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Thriving Thru the Teen Years - Podcast Feature

October 14, 2021

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These are transcript highlights featuring Jena Curtis and Vanessa Baker on The Family Thrive podcast. This episode is about thriving thru the teen years as a parent.

Justin: All right, Vanessa and Jena, thank you so much for joining me today. We are here to talk about teens, about parenting teens, about communication between parents and teens. And you both have been absolutely instrumental in developing this amazing workshop in The Family Thrive. And our goal with this three-week workshop is to deepen and strengthen the relationship between parents and teens. Both of you have really, in my opinion, transformational lessons in there with a bunch of different tools. But before we talk about them. Well, the goal of this podcast is not just to talk about the workshop, we will talk about the workshop. But I wanted to really bring on two of the stars in this workshop. We have eight different experts. So you're two of eight amazing experts. But I wanted to bring us all together here so we can talk about some of the context for doing a workshop like this and why it's so needed and why it can really change the course for so many parents and families. So let's just start off. I just wanted to hear about your own parenting journeys at the beginning, because not only are you both experts in your own right. Jena, we've had you on the podcast before. Listeners will know that you are an expert in gender and sexuality and a professor at SUNY Cortland. Vanessa parents, our listeners will know that you are a professional parent coach and you specialize in helping parents who are having challenges with their teens. And so you're both in this space as professionals and experts, but you're also like real parents, like actual real parents. So let's talk about your own parenting experience with teens for the sake of simplicity, I'll just go in alphabetical order and I'll start with Vanessa, because your last name is Baker.

Vanessa: I didn't know if just a first or last name. I was like, oh, that could be either.

Justin: I was thinking last name, Baker and then Curtis. All right.

Vanessa: Ok, ok. That's great. Yes. And I've recently kind of nicknamed myself the effed up family whisperer to add to my title. And it's so funny how many more people we're able to reach out to me when I made that funny little change, because though I don't walk around calling people effed up, not at all, or I think everybody is and it would be cool if we could all kind of get with that. We'd be better off, everyone. But so funny, though, like, oh, that's what you do. Oh, my gosh. Sign me up. So I have a little heart for the “u” when I spell it out on my little logo branding stuff. And also, yeah, I have five kids, teenagers and a three year old. So six, if you're doing math, they're my teenagers are 13, 14, 16, 17 and 19. And they're all really different from one another. And then that was from my first marriage. And then I have a boy who's going to be three on this happy birthday, which is coming up in about a week.

Justin: So, Vanessa, tell us a little bit about the journey for you as a parent of teens. So when you're first, when your oldest child started to come into the tween years, was there anything that popped up immediately or was it in kid two and three as they were coming through the teen years? Like when did you realize that, oh, my God, this is a whole other thing?

Vanessa: I certainly predicted, based on what everyone was telling me, oh, boy, you're in for it, Vanessa. You're in for it. Even when they were 10 years younger, from three to nine. And so there was a moment way before it happened where I, it's part of my origin story, where it's like, oh, no, I am not going down like that. So I didn't feel blindsided. I felt like I was on a mission to not drink the Kool-Aid, that parenting has to suck and that adding five teenagers is going to ruin my life. I'm like, oh, no, life's hard enough. I don't need the people I love the most in the world. Being my worst enemy is like everyone says it's supposed to go. So there was that oh, you know, it's funny. I've never realized this. No one's ever put it like when your first child became a tween. When my first child was in eighth grade, seventh, eighth. Like right in that like summer-ish area. That's when I came out. I was thirty eight years old and that's when I asked for a divorce from my ex-husband. So it wasn't just like, OK, and you're 12, 11, nine, down to seven or whatever. It was like the most huge, most tragic sort of family breaking up situation at the same time. So anyway, I've always taken the approach that they're people. I never like, even this sounds really silly because it's what I do. And even in the title of my book, I have the word teenager. But I just think it's just like rife with ] like everyone you hear that word and you're like, oh, judge, ew teenagers, ew ew. And I just like to think of them as people who are shorter and then a little taller and a little hairier, maybe. And I don't get into like you're this of this age year that at that age. I'm aware of it. But I don't I don't freak out like oh they're driving. They're 16. I'm like, no, this is a person who learned how to do a skill and now they're doing great at it. You know what I'm talking about the Kool-Aid.

Justin: Well, so what I'm hearing is that you approach it from the very beginning of: these are human beings, and I'm going to approach them in their entire humanity and not as this weird teen no man's land. You know, where yeah. Where we can kind of get extremely nervous and say, oh, my gosh. Yeah, yeah. So, Jena, let's hear about your teenage journey or your journey with your teenagers. What was it like as your oldest child came into the tween years and then the teen years?

Jena: So I had a bit of a different experience. My kids are now twenty nine and almost twenty six. And when my kids were approaching the teen years, I'm a sexual health professor. I teach adolescent development and gender and sexuality, and I teach people how to teach those things. And so I felt really prepared. And I think one of the things that Vanessa said that really resonated with me is sort of like all that doom talk about the emotions of parenting teens. And one of the things that was really challenging for me was recognizing that sometimes knowing something intellectually or understanding the theory about why something is happening does not make it hurt any less in that moment. But as a parent, we still have those emotions. We still have this investment. We have the story in our head of what a fabulous life would look like for our kiddo. And when they diverge from that path, it can be really hard, even when we know why that's happening or what the appropriate response is to show up with that. And I got that lesson really clearly. I was teaching a graduate class, literally teaching adolescent development and talking about the fact that adolescents really need to experiment with hair and clothes and all this identity stuff. And as I'm having this conversation with my graduate students, my then 15 year old son calls to say, and I pick up the phone because he's going through a rough spot. And so, like, my kids always get me, no matter what else is going on, unless I'm performing open heart surgery, which I don't do. Right. So like I'm teaching and my kid is calling. They know when I teach, like they need me and I'm going to answer. So I answer the phone and it's my 15 year old kid saying, I'm shaving my head. I just wanted you to know so you wouldn’t be shocked when you got home. He's a skinny redhead. I can picture this in my head, and it's a terrible, terrible look. I’m like such a hypocrite to scream into the phone. Don't you dare shave your head. Don't, don't, don't, don't. Let's talk about this. Put down the razor. So what I wound up saying because I have an audience is “Ok. It's your head, hair grows back, if you don't like it. I'll be home at nine thirty. Pick up after yourself. We'll see what that looks like.” Luckily, like I was on the spot to do the right thing because my instinct was ginger hair is beautiful. Don't get rid of that. So I think one of the really interesting parts of my journey has been thinking about the difference between what we know and our intellect and our heart and what we want. And especially, again, as it goes for that story of what would be the best thing for your kid or a good thing for your kid and what you think would be a bad thing for them. And for me, that really, really comes to a head in the teen years, like you'll have seven kids before that. But it's really adolescents who are like, nope, these are all the things you care about. Not me.

Vanessa: Right.

Jena: And that's a lot.

Justin: So what I'm hearing with both of your stories is this really difficult transition. And we talk a lot about it in all the lessons in the workshop transitioning from this childhood, from parenting, a child where you know, you're going from, like feeding them and picking out their clothes. And it's like this is a little mini me, you know, where you've decided everything in their life. And all of a sudden we're going through this transition and it's like, what? What is happening? What is this thing that has its own identity or that is developing its own identity, that it's developing its own ideas, and this can be really destabilizing. And so what I heard for Vanessa, that you kind of were ahead of the curve like you were thinking, you know what, these are human beings. These are their own human beings before they even went through that teen transition. Is that right?

Vanessa: Yeah. And I probably wouldn't have been there except for that my second child was, I just wrote about this. I want to tell you everything, but I want to save it for who asked me to write it on some blog somewhere. It'll come out soon. But what I want to say is that my second child was the most opposite from me, is still the most opposite from me in the most challenging person to ever exist. And they came out of my womb and I am like, there's been a mix up at the hospital. And my first child was so vanilla, still is, so boring and wonderful and like linear and coachable and like just, you know, like we're like, what is he? Right. My second one came along and here's one thing that I got, in really honestly, people are like in that moment, I'm like, yeah, in that moment, you know, you feel energy, right? So I had my second baby and I was like, uh oh, I just felt it in my soul. Right. And then I'm like, ok, this probably happened a little later. I go, if I'm going to take credit for number one in his little perfect way of being, then I'm going to have to take responsibility for how number two is. And I'm not willing to do that. So I knew right then that I, that people are who people are. And it's my job to guide them, their own bumpy route. And it is not about me. I just got that. I wouldn't accept it. And it was kind of like a it was dumb luck, you know, in a way that I got that lesson. I wasn't being wise. I was being prideful. But do you hear what I mean?

Justin: Yeah. Well, so for you, I'm feeling into your story and getting this energetic lesson, feeling into maybe the emotional reality of the differences between these kids. And then I think about Jena, who is there in her graduate school class and is teaching the science behind adolescence towards adolescent development. And so, Jena, I want to check in with you. I imagine a lot of your coming into the teen years was informed by a lot of the research and science that you've done and that you have been exposed to. But I want to check in on this kind of energetic, emotional aspect. What was that like for you?

Jena: Yeah, and these really strong, really heightened emotions. And the part that Vanessa said that made me cringe a little bit with shame of my own behavior was it's not about you. Right? Because of and here's the thing, city folks. I live in a town of 30,000 people. My students were my kids’ junior high and high school student teachers. Right. I mean, I bought my kids grocery shopping, I would run into people I knew from work all the time. And again, like I, I was able to mostly make it not about me. One of the best things I did with my kids start going to junior high is I sat them down and I had a conversation and I said, I will never come to your class with condoms because I know that it would embarrass you and be terrible unless I have your permission ahead of time. And I would really, really appreciate it if neither of you were involved in any sort of teen pregnancy, because that would be humiliating for me as a professional. And I thought I had it really down. And then when my youngest kid, Zach, was 15, he was diagnosed with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and was actively suicidal. And we tried all sorts of things to keep him safe and to treat him. But it took over a year to find a treatment that really worked. And finally, his psychiatrist said to me, you need to let him drop out of high school. I’m a freakin’ college professor. I struggled so much with that one. And I thought, well, if you take a leave of absence that you could take medical leave he could take. And finally, the psychiatrist said, you know, if your kid were immunocompromised, and I said sending him to school with other children will make him sick enough that we can't keep up. I am telling you, the environment for your child right now in high school is making it hard for us to keep him alive. We need to allow him to drop out. And it really took someone putting it in those terms for me to be able to get out of my own head about what would it say about me as a parent. If I were struggling emotionally so much that he needed to drop out of high school because I wasn't able to fix it. And luckily, the great thing about having a kid who's that seriously ill is you have this fabulous team, if you're lucky. And I was very lucky. And I have access to care. I had this fabulous team of medical professionals who helped me reframe that, like we got to do lots of really intense family counseling and stuff. But with all of my background, like by the time this happened, I was a tenured professor. I'd been teaching... I gone through grad school teaching all this stuff for about a decade. It still really felt like it was a critique of me and my parenting to let my kid drop out of school. I don’t think that, again, despite what we know and despite our good intentions and we talked about this a little bit before the podcast, one of the things that we really need to do to parent teens well is to look at our own stuff and recognize sometimes that we might need to change or that we might need to grow to help our kids get to the place that is healthy for them.

Justin: Oh, I love that. That's a common theme that goes through all of the lessons in the workshop. And we're going to talk about that a little bit later. But I wanted to ask Vanessa. So what I heard from Jena, which resonates really deeply with me, is that my identity is wrapped up in how my child does and how my child appears to the world. Like if this kid can, you know, perform well in school and extracurricular activities and then later on can get into the right college. It's not about them. It's about me. It's like I get the star. So how often do you come across this in the parents you coach?

Vanessa: All the time. All the time. All the time. And it's so freeing. I love this topic. I'm like trying not to like freak out right now. Ok, so listen to this. I just got a text from a very uptight mom who I just finished working with for my eight-week program, it's called Full Family Transformation. So I'm looking at each family member 360 degrees, each one which gives you the whole family's 360 degrees. Right. And then it's like let's like everything on the table and see what we want to keep, see what we don't need, you know, nonjudgmental, no judgment whatsoever. Right. And so she texted me this picture of her daughter's room like a video. I mean, this like video like panning, like close up. I have yet to see a room that messy in my life raising my you know, it was like legit, like top notch stuff…

Justin: Wait, you have raised five, you are currently raising five teenagers and you have not seen a messier room than this?

Vanessa: Never, never, never. And I've potch the girl like I know if a art is no reflection on her. Right. And so listen to this. The mom wrote me, she goes, this would have driven me crazy or driven me out of my mind before. But now and then she put the little emoji of like, she's detached. So it's like this healthy detachment. It doesn't mean something about her parenting. It doesn't mean something about the person whose room is messy. It doesn't mean anything. It means there are a lot of items on the floor of that room in her house. And what that means is there are a lot of items on the floor like it doesn't have to mean something, which is what evokes all of those emotions. Right. So, I mean, that's just one story. And I've got to say, Jena, I too have a high school dropout, I’m smiling like ding, like and it is something I'm actually really proud of. And when I could have consultations with new clients, I just two days ago, this woman, she's, our kids go to the same high school. It just so happens. I don't know her, though. And I said, I've got two at that school and one in college and one dropout. And I listed along the list because you know what, I said: “I can tell you that story later. But that kid is so brave and I am so proud of my child who decided that high school wasn't right for them, who changed their name three times, who has a fully shaved head” like Justin's. And then it's called a skullet, ok, who just came over with a new tattoo on their head. I am equally as proud of that child as I am of my like, perfectly straight laced, you know, bass pro shop hat wearing boys.

Justin: Vanessa, this is a story that you tell, actually, in your lesson and so this is a great segway to move over to to talk about the lessons. It's a really powerful story that perfectly illustrates the theme of your lesson. But your lesson comes a little bit later in the workshop. It comes in week three, I believe, and Jena's comes in week one. So I think I'll just start chronologically. So, Jena, you had actually two lessons out of these 10 and they were the first two, because they're about development. They're about adolescent development. They're about exactly what you were teaching when this when your son wanted to shave his head and…. So. So the first lesson is about cognitive development, like what's happening in the teenage brain, what's happening in the adolescent brain. And then the second lesson is about identity development. So can you tell us a little bit about what you cover and why this is so important to lay the groundwork for the rest of the workshop.

Jena: Sure. So talking about brain development, I think is a really great place to start, because one of the really hard things about parenting adolescents is they can be incredibly mature in some ways. They can be, you know, like say my son is almost as tall as I am now. And as soon as he got close, you know, it was stretching up and being is here, all of those things, they could be physically so mature or even sometimes emotionally or intellectually so mature. And then at other times you're like, really? Are you channeling your kindergarten self? Like there's just the sort of back and forth. And if we understand sort of the cognitive processes that are coming online during adolescence, it really helps us not take some of the stuff that's happening personally. So, again, like the ability to think really abstractly and to start to reason morally. You may have a child who for their entire childhood has faithfully attended the services in your religion, who now thinks that it's hypocritical or thinks that it's wrong, or that, you know, this thing that has always been ok is now suddenly not only don't play like it, but it is wrong and it is a terrible thing. And it can really feel that children are being deliberately defiant, obstructionist, that they're arguing with every single thing, that they're nit picking, that they become legal scholars. Right. And they say, well, you said I couldn't do this because of this reason, but when the other kids are great and they're like. And all of that can feel like an attack until you start thinking about it as like their brains developing new superpowers. And, of course, they want to try them out. Right. Like if you're developing the ability to think abstractly about hypotheticals, you know, of course, you're going to come home and say, if I decided to drop out of high school right now and move to Tibet, what would that look like? So talking about and sort of understanding the ways in which, you know, it's a mixed bag. In some way adolescent brains are incredibly developed when it comes to being able to think abstractly or start to process morals and values. And in other ways, especially your own emotional regulation and intensity of feelings, they're still really figuring things out. And like baby deer, you know, they get these long legs before they really know how to use them. Like adolescence is really about the brain developing. All of these processes are fine tuning these processes and then your kids figuring out how to use them by practicing trial and error on you mostly and their teachers. Right. That's the good thing about sending kids off to school, is they get to do this on someone else besides you. So that's what adolescence is from a cognitive perspective. And expecting our kids to act grown up or mature or manage their emotions can be really, really unfair when we now understand that a lot of those processes don't come fully online the way that we experience them as adults until people are in their early or late 20s. Right. So expecting a 17 year old to deal with heartbreak or setbacks or what feels like failure with the same level of reasoning that we do just isn't isn't fair because it is impossible for them at that point.

Justin: Well, and also, as we see in our current social political environment, when it comes to reasoning and maturity, some of us never get there. Right. So but I. Wow. So the thing that that that hit me when you were talking about this and as and now I recall working on these lessons with you, the key idea for me that hit me was your teenager isn't broken like it. It looks like the teen years, like this wonderful child or this you know, this child that I had is now broken. And so you lay the groundwork to say like, no, no, this is totally healthy and normal. Vanessa, did you want to respond to that?

Vanessa: I just I love so much that I, everything you're saying from you guys being, you know, doctor and doctor. Hi Doctor, hi  doctor. I remember that movie, Doctor. I'm over here always saying, you know, I'm zero percent a doctor. Right. But like don't let anyone think, I'm never pretending to be something I'm not. And it's just like, yes, it's all like my experience and I guess my gut, which you guys have both, too, right? It's just so validating, you know, and then you're like giving me even more encouragement to keep I say in my own ways. I've got this hilarious analogy that I taught one parent where it's like, remember how that picture of Joey on friends when you have the turkey on his head? Just imagine. Listen, just imagine. Ok, I just think of it. You don't. So that's your visual. I say just picture a turkey on his head or a 17 year old son. Right. Because think about this. You prepare a turkey. You do all the basting in the stuffing in the or whatnot. Hopefully you're not vegan. Sorry, everyone, but. Right. You're like you put it in the oven. You've planned backwards from when you want to eat. The oven is preheated. Everything's right. Your style, your turkey, everything's right. You put it in the oven. You close the door. Now, what if you kept going? Oh, my gosh, it's not cooked yet. Open the door. Open the door. Open the door. Closed the door. Open the door. First of all, the heat gets out. No momentum gets going. Right. And then it's like it's not supposed to be ready yet. Didn't you set the timer for dinging later? And so my trigger for her what and this is just like coaching little like to get her to think when this happens is when you see him doing something, it's like he's not fully cooked yet and everything you put in. So the dad's like they had an argument. The dad's like Vanessa said, he's already cooked and she's like, no, he's not cooked yet. And so they're asking me on a group chat, they're like having this hilarious debate. And I'm like, no, it's both. You've done all the preparations. You put them in the oven. The rest is just a matter of time. Right. So he's going to be cooked. And you've done everything you can and now you wait. Kind of. So it was great.

Justin: Ok, so this is a perfect segue, Vanessa, into your lesson, which is on acceptance. And it's maybe the deepest lesson for any parent to learn. And so what if you're a parent who has prepared this turkey and you know, from you know, from the time it came home from the store, you know, to like you've got the perfect you read all the chef books. Right. And, you know, you did everything and you put it in the oven. And this turkey wants to turn out a different way than what you wanted it right now, like this turkey is saying, no, we're going to come out as roast beef. And I don't care what you have to say. So your lesson is about acceptance. This is so hard. So can you tell us a little bit about acceptance in parenting.

Vanessa: Yeah, it's what we've already talked about. It really is. It's simple. It's hard, but it's difficult. But it's simple, I guess. And it's not easy. What do they say? It's not easy, but it's simple. It's simple because a couple things. I'll say three things. Number one, if we don't accept ourselves and we're not on the path to working on accepting ourselves as we are, then there's no possible way that we can accept someone else. It's just a fact. You can fight me, you guys won't, but anyone can fight me on that. It's absolutely impossible to give someone something or teach. So I mean, like treat them that way as in the gift of I accept you, and then have them model that and learn that if you don't have it, you can tell them that every day. Oh, except yourself. But they'll know because it's invisible if you do or not. And it's visible. So that's the first thing. The second thing, it's none of our business how our kids turn out. It is none of our business. You guys know far more than I do, I'm sure about codependency, but like for someone to turn out a certain way that is how I get to be happy and satisfied with myself and not feel myself a failure or a loser. If this if check, if check, check you like. Oh, you said the college thing in the extracurriculars and all of the above. Like, that's not a relationship. That's a science project. That's something completely different.

Justin: Right. It's well, it's what we were talking about before. It's can I get the gold star? So I'm doing good, right? So this piece about accepting one's self or that if you don't accept yourself, you can't possibly accept your child as they are. And there's another way to put that is if you don't have self compassion, love for yourself, if you don't feel that you are fundamentally worthy, then that's going to come out on to your kids. You know, I yes, I love you. But make sure you do this, this and this and this and turn out in this way and that way. And there's a paradox in there that I recall you talking about in your lesson, that the more we try to have our kids turn out a certain way and the more we try to control them and you know that the worse things are likely to turn out in the end. And you illustrate this so well in your story about your daughter who wanted to drop out of high school. And so I don't want to ruin it like I do want people to go into the workshop to read the story. But it turns out in a really beautiful way. And you illustrate how once you are able to accept your child for exactly the way this person, this human being in front of you is and unconditional love and acceptance. It came back around and in a really beautiful and transformative way.

Vanessa: And then it changed again. I don't have to tell you that after I wrote that, it changed again and they decided they go there nonbinary. So they/them but they then decided something else because they decided that what number one is, is integrity and not approval. So I'll just leave it at that. If somebody wants to know the end of the story, I suppose that's a wonderful reason for them to contact me.

Justin: Oh, gosh, oh, but one. So one of the thing I want to add for parents listening to this who are trying to wrap their heads around this idea of accepting yourself and accepting your child is we had on Ryel Kestano on a past podcast. He's the CEO of Art International, which does authentic related training. And we talk a lot about that in that podcast. How really all of our relationships, we are just projecting onto others the things that we do or don't accept about ourselves. Like what emotions am I willing to fill and which ones am I not willing to feel? And then I'm going to put that on to my kids as well. I'm going to say, no, you're not allowed to feel that. I'm not going to hold space for that, because I can't do that for myself.

Vanessa: And then we act like their bad reaction is their fault.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Wow, wow. Jena, how is all this landing for you?

Jena: Oh, I loved that. And I really like, again, tying it back into the parent skills. The parents work, not only our children not broken, but we're contributing to any conflict that exists. Right. And that is the part that we really have control of. When you point when Vanessa talked about accepting your child for who they are. She bought this really beautiful, sort of transcendent place from a really pragmatic perspective, like all of the beautiful transcendence stuff is true. And as your child gets over, you will have less and less ability to actually control their behavior. What you are able to control as your child approaches adulthood. Is your relationship with them, how you communicate to them, how honest they are with you. Right. So I, so my 15 year old kid who dropped out of high school because he had major depressive disorder recovered from that and was 17 when all of the cannabis legalization was happening. Right. And so I had this experience of my 17 year old coming to me and saying, I'm really curious to try marijuana. And me saying again, because we just had this fabulous opportunity to really learn how to talk and connect with each other, I think that's a terrible idea. When you say that, look like please. No, right. Because like I'm a health person and this was a decade ago. So the research was still emerging. But, you know, there's the health stuff and for adolescents and maybe a psychotic break. And like you say this, and all I can think of is I feel like I just got you back. And anything that risks that really, really scares me. And he said, ok, I'll think about that and I'm still curious and I'll do some more reading. And we continued to have this series of conversations where right…

Vanessa: Amazing.

Jena: Right before he turned 18, he decided he was going to ignore my best advice and my wishes and try it and see what he thought. And so then we had a conversation about like, what would that look like and what could he do to make sure he was doing it in a safe place? And I got to say again, like this is not what I would vote for for you. And him saying, yup, yup, get that, thanks mom. And I looked at that and this is my best judgment. Oh, you know, like for all we talked about it, all the buildup, I'm disappointed. And I’m like good.

Justin: Well, the lesson that I'm hearing and that I'm starting to experience now with my kids is that the issue isn’t are they going to do it or not. The issue is, are they, are we going to keep an open, honest line of communication? Right. That's the thing that I have control over.

Vanessa: That is so brilliant. I'm freaking out, you guys. This is so brilliant. This is exactly it, in my opinion.

Jena: My dad was a police chief, so I grew up in an authoritarian house, my rules, my way or the highway, as long as you're under my roof, young lady. And what that did is it taught me to be pretty devious, like I would do anything violates my adult values now. Like I was a pretty good kid by most people's standards. I absolutely did things that my parents would have paid if they'd known about. And what I learned to do was not tell them to lie if I had to.

And then if I got caught to sort of fudge, fib to minimize the consequences.

Vanessa: Right.

Justin: And wow, that was my high school, the entire high school experience.

Jena: Right. Oh, I know. You caught me drinking with friends, but it's only just this once. I've never done it before and I'll never do it again. Right. And what my parents lost, what I gained by approaching that differently was not that I necessarily had more control over my children's behavior, but I had more input and more conversation. And here's the thing, to make it make it a little bit dark and a little bit milk for a second. One of the things I do in my work around gender and sexuality on college campuses, I do sexual violence research. And I can't tell you how many young college adults I have interviewed who have experienced this horrible thing. But who won't allow us to give them help or resources because of the idea of their parents finding out. But they went to a party that they were drunk, that they were incapacitated. It’s paralyzing, but the fear of that judgment from their parents. And what's the deal? If they come to me in a research role, I'm constrained by what I can do ethically. But if they come to me because they know that I do this research and they want to talk, what I do is I take off my researcher hat and I put on my mom hat. And I suppose the worst thing I can imagine as a mom is something bad happening to my kid, something hurting my child. The only thing that's worse than that is my child is hurt and I don't know it and I can't help. So when we shut down conversations about behavior that we're uncomfortable with, when we say absolutely not, unacceptable, my way or the highway. You do this, it's a deal breaker. We shut down that connection for when they do get into trouble, when they are scared, when they do mess up to come and say help. And that for me is the reason that no matter how much and again, my adult kids do things all the time, that I would not vote for it if I got a vote about it. They say, hey, here's this thing I'm doing and I think it's gonna make you crazy. And I'm like, yeah, a little bit.

Justin: So honesty and prioritizing, keeping open lines of communication. It's not just about having a deep and connected relationship with your teenager, which is wonderful in itself. But Jena, what you just brought up is that it could save a life. Like I could, like it's real and it's much bigger than your own, you know, perfection view of how you want your child or your…

Vanessa: Ego.

Justin: To be ego. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, my gosh.


Justin: The next thing that I wanted to do, since I have you both here, is just talk about a few common issues that parents of teens have since I have these two experts on. Let's just talk about a few things. So one of the things that I have heard, because I have been starting to talk about the parent teen workshop with other parents I know. And this came up the other day about the teen tone, how it's just brutal how like the parents are just, feel like it's a dagger in the heart. The teen tone are just dismissive and just and rude and cutting. How do you guys handle this?

Vanessa: Funny. I've never really heard it. Teen tone. I love the branding of it all. That's awesome. That's another thing. Is it really personal or did that person just have a bad day? Are they hungry? I always think about what I know from 12 step programs. Halt, are they hungry? Are they angry or are they lonely, are they tired? And honestly, we could add like 10 more acronyms after that for what kids have to deal with these days. So they're not just our basic needs. Like that's probably an old school acronym. There's so much more. So like for me, I deal with anxiety and depression. I have a really neurotic little brain. Right. I don't know what size it is, but I'm super neurotic. And if I get edgy or snippy. So again. So let me just tell you, behind the scenes, I think about myself when I lose it, when I can't cope with the amount of things that are coming toward me, which kids listen to Jena about the brain's right. Like it's a lot to process when a parent like, did you do this how you do on your quiz? What did you do? What happened with so-and-so? Where is the better? I gave you this morning and all of that stuff is coming upland at them. Plus all the social media stuff, plus all the stuff that's happening in their classroom and all the little comments that they're hearing all day long. And the pressure, I could go on and on. Right. And then you say, how was your day? And they say, oh, my God, that is not about you, mom. That is not about me, dad. That is not about us. That is a human having a human experience. And this very morning, I had a child laying in bed being a real you know what to me like really cutting and rude. And I'm like, there is no universe in which I could be any more kind and accommodating and accepting. Literally, I said that word, like to where you're at right now, which is recently diagnosed with moderate to severe anxiety, with panic. Was like two days ago, right? Not treated yet. I said, I get it. And I'm not your enemy. So as much as you can, like, squeeze out a tiny bit of like reciprocal kindness, I would really appreciate that, and I've set a boundary that I won't be talked to like that. And I love the crap out of you and I get where you're at and you don't have to do this. So boundaries, knowing it's not you, about you, those can happen at the same time. You don't just have to not set a boundary when you're teed off, right?

Justin: I love it. Yeah. Jena?

Jena: I love that part about not taking it personally again, because in our heads, we're always the star of the show. So everything is about us. Right. And teenagers have that times 10 again because of where their brains are. Like everything really is about that egocentrism. It's actually a defining hallmark of sort of how adolescents think.

Justin: Yes. Jena, you talk about egocentrism in your lesson and in fact, as this major feature. Yeah. Of being a teenager.

Jena: And so it's really not about us. In fact, sometimes we're not even on the radar. Right. And the frustrating thing, my kids it was totally a thing, eye rolling. We talk about facial expressions. I think that there is no legitimate way as a parent to feel justified being like no, your eyes were totally above the horizon of your glasses. And you're doing this with an adolescent, remember, whose reasoning, whose values, whose sense of right and wrong and justice are all ramped up the. I grew up, again, I grew up in a really strict family, but it was a really loving family. The only time in my entire life as a teenager that my mother ever slapped me. We got into an argument and I said to her, PG 13 alert. I said, you're acting like a bitch. Can you imagine in a super strict Irish Catholic family. And my mom, who I'm sure did not even think about it, just like, you know. And my response as a 16 year old was, that's not fair. I didn't say you were a bitch. I just said you were acting. It was my sense of overwhelming suck that I. Right. But as soon as she responded in anger, I was so much more vindicated and justified. And so one of the things that I try and do and again, it's hard because pulling yourself out of this equation and pulling your feelings out of this is super hard. But knowing that adolescents are dealing with new emotions, different intensity of emotions, I think it can be really helpful to sort of mirror back to them what you're experiencing. Wow, it feels like you're really frustrated with me right now.

Vanessa: Right. Good.

Jena: It seems like I'm annoying you, is this a good time to have this conversation? And the great thing about this is that if you teach this to your kids, you get to use it with them. So I was in the car. We have a family farm. And my husband and son and I were in the truck yesterday going to pick up sheep. We've got to transport 40 sheep. And it's a big deal and it's stressful. And we're talking about something about politics. And both Todd and my son Zach are just like, no, you're wrong. And I was like, wow. It feels like everybody just piled on there really hard. They don't even want to talk about this anymore. And they and everybody in my family gets that language right. You seem frustrated or you see where I'm like, wow, it seems like you just both ganged up on me. And now I'm just. And then we got to talk about it and we got to the bottom talking about the next thing.

Justin: Oh, I love that.

Jena: Yeah. The great thing about checking in about like you seem frustrated or you seem angry, is it gives the other person the opportunity to say, I'm not angry, I'm just…

Vanessa: Right. It's not about you. You know what, Jena? And I love that. I'll say, “oh, wow. Like, did I miss something? Did I irritate you or something because I didn't mean to” and then be like, oh, my God. You know how that is for those, right? Oh, no, no, no. Oh, my God. It's not about you. Sorry, mom. I just need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Right. Like they'll literally. It's so good what you're saying. It's so good. Yeah.

Justin: Yeah. The language that is coming up for me is from authentic relating and it's sharing impact. And I've tried to do this at times. This hasn't happened with my 14 year old son, but it has with my 11 year old daughter, who, you know, she'll say something really hurtful or rude. And so I'll share impact. I'll say “that really hurt me.” And in those moments, like I get a just like stonewall face, just like I don't care. Like if you drop dead, that's fine. But I'll sense later on like that, really, like letting her know that her dad can be hurt by those words is like really impactful. And I won't hear those exact words again. I might hear some other rude words, but like just to let her know, like, oh, I just need to share this impact right now. This is hurting.

Vanessa: Yeah. That we're human, too, you know, like acting like we're not human. Makes them feel like they can't be human. You know, and it's just it's just like a vicious cycle of like, well, you're pretending I can't be human. So now I'm going to call you out when you're human and there's no mercy whatsoever. And I wanted to say something back to what we were saying earlier about being. I think it's a billion times, that's scientific. You can find the research on that. More important to be on the inside of the crap that our kids get into than to be on the outside of it. It's like you said. And I just wanted to add to that from earlier, like I write this sentence everywhere. Like what if you could be the first person, your teenager, your child, anyone, your spouse, for that matter, could what wants to talk to and listen to instead of the last? Because how many times and don't tell my parents they'll kill me verses I want to go right to my mom and dad because they love me more than anyone and they're going to be the ones who are going to help me through this. That's how it should be. But we set them up to not believe that really even though it's true for us. Right.

Justin: I love that, I love it.

Vanessa: I hope I didn’t change the subject too much. I just had to say that.

Justin: No, no. And so this brings us to the last big topic that I wanted to talk about. What I'm hearing so much and what you both have said, and this came out in all the lessons, and I was just really left with this message at the end of the parent teen workshop. Is that: parenting a teenager, if you really want a deep, connected relationship with your teenager, it's going to require you as a parent to grow. Like you're not going to go into the teenage years with your kids, the same person that you are. You know, you're not going to leave the same person that you were when you went in. And so I'm wondering if you can both talk about your personal but also professional experiences around this idea that like the problems that, or the challenges to put it in a different way, that you have with your teens, they're really an invitation for you to grow as a person.

Jena: Absolutely right. And the first thing that I think needs to happen for that growth to occur is to sort of verbalize the story of what you have and what you wanted for your kid. You have this perfect like you had planned for them from the first time you held them or the first time you saw the fetal ultrasound or, you know, this is who this kid is going to be. And recognize that by letting that grow and sort of working with the child, supporting them in their journey, you don't get to lead this journey, but you just for them in their journey to figure out who they are and growing to be the parent that you need to be to support them in that, you know. The same way that when your kid became interested in Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Pokemon or whatever the cartoon was, like you learned all the characters because it was important to your kid. I still know everybody, every single dinosaur and all of the songs in Land Before Time, because it really mattered to my kids. So I did that homework so that I could have conversations. By doing that with your kid as an adolescent, not only you have this deeper connected relationship you're really giving them permission to figure out who they are and what makes them happy. Right. And as adults like I don't know about you, I'm 53. I know so many people my age who are relatively miserable in the perfect lives that their parents picked out for that. You know, the doctors, the lawyers, the everything that got decided when they were 16, 17, 18, 20, about who they were going to be for the rest of their lives and who are maybe now, just as they hit 30, 40, 50, starting to explore what else they could be. Or what they really want to do. Right. The ability to grow with your kid to be semi competent in their interests, to be engaged, to at least be able to let go of your own baggage about why this is a terrible idea if your kid shaves their head or smokes pot to let them explore who they all are, gives them this incredible gift that anybody I know wants for themselves and the people they care about.

Vanessa: That was touching. Thank you. And I officially don't hate my life. And it's because you know what you're talking about and I know you guys don't either. Like I'm 44 and and it was because, get this, like I have like a really good demonstration of this. My child came out at 10, just so happens to be the same one we were talking about. My second one, came out as a lesbian when when they were, a she identified as she and and came out and I'm like, I know Ellen DeGeneres, ok, like not really, but from TV. Like that's like my whole like Richard Simmons. Ellen DeGeneres. That's like Catholic world. Like I don't have any like hatred towards LGBTQ, but it was through parenting my child. Yes, dude, let's be gay. I'm literally Googling. I remember where I was sitting, gay kid Phoenix, like, let's freaking do this. We're in a PFLAG meeting like the next day. Right. Parents and what's that called? Allies.

Jena: Parents and friends of lesbians and gays.

Vanessa: Yeah. Right. Right. So we showed up there. Right. So I'm saying that it was through the parenting, my parenting and my immense unconditional love, which I told you is superduper part of not drinking the Kool-Aid. No conditions. You be you. I'm going to be there. Where are you? Who are you? Oh, I'm there for that. Right. So then flash forward years later, probably four years later, I came out and it's like, look at that. Do you have, there is no doubt in my mind that I would still be a married Catholic natural family planning Bible study leading, I love Jesus and stuff, but holy crap, that was not me. And I was fitting into something. And because my child, I didn't thwart that. And I literally got to be myself because of that. And I got to tell you, as different as my five kids are, each and every one of them ends up telling me somehow, someway, on a regular basis, that they're so proud of me being who I am, despite the fact that they will have a like, very well known lifelong impact from the divorce, the divorce drama and tragedy of the family breaking up, me getting being authentic and growing, because I had to show them what I'm talking about is real for me, too.

Justin: Oh, my God, it's beautiful. And it's like a perfect illustration of what we're talking about here, like the demand to grow as a human being, that the teenage years or for you, it was the tween years that that 10 opened up for you was like, Vanessa, you needed to grow like you needed to open up and grow as a human being in order to continue to connect with your child, in order to understand them, in order to support them, in order to fully love them. And it transformed you.

Vanessa: Yeah, all day. And everyone in my life knows all the kids, my wife, my mom, the single most influential person in my life is the one whose guts I hated for a really long time. And that's number two kid, because they challenged me and I could have gone one way or the other. One way is to have them conform. And I promise you this, and I have text messages to the affirmative that this kid would not be alive if I had parented them in the way of conforming and gaining society's approval. They couldn't be here for that. There's no way.

Justin: And so what we talked about before was this idea of, you know, we can't accept in our kids what we can't accept in ourselves. But it seemed like maybe this went in the other direction for you, that you worked to accept this in your child and then you were later able to accept something new about yourself.

Vanessa: Yeah, something I already knew, but I couldn't even touch.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, beautiful. Beautiful. Wow. Well, I am so grateful to you both for working on this workshop with me. I really hope this is the first of many, because many of the lessons that we work on in this workshop run throughout all of parenting, you know, that they really, I think, are heightened in the teenage years, like it comes to a boil. And you better have your shit together here, because this is the real game. But it goes throughout the whole thing and they are very last lesson in the parenting workshop is about parenting a young adult. And Jena, now you are in that phase now of parenting when your kids are now in their 20s and early 30s and really have their own full lives. But these lessons go from day one all the way to adulthood. Thank you so much for doing this. And yeah, I can't wait to have you both back on the podcast. There are so many rich lessons that I'm so excited for you to share with other parents. Thank you.

Jena: Thank you. Vanessa, it was great to chat with you.

Vanessa: Oh, my gosh. I feel you guys just gave me so much life.

Jena: The Family Thrive fanclub. Justin keeps introducing me to all these fabulous humans.

Vanessa: Oh, back at you. I mean, I don't know if I'm going to jump through the ceiling when I get off of this. Like you guys just really it makes you want to cry because sometimes you probably sometimes can feel really alone in doing this work and trying to like be different than the, I keep saying it, but you know what I mean? The Kool-Aid drinkers, the people who take it, you know, like they don't think it through, like doesn't have to be this bad. You don't have to suffer. Yes, it's painful, but we don't have to suffer. So getting to talk to people who are just like kind of fighting the status quo, you know, protesting the party line, like I really appreciate it. It's really moving and I love you guys so much.

Justin: That is what The Family Thrive is all about. We are in this together. It's really a community of parents that want to flourish, that want to thrive. They don't just want the status quo. They don’t just want the Kool-Aid. Yeah, yeah, beautiful. Thank you so much.

Vanessa: Bye, thank you.

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