If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s the importance of having the talk with your kid. Not the sex talk, although that one is important too.
The talk that says things will be hard but that you will be there with them no matter what. The talk that says here is what to do when you feel desperate, or suicidal, or confused or hurt or alone or broken. Here is what you do when you are afraid.
Having a talk with your kids about sex doesn’t make them have sex. Having a talk about llamas doesn’t make them llamas. Having a talk with your kids about suicide won’t make them suicidal. Having a talk with your kids about mental illness doesn’t give them mental illness. It does, however, give them tools to help recognize things that might otherwise confuse or terrify them. It may help them to recognize things in themselves or in their friends. And that can save a life.
They may not understand your talk. They may think it’s pointless or even silly. They may not even remember all of the details if they never deal with these sorts of struggles. But they will remember that you are there to listen and that you are there to help and that there is nothing that they can’t get through. That a lot of the problems that seem massive when you’re a kid or teenager will be forgotten at 21. That it’s okay to fail. That it’s okay to vent and cry. That it’s okay to ask for help…even more importantly…that it’s their duty to ask for help.
This isn’t easy. It’s not easy for parents. It’s not easy for kids. But it’s needed. So to make it a little easier I’m going to share a few things that I’m learning as a parent. I also asked for an expert opinion on talking with teens and that expert is my teen who gave me great feedback on things that helped her during any struggles she’s had in life.
What is something that you wish you’d told your kids when they were younger…the thing that maybe you learned the hard way or that made a big difference?
me: I wish I’d asked ‘How are you really?’ and repeated it a few times to get past the basic ‘Great’ and into the real details of what’s going on in her head. I wish I’d explained that just because someone’s struggle doesn’t look like mine it doesn’t mean that their struggle isn’t just as real and just as hard.
What’s the thing you wish that you were asked?
Hailey: I wanted someone to ask “What do you need?” Not just “Are you okay?” or “How was your day?” but “What do you actually need from me that I’m not doing?”
What do you want to hear?
Hailey: Not “You’re fine. Don’t worry.” Because when you don’t feel fine and everyone keeps saying that you are you feel even worse. I wish someone would have told me that it was okay to not be fine sometimes. I want to hear that there are ways to fix it.
What advice would you give parents about talking to their kids?
Hailey: Maybe ask the school counselor how your kid is. They see them at school and might know a lot more about what’s going on that they aren’t sharing. Make sure your kids aren’t just talking to you about their problems because it’s really helpful to vent to people who aren’t your parents.
What would you tell kids who are struggling right now?
Hailey: Talk to someone. Find someone to listen. You can even practice on your stuffed animals if you have to until you find the right words.
me: Don’t give up.
Your turn. Talk to your kids. Ask them what they need to hear. Share what you’ve learned here if you think it could help someone else. Parenting is terrifying and we are constantly fucking up. What is perfect for one kid is not for another. We bumble through and try to make the right decisions and fail and succeed and hide and celebrate and do wonderful and terrible things…just like the kids we are raising. But we don’t have to do it alone.
You are not alone.
PS. This is a very serious post and I don’t like serious so I’m leaving you with this: