Although the trend towards perfectionism is not limited to young people, it is particularly painful for parents to watch our sons and daughters strive to be perfect, especially in comparison to those around them and on social media. The truth is, perfection is a moving target. There is no perfect. Instead, there are just practices that help you to orient back to yourself and what is important, bringing you back to your center and a place of relative calm. As Parents, we can practice these ourselves, and help our young people understand the value of them as well.
Know your values. By assessing what is truly important, we can determine if our life choices are aligned with those values. They are our guiding light. It is easy to compare your life to others and feel pulled off center, ashamed, or lacking by what you don’t have. Knowing what your own individual or family’s values are can help pull you back to a more centered, grounded place within yourself.
Don’t take 100% responsibility for everything.Allow others, who are capable, to take responsibility for themselves and their own lives. Allow others to have their own emotional response to your choices without trying to control it, make it better, or take it away. Take care of your own emotions.
Savor something at the end of the day.Set an intention at the beginning of the day for something to savor at the end of the day. A fulfilling life takes a lot of effort! So, in order to honor all of the effort you make throughout the day to live a meaningful life, allow yourself to enjoy the sweetness of the life you have built each day.
Make yourself laugh. Laughter is a present moment experience of our life energy, our vitality! What a gift we have been given! Being able to laugh at your shortcomings or your mistakes or your embarrassing moments is one of the best ways to take the power out of them. Laughter diminishes shame and self-criticism, because we learn to not take ourselves too seriously.
We can’t control what happens outside of us, but the more we relate to our inner world, the more we realize that our imperfect unique humanness is far more interesting and beautiful than any airbrushed and “perfected” version of ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but as the school year ramps up, my overall stress has also been ramped up. It’s just a lot to manage, both as a parent and as a young person. We are all feeling the stress of transition. And then we add in all of the other fear and uncertainty going on in the world and it is hard to find any peace in our systems. We can’t control everything going on around us and we can’t control everything that our kids are going through, but we can build our own ability to cope and be resilient in the face of it all. As our nervous systems become more regulated, we are better able to stay calm, think more clearly, and move through stressful situations with more ease. Additionally, if we are regulated, then it is more likely that those around us (kids, partners, co-workers) will also be able to feel more regulated too.
So, when you notice your shoulders tensing and thoughts racing and your irritation growing, take a moment to breath by focusing on your breath coming in and out of the area around your heart at a count of 5 on the inhale and 5 on the exhale. As you do this, focus on a feeling of love or ease and let this feeling wash over you for a few minutes. Practice regulating your nervous system by calming your breathing a few times a day and notice if you start to feel a increased overall sense of calm or at least, the ability to calm down more easily.
This is the season that high school seniors and their parents are entrenched in the process of completing college applications. And while this process is undeniably important and the gateway to the next phase of life for our young people, it is also important to keep in perspective for parents and students alike that this decision is more about taking a step towards an independent life. Whether your student ends up at a 4 year college, community college, takes a gap year, or gets a job, there are a number of life skills that are important to reinforce as they move towards successful independent living.
How to ask for help. Too often, young adults feel the pressure to step into independent life seamlessly, with the expectation that they already know how to do everything. Please remind your students that life, and especially the newness of this stage, is about trying new things, making mistakes, getting some help, and then trying again. Remind your student that you won’t be disappointed in them if they don’t get something right. This is especially important when it comes to transitioning from high school to college academics (where old study strategies often fall short for the college work load) and mental health issues (especially anxiety and depression), which can emerge or exacerbate when away from home for the first time. Also, if you student chooses to experiment with alcohol or recreational drugs, make it clear to them that they can come to you for help if needed, whether or not you agree with the choice.
Balancing flexibility with discipline. Sometimes, the best laid plan changes. Or the needs of the students change. Parents and students both need to embark on this phase with equal parts flexibility and discipline. College level academics require sustained discipline over the semester and pushing through some very challenging times to complete the classes. Help your student remember to pace them self and that they are working towards a larger goal. But sometimes the chosen path is not the right fit. Whether it is the wrong major, the school is not a good fit, or realizing that your student really does need to take a break in order to figure out what they want. Sometimes students need time to mature a bit or have some real life experiences before they can commit to the demands of college. Changing coarse is part of the life path and it is not the end of the world nor the end of their higher education if they take a break.
Life skills don’t automatically happen at age 18. Tangible life skills related to cleaning, laundry, money management, cooking, and bill paying have to be taught. Do not assume that your student knows how to do these things just because it seems basic to you. Give them the basic knowledge to survive in the adult world.
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood is a dynamic and complicated one. Hold on to the perspective that foundation is being laid for adulthood during this time, but that this is not a permanent state, so enjoy this time of newness and exploration!
Our priorities in life not only drive our day-to-day activities but also directly influence our life goals, thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others. For better or worse, our culture steers us towards achievement, prosperity, and material wealth. Who doesn’t want to live in a big house full of cool stuff? But sooner or later we come to realize that the old adage that money can’t buy happiness remains true. How would the quality of our lives change if we made experiencing joy and laughter a priority? The Mayo clinic reports that laughter not only feels good but also is good for your health. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, increases the release of endorphins, and improves your immune system. Laughter also stimulates circulation and enhances muscle relaxation, which reduces the symptoms of stress. Also, in addition to reducing depression, laughter can improve our ability to cope with challenges in life and relate better to others. When people are asked what they would do if they had only six months to live, most opt for doing fun things, not making more money and buying a bigger house. That’s a clue that for most of us, our priorities are out of whack. And while we likely have more than six months, our time is more precious than we realize and we would all be well-served by making joy, laughter, and fun a bigger priority in our lives.
This dynamic impacts family life as well. How much of our family time is joyous? Do we over-prioritize the small stuff like getting to bed on time, brushing teeth, and room cleaning instead? These things are important, but more important than experiencing joy and happiness as a family? Assuming we all just have six months to live, let’s make this, our last Spring Break holiday special. Let’s make our family’s joy, laughter, and happiness the priority this year. And if we are really lucky, maybe we will get to do it again next year, let alone throughout the year. Interestingly enough, if we did so we are also likely to see our achievement and prosperity increase as well. So get out there and have a few laughs and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of life and the joy of family.