By Bess Auer
4 Lies I Told My Son
Much of my day is spent helping others create the life they want by building an online business through blogging. I take great pleasure in helping them realize that they are not stuck or helpless in a meaningless life, but rather can empower themselves and take concrete steps to go after their dreams.
I help everyone except my son, that is.
It’s not for lack of trying, though. I begin each morning by telling him he has the power to make this day a good one or a bad one. He is not controlled by his circumstances but only on how he chooses to react to them. He has to believe he is in charge of his own destiny.
What a load of crap.
I realize this now. My son knows I lie.
Lie #1 – You Are in Control of Your Destiny.
How can I tell my son he is in control of his destiny when he is currently awaiting word from colleges about whether he gets in or not? Applications are finished and now the three-month long waiting period begins… do you know how long three months is in the life of a teenager?
And did you know colleges ask applicants to declare their major when they apply? I wanted to be a spy and live in the Soviet Union when I was 17… what did you want be? What? You had no idea either! Who can declare their destiny as a twelfth grader?
And what about swimming? He had a tough high school season where not much time was dropped, so now he’s frustrated, questioning whether the coaches that say they want him still really do.
And, I told my son he’s in control of his destiny… I lied!
Lie #2 – You Are Good Enough.
The stakes are raised by my son’s prep school which constantly publishes the students that have been accepted and into which colleges. College acceptance is a topic often discussed by the teachers, the kids, and my son is in constant contact with his college counselor. She tells him to be sure he has plenty of back up “safety” colleges on his list because he may not get into his first choice, even if he is a legacy.
And swimming! Well, I am a mom. A non-swimmer. I am not even allowed an opinion on his swimming, so how can I can prove to him he is training hard enough? How can I assure him that if he does swim in college, he will be fast enough and an integral part of the team?
(Translation: How can I tell my son he is good enough when others, including himself, are saying he probably isn’t? See? More lies!)
Lie #3 – You Choose Whether Today is Good or Not.
How can I tell my son that he chooses whether or not each day is a good day or a bad day when he is subjected to the whim of seven different teachers? Any given class period may be a happy or traumatic experience, depending on the mood of said teacher, the behavior of the class, whether he remembered to do all his homework or if that test score is high enough. My son must feel like he is a sailboat lost at sea, waiting to find out if the winds will be gentle or gale force.
High school by nature limits choices. My son’s bathroom breaks are regulated. He eats when he is told. He is constantly learning that life’s responsibilities are many and he better not forget one of them or there are very real consequences that affect his grades.
Swim practice can go very well or terribly wrong depending on the clock, the feel in the water, or even the others in his lane.
Yep, I lied to my son when I said he could create the life he wants just by empowering himself.
Lie #4 – There’s No Reason to be Stressed.
No wonder my son is stressed by the time he gets home in the evenings after a long day of school and swim practice. No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about colleges, homework, swimming, or what he wants to do as a career. No wonder he views me as putting more pressure on him by just bringing up any of the aforementioned topics.
Being a teenager today would suck.
So, I’ve got to make some changes in my messaging to my son… I’ve got to somehow let him know all is not lost, that his situation is temporary, yet acknowledge it is very real. So here goes:
1. You Are in Control of How You *Await* Your Destiny.
While I can’t foresee whether you will get into all of the colleges you applied to, I do know you will get into some of them. So instead of focusing on *which* college you get into, perhaps look at what *all* colleges will offer you: freedom, fraternity, fun, autonomy, chances to make mistakes and learn from them, classes that truly interest and inspire. Revel in the fact that you are one of the lucky ones who will even get to experience this – many people never get to go to college!
And it is okay not to know what you want to do as a job for the rest of your life. Don’t even try to guess. Instead take this time to explore the millions of different things you can do, from utilizing 3D printing, traveling to Mars, being an actor or an artist, or circumnavigating the world helping others. This is an exciting time of limitless possibilities, so find your passion or at least some things you’d like to learn more about.
2. While You May Not be #1, You Are One of the Best Ones Anyway.
You are not the valedictorian, but we’re totally cool with that because you offer so many other great attributes. You are a good student, you’ve done meaningful volunteer work, and you are a nationally-ranked swimmer. You do your homework on your own after dinner, you go to bed at a reasonable time, you set your alarm to get yourself up in the morning, you have a kind heart and a killer sense of humor. I’ll take you any day over a one-dimensional kid who does nothing but study because you are amazing!
3. While You Can’t Always Control What Happens, Those Events Do Not Define You.
So you forgot a homework assignment? It won’t matter a year from now. Your teacher was in a bad mood and took it out on the class? It happens because teachers are real people too, but it doesn’t mean you are a bad kid. School is a distinct stage of everyone’s life, but focus on the fact that it is a temporary one. As a senior, you only have a few more months and then it is over. College is a totally different stage, and then your career will be an entirely different one from that. Yes, each one will have its own difficulties, but by that time you will have even more experience in how to handle them. Remember, though, no matter the stage, those unpleasant events that happen to us do not define us.
4. Yes, There is Stress, But You Are Learning How to Handle It.
It has been hard for me to see my carefree boy grow into a stressed young man, teetering on the start of his adult life. I do think the world is harder to grow up in today, but you have handled it beautifully. I would only suggest that when you are stressed, you start prioritizing what really matters. Most things we worry over today won’t amount to a hill of beans a year from now, so instead focus on just the big items, those things truly worth worrying about.
I’ve told you this before, but you are like the Grand Canyon. Although you may wish to have all your decisions made right now, it will take time and patience. The Grand Canyon was formed by a river winding through the rock over millions of years. It took time for that river to find its own way through, but the result is pretty epic, right? Well, so are you, and your dad and I are grateful to be on this journey with you. My biggest hope is one year from now, ten years from now, fifty years from now, you will look at yourself and be happy with what you’ve become. (And I think you will be, because you tend to make the right decisions more often than not, and that’s all we can ask in life.)