parent-teen relationships

Millay in Dutch shoes_8449

How do you know when your teenage son or daughter’s friend is a good fit? How do you know when a friend is really a friend? I’ve asked myself that question so many times! Moreover, as a mom of teens for nearly ten years now, I’ve had many opportunities to observe the various friends who’ve crossed my kids’ paths. Three things I’ve observed about genuine friends–a litmus, if you will.

One. A good friend will bring out the best in your child. In other words, your son or daughter will tend to be his/her best self around that friend, the effect sometimes lingering even after said friend has left. How do you measure this?–it’s observable! If your daughter, for example, seems lighter, brighter, happier, kinder (especially to siblings!), more connected to her dreams and gifts and sense of humor and generally to all the hopeful possibilities of her life, then that friend is a good one.

Two. A good friend will never undermine your parental authority or love by talking negatively to your teen about your family’s culture, rules, expectations, values, or anything else you hold dear. It’s that simple. Nor does a good friend use manipulation as a lever to get your teen to do anything that could be viewed as a rejection of family beliefs or infrastructure.  If a friend respects your family and what it stands for, then that friend is a good one.

Three. A good friend–either intuitively or consciously–strives to practice ‘compassionate joy.’ The concept was initially Buddhist but translates beautifully to any world view, the idea being that if your child succeeds, then the friend, too, desires to celebrate that success rather than resenting it or being envious of it. When life blesses your child, a good friend will feel delighted, not threatened. The friend capable of feeling compassionate joy is a good one.

If we’re using this litmus to thin-slice our teens’ friends, then we likewise ought to be actively encouraging our teenage sons and daughters to be that friend to others: working to bring out the best in their friends; respecting the family values of which their friends are a part; and being sincerely overjoyed when their friends’ lives take a brilliant turn.

I’ve watched my kids collide with all kinds of friends, and I’ve seen the results. Naturally, I nourish a particular affection for the friends who have proved over time to be an especially good fit. If you’ve got your own litmus, I would LOVE to hear about it! I am passionate about growing each other’s tool boxes and skill sets!

In an upcoming post: how to help your teens build solid friendships.

(Photo above: Miss Zinnia, trying out the fit of a pair of clogs in Haarlem, North Holland, while her older brother hears the siren call of gelato.)

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Getting to Happy, Part Two

by Becky on February 18, 2013 · 4 comments

in Books, Parenting

Tessa heel clicking on bridge_8768

I sometimes think of the word ‘happy’ as a noun: a thing I can grab and go with, like a colorful scarf or an e-reader(!) or the (absolutely) lovely Spanish olive oil I’m almost out of. My children often trigger my Happy–when they’re being imaginative, when they’re laughing hard, when they’re being kind to each other.  My teens inspire my Happy when they show maturity and generosity of spirit.

But the other ‘happy’ word, ‘Happiness’–the Capital-H kind–that’s a journey, for me, at least. So I thought I’d share a few favorites with you today and tomorrow–things that could trigger your Happy and also give you pause to think about your own road to Capital-H Happiness.

The first is the notion of a Happiness Project.  I heard Gretchen Rubin speak maybe ten months ago, and I found her really inspiring. Her story:  she wanted to get closer to Happiness but didn’t quite know how to go about it, so she started what she called The Happiness Project, which eventually turned into a book–The Happiness Project–which quickly became a New York Times bestseller and then an international bestseller.  I own the book and have loved it, particularly the way in which she takes you into the very personal machinery of her life, starting with her Twelve Personal Commandments. She actually made the study and the practice of Happiness a year-long pursuit, each month focusing on one aspect of what she considered an essential ingredient of Happiness.

I love her writing voice: she sounds like the best friend you didn’t know you had. Upbeat and positive without being cloying, she’s also never afraid to make herself the target of her own irony. Yet she never denigrates herself. Indeed, formulating a stronger sense of self quickly becomes part of her project and a key component of it. Each day in my inbox, I hear from her in the form of a passage from some brilliant or important or just gifted-ly happy person. A Tolstoy quote from a couple of weeks back read, “Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” Interesting, don’t you think? Her new book, Happier At Home, is on my “Read!” list. Check out the book trailer (which alone is inspiring!).

In a way, my blog has become a Happiness Project, allowing me to talk in highly specific ways about the culture of family and bringing culture into family, including a focus on my teens. Especially powerful for me is mapping our relationships, particularly as they intersect with travel, literature, music, and other forms of culture. This has helped me parent more consciously and generously. In short, it’s a daily trigger for my Happy as well as a daily marker along my road to Happiness.

Stay tuned for Getting to Happy, Part Three.

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