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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Pass the sugar and some parental support

August 14, 2009

Tea and empathy

Tea and empathy

This morning my brilliant friend Jane had me over for breakfast. No, that’s not what makes her brilliant. Nor was it the impressive spread of eggs, fresh fruit and truly outrageous croissants. What makes Jane brilliant is that she knew the other invited parents needed community support. Why? Because each one had just dropped off a son or daughter at Freshman Orientation. What a great idea to bring parents together at the same tremulous moment their 14 year olds begin the last chapter of childhood!

I wasn’t there as a fellow freshman parent. Been there… twice. Four times if you want to count college. I was there as a parent who is 15 years ahead on the path. I’m happy and relatively sane which goes to show that my kids survived high school and so did I.  I was asked to speak for a few minutes. Here’s the gist of what I said:

Be the kind of parent you wished you’d had in high school. Now’s your chance to act on all those mental notes from your teen years. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. They all started with “If I ever have kids, I swear I will never ______.”  Or “When I’m a parent I will let my kids  ________ .” OK, maybe all those things you wished your parents had done or not done don’t seem like such great ideas now that you’ve got teens, but maybe there are a few items in the areas of trust, understanding and respect that you’d like to incorporate into your parenting skill-set. What are you waiting for?

Tune in with less talk and more empathy. Teens really appreciate being  listened to. We all do. It’s a sign of caring and respect. When you consistently give it to them, you’re more likely to get it from them. They’re also more likely to be caring and respectful of other people as well.

Respect their privacy. You don’t need to know everything they’re thinking or feeling. They’re not 4 any more. Besides, the teen brain has dark, gunky corners. You probably don’t want to be privvy to all that’s in there. Nor do you need to be. Great parents are great because they respect boundaries with their teens while making it known through word, deed and attitude that they are (and always will be) on their kid’s side. 

Use your parenting network to support each other. No teen (or parent) gets through high school without hitting some bumps. Hopefully your kid’s won’t be the life-altering variety. But whatever they are, parents do better managing crises in their families and showing true leadership when they’ve got other parents to talk to. 

Keep your eye on the prize. Which is…?  A healthy relationship with your adult children after they’ve graduated from high school, college and launched themselves into a truly independent life. That’s something you should be working on every day starting now. How do you know when you’ve achieved it? Your adult kids call you just to talk. Or to get your opinion. Or to share a win. Or a loss. They enjoy coming home and they willingly help out while they’re there. They have grown up. They’re on their own. They honor your parenting with the choices they make. And while they love and respect you, they do not need you. And knowing that makes you very happy. 

I could have gone on, but my tea was getting cold.

If you like Jane’s idea why not talk it up with the parents in your circle? This kind of gathering works for parents of first day kindergartners, first day 6th graders… you get the idea.
So. Go. Talk amongst yourselves.



  1. Excellent advice! Jane is smart… sounds like she might want to schedule ongoing meetings with her group of parent friends as well!

    Comment by David Fox — August 14, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

  2. Annie,

    I loved it! Wish I could have been sitting around that table, too! My eldest, at 14, emabarks upon his High School years in a few short weeks. I marvel at all that he has become…and all that is yet to be! Thanks for the post! A friend and I have a tradition of “First Day of School Cuppa”…when we get together to talk about all that has taken place over the year, and all that we look forward to in the coming year!


    Comment by Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD — August 14, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  3. I love your description of keeping the eye on the prize while your kids are growing up, working every day towards building a desirable, healthy relationship with them when they become adults. Very nicely put.

    Comment by Fayette — August 15, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

  4. Thanks, Fayette. Coming from you, dear daughter o’mine, that means the world. (Oh, damn! Now you’ve gotten me weepy!)

    Comment by Annie — August 15, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  5. Been there as well, and my own little ‘village’ kept me going more times than I care to admit.

    Sometimes, the issues are challenging and even awkward, like the time I called a mom I (kind of) know to make sure that a) my son was invited to a party hosted at her house, b) that an adult would be present the whole time, and c) that no alcohol would be served.

    It was an awkward conversation, but far less difficult than other conversations could have been if I hadn’t asked those questions.

    To the freshman parents, those who have gone before you, wish you well.

    Comment by Tina Nocera — August 16, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

  6. This is really a great idea! I’m going to circulate it!

    Comment by Nancy Asmundson — August 17, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

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