To Worried Parents of Complex Kids: You are Not Alone

Dear worried parents, A dozen years ago, I was aware that my kids (then pre-teens and teens) had extraordinary talents and capacities, and yet I wondered why they couldn’t see how amazing they are. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t apply themselves to achieve their potential. I could simultaneously see the beauty of their extraordinary future while worrying that they wouldn’t be able to ‘make it’ independently in life. 

If this rings true for you, you are not alone.

Why is it that our kids are so good at sabotaging themselves? Why are they so hard on themselves? Why can’t they see that you only want to help? 

And yet, why are they so defensive? So unable to admit any mistakes that they are unwilling to ask for (much less) accept help? 

Complex kids (whatever the age) can be so damn confusing! Seriously, you are not alone.

Now that my children are all in their twenties, I am beginning to experience the insights that come with hindsight. 

The Insight of Hindsight: My Worry Belongs to Me

On the one hand, I marvel at all that my young adults have accomplished. They’re fascinating. I am truly mesmerized by what they’ve managed to overcome. 

On the other hand, if I’m completely honest, I’m aware that sometimes they continue to struggle with the demands of daily life. 

Only now, I’m beginning to come to terms with the reality that they always will. After all, don’t we all? Isn’t that what life is all about? Tackling the hard stuff and appreciating the good stuff.

It turns out, you are not alone, and neither are they.

As my kids forge ahead into adulthood, I’m realizing (once again) that the change I want for my kids STILL starts with me. The conversation that can help them the most is one I need to keep having with myself, not with them. 

“They are creative, resourceful, capable and whole,” I remind myself. “Despite whatever diagnoses may accompany them, they will navigate their lives better with a mom who encourages them, instead of worrying about them.”

I’m a worrier-mom in pseudo-recovery. 

Worried parents of complex kids, you too? Yeah, we’re not alone.

Personally, I no longer worry because I’m afraid that my now-young-adult-kids can’t or won’t make it. They can. And they’re beginning to understand that about themselves now, too – perhaps the most important development of all!

The truth is, I worry because that’s my default as a human being. I have a tendency to worry. It’s how I’m wired. 

Once again, I must remind myself to be vigilant, to battle against my own tendency to worry. Because worry is just a story I tell myself. And it doesn’t serve my kids, or me.

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Reframing My Conversation with Myself as a Worried Parent

Through coaching, I’ve learned that I’m not responsible for my first thought, but I AM responsible for my next thought. 

So as soon as I catch myself spiraling into worry mode, I (try to) reframe the conversation I’m having with myself. 

“Yes, it’s possible that they won’t find their passion, or find their person, or find themselves. 

It’s possible,” I acknowledge my inner-worrier.

“But is it likely?” I challenge my worrier next? 

“Not really,” she must admit.

“So, then, what else is also true? 

What story can I tell myself that is more supportive – of me, of my kids, of all of us?”

As parents, we want to protect our kids from the pain of life. We want them to be ‘successful’ (whatever THAT means!), and we want their success to be guaranteed. 

But, of course, we can’t protect them from pain and there are no guarantees. 

The truth is that more than likely, with supportive parents on their team they’ll have some successes, and they’ll have some setbacks. They will live the ups and downs of life, as we all do. Because that is what it means to be human.

Once again, we are – none of us – alone in this!

What Else is Also True for You, Worried Parent?

So, as you try to navigate a complicated, nuanced relationship with the complex young humans in your life, I encourage you to start a new conversation with yourself. What’s the new story you want to tell yourself? 

To shift your worrier tendencies, make up new stories that you can believe are possible. Stories that could also be true. If you make up a story that you can’t believe (like: “it’s going to be easy sailing from here”) then you’re not likely to be able to stick with that story, and it’s going to be difficult to take action from there.

But there are usually hundreds of other stories you could tell yourself that would be more supportive than your initial, catastrophic-worrier-thoughts! For example:

“It’s possible that it’s going to take them a little longer than their peers to find their path.” 

“It’s possible that they’re doing better than I give them credit.” 

“It’s possible that they’re lacking in confidence and what they need most from me is to celebrate their successes, no matter how small.” 

“It’s possible that my worrier is in charge and really they’re doing okay.” 

“It’s possible that my worry is making things harder for them.”

“It’s possible that they do better when they learn from their own natural consequences.”

So now it’s your turn. The next time you notice that your worrier has taken the lead, ask yourself, “what else is also true?”

I’m asking myself that question on a daily basis. And so are thousands of other parents of complex tweens, teens, and young adults. 

Because seriously, my friend… you are not alone!


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