An open letter…

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While I would never presume to think that I could speak for every adult in your life, I think what I’m going to say, a good number would agree with. Please know that while we are the “grownups” in the room, we don’t have all the answers and we don’t always get it right but 95% of our decisions are made with the best of intentions. The other 5% are made because we’re human and we screw up every day.

Many of us grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Our phones were attached to the wall, didn’t get answered during meals and never rang after 8 pm unless there was an emergency. PAC-Man and Pong made for cutting edge, first generation video games. We had 1, maybe 2 TVs in the whole house and the big “right of passage” was getting your own phone line in your bedroom. Our music was on 8-track or cassette tapes and vinyl records and our status symbol was a Walkman that played CDs. No GPS or Find My Friends. Our summer breaks consisted of a bowl of cereal, leaving our house no later than 9 a.m.; curfew was whenever the street lights came on. Our parents had no firm idea of where we were; they knew our friends and the parents of our friends and that when we got hungry, we’d come home (we didn’t worry about dehydration – a yard with a garden hose was always close at hand).

Many of our parents were among the first in their families to go to college. Our dads were required to enter the draft and got called up; mine got a deferment because he was studying engineering in college. Our moms were a mix of “stay-at-home” and “working mom” moms that came from a largely “stay-at-home” mom generation. A 4-year degree became the symbol of success but girls were still feeling caught between being secretaries, teachers, stay-at-home moms and wanting to be more.

And because our parents had seen their parents work hard, hard work was expected. Our parents pushed us; totally with good intent, but there were expectations from them. Teachers were allowed to be the bosses of their classrooms. There was a paper report card at the end of the quarter – no Progress Book for our parents to hawk over daily. Homework happened at the kitchen table most of the time. We didn’t stay home for a headache and got caught heating the glass thermometer on the lightbulb when we tried to fake being sick. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “Rub some dirt on it and get back out there” was speak for “It’s not that bad – don’t be a wimp.” Bullying was a term reserved for kids getting thrown around on the playground or in a locker room – it wasn’t being made fun of over the color of your socks or the sport you played.

We played sports for fun (well, most of us). If there were National Signing Days, I don’t recall ever hearing of one. And getting scholarship offers in grade school didn’t happen. Oh that’s right, we didn’t have palm size devices to record and share with the world every second of our lives. We took photos, had them printed and put them in scrapbooks or made into slides. We recorded videos on tape and watched them as a family.

Entertainment was Blockbuster Video and 45+ minutes searching for a movie. Grocery shopping was a Saturday thing and the kid that bagged your groceries took them to your car, loaded them in and got a “tip” for it. Gas station attendants filled your car’s tank, checked your oil, washed your windshield; you paid in cash and if they did a good job, you threw in a little something extra for them. When you turned 16, you got a job and kept up your grades while also having a social life and doing extracurriculars like sports or theatre (and don’t get me started on how many “jocks and drama geeks” were often the same people). And nothing was open on Sunday.

For reference, I grew up in a suburb on the west side of Cincinnati. Catholic school grades 1-12; grades 9-12 was an all girls school. Wore a uniform (hard to make fun of kids when you are all wearing the same thing – just saying). Everybody knew everybody. Quite a lot of them never left. My Fave transported me to the other side of Cincinnati and other than it being “public education” heavy vs. “Catholic education” heavy, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in how we grew up.

img_4676But when we started having you precious kiddos, we over corrected. We wanted you to have everything in life so we worked like crazy, often at jobs we hated. With the internet came news of all that was happening across the world in a moment’s notice. We knew bad stuff happened but not the moment it happened so we began fearing letting you out of our sight. We gave you phones at 8 or 9 so you’d never be out of reach. We needed to know where you were every second of the day.

We’d been hurt by mean kids and remembered how hard it was so we threw the word bully around and demanded that the kid who made fun of you be reprimanded. We demanded the kid who simply mispronounced your name be reprimanded.

We never wanted you to know disappointment so when your soccer team ended the season with zero wins, we gave you medals and trophies. We told you that the world should be fair and equal (it’s not and can’t be) and that you can do anything at all you want in life (while you are capable of great things, we can’t all be good at everything or the world would be super boring).

We thrust you into a digital world before we ourselves ever even really knew how to use it. We basically handed you the keys to the car and never bothered to teach you how to drive it. We wanted you to achieve success (sometimes because we didn’t and sometimes because we needed good content for our Facebook pages) so Kumon at age 3 to make sure you were ready for kindergarten and select sports at 8 and impact training at 12 so you could get a scholarship sounded like good ideas. We compared ourselves to all the other mamas and all their kids were doing and the age of over-scheduling, for fear of being left out, was born. We didn’t want you to be bored so we gave you zero free time and when you did have free time, but we didn’t, we handed you a portable computer to “entertain you”.

We became certain that you were unable to manage yourself and that any level of “failure” was catastrophic and couldn’t be recovered from, so we checked your grades daily, wrote notes to teachers about missing assignments, brought your lunch or homework to school each and every time you forgot it. If you wanted a job, we asked friends for a favor or got the application for you. On the other hand, we were also certain that you couldn’t possibly juggle work, school and a sport/theatre/band/etc so we didn’t make you work. After all, it’s hard to carry a load of 5 AP classes, be involved in 8 clubs and practice your activity of choice as if every one of you can be a Broadway star or be a fixture on the ESPN Top 10 or win a Nobel Prize so that come graduation day you can have a list of accomplishments and scholarship offers that make the other parents jealous AND have to juggle a job.

You have virtually all you “need” at your fingertips. Netflix makes looking for a movie a 60 second commitment. Amazon will have almost anything to your door in 48 hours, sometimes same day. If you do shop in a retail store, you can often order online and your effort includes simply driving to pick it up an hour or so later. When “same day” isn’t an option, it’s a tough concept for you to understand. Patience is hard to learn when you don’t really have to wait for anything.

Your social life involves a phone or gaming device. Your “Am I okay?” self-check is how many likes your Instagram post gets or how many followers you have. “I don’t want my friends to think I’m ignoring them.” seems a logical answer as to why your Snap streak is important. When your lonely, a group text to 10 people of “Hi.” is your way of dealing with loneliness.

And we never want you to be mad at us so “friend first, parent second” feels a much better method of raising humans that will someday have to make sure the world continues to exist. We’re still hearing “rub some dirt on it and get back out there” and don’t want to parent how our parents did so being your friend seems easier. Plus, we work a lot so we parent by guilt.

And we don’t ourselves quite yet know how to say “Hey, can I get a little help over here?” because no one had issues they shared beyond their front door when we grew up so it’s no wonder we struggle to teach you to ask for help.

You have a brain that won’t fully develop until you are 23 – 25 and we have immersed you in a world of you can have anything you want right now, you can achieve anything you want in life, the world should be fair, everyone should be treated equally, don’t ever let anyone tell you no, there are no limits for you for anything and if all else fails, social media influencer is now a career option.

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We’re sorry. The world changed really fast and it seemed amazing and we had no idea how to parent in it because it was happening while we were trying to figure out parenting. We wanted you to feel good about yourselves all the time – not possible – and refuse to allow anyone to ever be unkind – also not possible – and in that pursuit, we’ve failed at teaching you resiliency. We wanted you to have and do in life what we didn’t so we flooded you with options and training and rigorous academic course loads and no downtime so you don’t know how to “be bored”. The overloaded schedules make family dinners a special occasion that include a reminder that phones don’t belong at the table. You communicate from behind a screen so the impact of your words aren’t seen on the face of the person reading them. (And we don’t model what respectful and decent sharing of opinions or opposing viewpoints looks like). We live in a world of decreasing human connection and increasing expectations of success (not what you consider it but what we consider it) and wonder why you are struggling and we are losing you in epidemic-level numbers.

img_4677We’re sorry. We’re trying to figure it out. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t have the ability to go back and start over. This is our world now and we have to find a way to teach you how to be whole and healthy and happy and empathetic and goal-oriented and tolerant and the best you can be while trying to figure it out ourselves. We ask you this only – don’t give up on us. We’re not giving up on you. We see you. We hear you. It sucks right now and part of that is being a teenager and part of that is stigma and part of that is so very much noise all around you. Don’t give up. We’re going to figure this out and we need you here to help us do that. And it won’t be easy and you will hate us and we’ll be the worst parents ever – we aren’t doing our jobs if we’re not – but we want the absolute best for you. We know you need us to do our part, not tell your schools how to do their part and also expect them to do our part too.

We’re trying. Please see us trying. It will get better and we will work toward it every, single day but you have to do the work with us. We’re not going to give up on you and we’re not going to let you go down without the fight of our lives. We’re going to pick our mountains and stay in our lanes and do what we were made to do so that we’re each giving you the best of us instead of trying to be all things and have all the answers. We will check our egos and agendas at the door because you deserve that from us.

We’re in the trenches with you. We need you. The world needs you. Don’t quit on us – you can’t do this without us and we most certainly can’t do it without you.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:4)‬

6 thoughts on “An open letter…

  1. Krista Willertz says:

    As a teacher for over 21 years and a parent for almost 25, thank you! It’s like you opened up my brain and just took a look inside at everything; the good, the bad, and the ugly. If it’s okay with you, I may steal many sentences from this and write letters to my children and my students (some of whom feel like my children – in the best way. Thank you for being authentic. Let’s do this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOW! What a compliment – thank you for being in the trenches with our kiddos. Feel free to “steal” anything you want if you think it would help all the young people you have been entrusted with!

      Like

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