Check on your strong friends

My son Aaron, a freshman in high school, said to me casually one night a couple months ago, “I’m not doing too good in my AP class. I’m at a ‘C’.”

Even though he had never received a ‘C’ in his life, I didn’t flinch; I didn’t get curious. In fact, I didn’t think too much about it. This is his first year in high school, plus he’s taking an AP class. He’s busy with sports. We’re in a pandemic. He’ll be fine, he’s strong.

I responded, “Okay. No problem Big Guy. I know you’ll get your grade up.” I smiled, patted him on the back and walked out of the room.

A month later after the holidays, Aaron came to me and my husband Ron. His voice shaky, his face red, it was immediately apparent that he was distressed.

“I got a ‘D’ in that class… I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I’m not myself. I’m struggling with mental health stuff… I wanted to tell you, but…”

Ron and I were shocked.

Looking back on the night Aaron mentioned the ‘C’, I made an unfair assumption that Aaron was fine, believing he’d figure it out and thinking everything would be okay because ‘It was Aaron. He’s strong.’ 

Here’s a list of things I could have done better in that moment (which I’ll use to make positive change in the future):

Be present: Although Aaron came to me with a cool tone, if I were more in the moment, perhaps I would have picked up on the real message: he needed help. Maybe I would have noticed his energy was off. Maybe I would have noticed him looking down to the floor.  Maybe I would have heard a crack in his voice.

Probe: I took Aaron’s words at place value. I didn’t ask how the ‘C’ made him feel. I didn’t ask why his grade was low. Was it trouble with vocabulary? Not enough time to study at night? Not turning in assignments? If I had been more curious, perhaps one of those questions would have sparked a deeper conversation.

Be more involved: Ron and I had the opportunity to attend an open house at Aaron’s school, but we didn’t. We reasoned, “It’s not needed. Aaron always does well.” Ron and I have access to Aaron’s school grades; we never checked them, “Aaron always gets good grades.” If Ron and I were more active in Aaron’s studies, we may have seen the signs of Aaron’s struggles earlier.

Although I missed signs, I never got down on myself when I realized I could have done better and I never lost sight that Aaron could have done more on his part. As my Dad used to say, ‘It takes two to tango.’ What I did do is turn this into a learning opportunity and a way to get closer to my son. 

What I hope you take away from this story is that, especially in these difficult times, take time to check on your ‘strong friends’ (or kids). Those in your life who you perceive as having it all figured out, those in your life who are usually the ones taking care of others, those in your life who are usually crushing it at school, work and life… They may need you.

I also hope you walk away with this: You’re human. You’re not going to be that ‘perfect’ parent or that ‘perfect’ friend or colleague. You’re going to miss some signs and some moments, and that’s okay.

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Sincerely,

Danielle

PS – Here’s an affirmation if you’re struggling with mental health: “I will come through this challenge with a better understanding of myself. I deserve help and feel confident asking for it.” Here’s an affirmation for those who have missed signs from loved ones: “I did the best I could yesterday and today.

PPS – Are there people in your life who always seem strong and put together, but perhaps there’s more happening underneath the surface? Let’s focus on pinpointing signs of help or distress in others. Here’s a journal prompt: Jot down the names of a few of these seemingly strong people. Then, consider the last time you interacted with each of them and consider the list above in my blog post. Were you present and invested in the conversation? Were you genuinely curious about how they were and did you probe/ask questions? How would you describe your involvement in their lives in the past couple months? Based on these reflections, what can you do now to show them you are there if they need you?

If You Don’t Know Why, Ask Me

The other morning, when my 14-year-old son Aaron asked me where I was going, I cheerfully responded, “To my eyelash appoint.”

Aaron’s nose crinkled as he gave me a judgy look, “Why do you try to be someone you’re not? Who are you trying to impress anyways?”

His response hurt; he was quick to judge with questions oozing accusation.

Excited for a change amidst the 2020 work from home same-old, same-old, a few months ago I started getting false lashes. My lashes have brought me joy. They make me feel more confident, more prepared and prettier for my dozens of Zoom calls. I’ve had fun waking up looking like Marilyn Monroe (hey, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and receiving compliments from my clients, students and even strangers I meet on my daily walks and trips to the store.

That’s why I was disappointed by Aaron’s assumption; that I was trying to pretend I was someone I wasn’t as opposed to enhancing the person I already was and am: Confident. Prepared. Pretty. I cringed hearing that Aaron thought impressing the world was a bad thing. What’s the problem with wanting to look good for others? I’ve found that the more put together and refreshed I look, the more others perk up and are open to my energy, which helps when I am teaching, coaching or giving a seminar. As long as self-esteem doesn’t solely rely on how others see you, then looking good can fuel self-love and happiness.

To snap me out of my critical feelings towards Aaron and I’s conversation, I found empathy. I reminded myself that Aaron’s limited viewpoint wasn’t his fault. He’s a freshman in high school, an age when many kids judge one another and make unfair assumptions based on appearance. He’s superglued to Snapchat, TikTok and I’m sure other apps I don’t know much about that seem to perpetuate this habit.

I took a deep breath in, looking Aaron straight in the eyes.

“This is important. I don’t like that you judged me right there. I am being ME. Just like my blonde highlights and gel nail polish compliment me, so do my eyelashes. A girl can want to look good and do that for different reasons. Some will do it for herself and others will do it for someone else and regardless, that’s their decision to make. These lashes make me happy. I’m not getting them to try to fit in or hide who I am; I get them as sort of a celebration of who I am. As a way to treat myself.”

I could see Aaron processing. I smiled and said, “I love you kid.”

Aaron told me he loved me back. He then gave me a ‘thanks’ and a head nod that showed me I got him thinking differently. And with that, we moved on with our day.  

I’m proud for speaking my truth – not always an easy thing to do – especially to my teenage son. Will he get it? Will he understand? Will he care?

I hope introducing Aaron to a new way of thinking opens his eyes to the importance of not snapping judgements and instead, becoming more conscious of others’ WHY. I hope he starts asking questions that come from a place of curiosity such as, “Does it make you happy? How so?”

Later that day, I started wondering how many people had judged me for my fake eyelashes and how many other females had also been judged for theirs. I then thought about all the women out there getting judged for their botox, their weight or their clothing. That number was enough to inspire me to write this post.

So, to those rocking new outfits that match your flair; those typing away with fake nails; those driving to work with a brand-new hairstyle: Go YOU! There is no need hide or be ashamed. You’ve taken the time to invest in yourself, and that’s beautiful self-love!

As for the others who judge you, remember that their judgment is a reflection of themselves, not you. Hold onto grace and patience in these moments; they don’t know your WHY. If they don’t ask, they probably don’t know any better. Keep rocking anyways.

If you’re making assumptions about others, how can you break those limiting beliefs and work toward appreciating the choices that others make?

And most importantly, how can we have meaningful conversations with our youth to ensure appearances don’t control their perceptions of others?

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Sincerely,
Danielle

PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you along your ‘I won’t let sticks and stones hurt me’ journey: “I am the only one responsible for my self-esteem.”

PPS – To remind you that empathy is possible in all situations, get out you journal. Here’s a writing prompt: Think back to a time when someone hurt you. What did that person do? How did they make you feel? Although you may not forgive that person, can you find empathy? What human experiences may have shaped the way they treated you? How do you think they feel about the situation now?