want to go nuclear.
Sadly, we live in an age of nuclear reactions. We live in a time where even adults lack boundaries and act on rash emotions that make them lose credibility. Remember how it used to be rude to call someone after 9 p.m.? Well, now there is text and email. At any hour, we can give someone a piece of our mind, shooting off anger, frustration, and outrage. We can write things that we’d never say out loud if we took a minute to breathe, calm down, and think.
Imagine walking into your teenager’s bedroom, stepping over their clothes and looking for clues of who they are and what interests them right now.
On their nightstand you see books. Two books you recognize because you bought them for their English class. The third book is new, one chosen by your child, and with growing curiosity you pick it up. Your heart stops and you feel a sudden pang as the title jumps out at you.
Dealing with a Difficult Mom.
Wow. That hurts. You know you’re not a perfect mom and that your relationship with your teen has room to grow (like any relationship), but seeing this book – and all the highlighted passages – triggers a new voice of self-doubt. In a blink, you question everything you once believed to be true. You ask yourself:
Is this really what my child thinks of me?
Is this a phase – or am I that terrible?
If I am terrible, who else thinks this about me?
Are we this far gone? I thought we were doing okay.
What now? How do I act normal after this painful revelation?
You still love your teenager, of course, but this moment cuts deep. You won’t forget it, and your instinct is to protect your heart, put up a guard, and keep the conversations topical to avoid more rejection.
The people we’re closest to have the most power to hurt us because we deeply care about what they think. As a result, the wounds can run deep, especially among family. Whether we act like it or not, we care what our children, parents, and siblings think of us.
Let me begin by saying, I’m sorry you are hurting. I wish there was a shortcut to the pain you feel right now that makes it hard to concentrate or think about anything but your ex.
There are many causes of a broken heart, but the focus of this message is the heartache after a breakup. Why? Because moms often tell me how unexpectedly hard a breakup was for their daughter (and oftentimes, their son). And, I know very few people who make it through the dating years without a heartache along the way.
I don’t know your story – whether he broke up with you or you broke up with him because you felt like you had to – but I can guess this: You really liked that boy. When things were good, when your relationship hit that magical peak, you felt happier than ever before.
Now, looking back, those good memories may flood your mind. They may play in your head like a movie trailer, one cinematic highlight after another that makes you ache for what you once had and fear that you’ll never experience that level of joy again.
But you will, my friend. You will experience great joy again because you now know what to look for. Your eyes have been opened, and your heart has expanded to a new depth of feelings toward another human being. This can keep you from settling in the future. This makes lukewarm relationships look far less attractive because you know that mountaintop moments are in reach.
I know this relationship hurt you, but it also taught you important life lessons. And if you reflect on these lessons – talking them out with people you trust or journaling about them – you’ll gain self-awareness and wisdom that can help you significantly down the road.
It’s difficult to think straight when your mind is foggy and your emotions are tangled, so here are a few truths to help you navigate this breakup.
Trust me, I get it.
I get what it’s like to have a bad day as a mother – to be frustrated with my child, someone else’s child, someone impacting my child, or an issue affecting our family.
I’ve felt annoyance that needs a way out. I understand the urge to vent, scream, complain, blurt out the first thoughts that come to mind or give someone a piece of my mind. I know the relief of getting a burden off my chest, and how cathartic is can be to talk uncensored, to be raw and real as I work through emotions, especially tricky ones like anger.
Yet here’s what else I know: regret. Regret for speaking too soon. Regret for not calming down first. Regret for acting on a knee-jerk reaction or not waiting to get the full story. Regret for the hurt I caused, the maturity I failed to show, or the conversation I wish I’d never started.
My daughter, at the ripe old age of 11, stared at her reflection in the mirror as I helped her prepare for an event.
But what she saw in the mirror isn’t what I saw in the mirror, much to my dismay.
Out of the blue, she started critiquing herself. Naming and nitpicking every flaw she didn’t like. It broke my heart to hear this, but when I interrupted, telling her how beautiful she is, she got defensive and annoyed. No compliment could change her mind, and the more I talked the more irritated she became.
That’s when I realized my daughter has an internal battle she’ll wrestle with like almost every female I know. She has a critic in her head that will sometimes cloud her thinking and distort her self-image. My instinct was to save her, to keep spurting affirmations and prove her analysis wrong, but since my talking made matters worse, I left it at this:
“You are beautiful, and I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. I wish you could see the truth. My prayer for you is that you’ll learn to see yourself through God’s eyes, because He loves you so much.”
Like most parents, I have wisdom to share with my kids.
Wisdom that can really help them, based on my experiences and mistakes.
With my teenagers, however, I have realized that attention spans are limited. Particularly with “life lessons,” too much at once makes them tune out. Gone are the days where they will listen at length. At this stage I’m lucky to get 30 seconds of a life lesson in.
Apparently this is common. While talking with another mom about the need to abbreviate our speech, she admitted how her oldest daughter told her, “When I need advice, I like going to dad because he’s more concise.”
Ouch. (Did I mention how a sense of humor is a must while raising teens?) Reflecting on her daughter’s words, I realized how I do the same. Many of my friends do, too. We call our dads for counsel because they cut to the chase. They deliver 1 quotable remark – 1 statement to hang our hat on – and then move on in the conversation.
Consequently, I know grown women and men who can quote their fathers’ zingers from 20 or 30 years ago. A wise nugget with perfect timing stays forever etched in the brain.
Years ago, as my firstborn turned 16, I had some breakdowns over the changes that life can bring.
It started on a summer trip to Asheville right before her birthday. I was taking her to Camp Hollymont, so we went early to enjoy the area and get one-on-one time.
We had the best weekend, complete with horseback riding, long walks, exploring The Biltmore, and seeing the Chihuly exhibit. On Saturday night, at a Spanish tapas restaurant downtown, I asked Ella how she felt about turning 16. Immediately her face lit up, and from the across the table she beamed at me, grinning from ear to ear.
“I’m so excited!” she said. “I’m ready!”
Ella had said this before – I’m ready – and logistically it was true. She was driving well and had driven to Asheville. But in that moment, something inside me broke. All the worries, fears, and sadness I’ve been harboring about my daughters growing up suddenly came to surface, and all I could think about was what older moms told me when their kids left for college.
They’re so ready.
When it’s time for them to move out, they’re ready and so are you.
When I was in middle school, my boyfriend broke up with me.
I handled it maturely – by hanging up on him and calling my friend in a rage. You see, I’d wanted to break up with him, but with our school dance a week away, I was waiting so I’d have a date.
My only defense was stupidity. I had no clue how to relate to the opposite sex. Over the next 10 years, I learned by trial and error, and though it all worked out because I married a great guy, I look back and realize how I could have saved myself some grief and embarrassment had I been a little smarter upfront.
Here are 10 dating truths for girls to know in a culture that presents a very distorted view of how romance should be.