Kate O’Brien takes advice from Brené Brown to help guide her own teenage children through uncertain times …
The past two years have been difficult for us all – but perhaps most especially our younger generation. Through no fault of their own, they just happened to be approaching what could have been the most exciting time of their lives, when the world we all knew started tumbling around us. And much like universal health systems and governments, we as parents have been working in crisis management mode with our children, trying to limit where possible our younger children’s screen time (outside of those months of “Zoom school”), while endeavouring to guide our older children through fresh uncertain terrain.
For these young adults, embracing their college years through a screen at home with their parents was cruel and unnatural. Hardly surprising that third level drop-out rates have reportedly soared, along with rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other stress-related illnesses.
I’m no expert in these realms, but I have been fortunate enough to learn from incredibly intuitive therapists and wisdom keepers worldwide and I continue to speak very openly with friends living through challenging times with their own children. In my view, as the scaffolding of the old world has come tumbling down, our role is no longer to guide our children to a recognised university degree from a reputable college, because we think it’s the best way for them to get a “good” pensionable job. Those days are long gone, much and all as it may terrify us.
Our children are a new generation in a new world. The need us to listen, to see them and feel them just as they are. Many of them don’t want that pensionable job; they don’t want to sit in a business/law/language lecture, when their hearts are in the art room, on the stage or immersed in nature. Many of them are doing it because they feel it’s what they should be doing.
A recent text message to a fearful friend regarding his 20-year-old daughter, currently studying business and struggling with her mental health – words that instigated this particular article – read: “Sit with her. Really listen to her, without judgement. Reassure her that she is not alone and that she can have the courage to believe in herself and follow her heart – for it is people like her who will bravely lead the way in our new world.”
They need to be themselves – not who we think they should be.
When I am feeling a little fearful and wobbly myself, as happens quite frequently now, I return to the words of author, social researcher and wise woman Brené Brown from her November 2020, Unlocking Us podcast. Brown too has a young adult daughter navigating difficult new grown-up stuff and she said that all she could offer her daughter were the words that she whispers to herself: “’Strong back, soft front, wild heart.’ These words breathe something into me that make me kind of straighten up and take a deep breath and keep doing the next right thing.”
For our children to bravely grow into their true gifts they need this strong courageous back to stand up for themselves, the soft front of compassion and vulnerability in the face of social media’s callousness and most importantly, this wild heart overflowing with passion, joy and desire to help them fulfil their sweetest dreams. “And just as we can strengthen our courage muscle for a stronger back by examining our need to be perfect and please others at the expense of our own lives, we can exercise the vulnerability muscle, we can build that strength that allows us to soften and stay open rather than to attack and defend,” Brown adds.
Fiona Arrigo believes that as parents we have been clinging to what used to be for too long. Arrigo is an internationally acclaimed intuitive healer, biodynamic psychotherapist, mentor and founder of the Arrigo Programme in the UK. “The new generation have to be identified as the ‘New Generation’, coming with a pack load of neurodiversity for sure, along with rising anxiety and stress, peer pressure, parental pressure, fitting-in pressure and so much more. What we as parents knew and lived has been challenged. We need a whole new deck of cards. We need to do the work. We need to be brave. We are in the most potent circle of life ever lived here on great planet Earth and midst the terror, there is great magnificence, so let’s dare to hope and come together in our collective wisdom.”
As parents we must support our children. Now. They need to be themselves – not who we think they should be. We need to help them be brave enough not to follow a traditional path, but to pave their own way, excited yet scared and full of dogged hope for an abundant new world. To quote the late, great Sir Ken Robinson: “We must recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
For me, when my children, teenagers and young adults have found the courage to say what they truly believe, to do what they feel is right, despite the fear of judgement and reprisal, and most of all when they tune in to the whispers of their wild hearts – only then will I really feel that my work has not been completely in vain.
After all, in the words of Dr Maya Angelou: “You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price Is high. The reward is great.”
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