In this episode:
I kick off a little shaky, and flub Mary Van Geffen’s name, but once we get rolling there is no stopping us. We get going talking about how Mary came to the work of helping others parent spicy kids. Mary was a “spicy” kid and that came with some rough times and some rejection. Once she became a parent, she wanted to do things differently for her children and now shares what she has learned with other families. I love when one person’s story and past feeds into their work. Mary talks about how parents of spicy kids and particularly spicy teens bring a great deal of intensity to situations, and how its on the parent to lower the energy in those interactions. Spicy kids have a high loyalty to themselves and intensely follow the call of their own heart. Mary says we have so much to learn from them. Spicy kids are not people pleasers and so often do not fall prey to as much peer pressure and are also not as eager to please their parent. I love that integrity to themselves, and as Mary suggests it can be challenging to feel like a competent parent with this kind of intensity.
Mary talks about how the little (not so little) secret is that often the place for the work in a parenting situation is not so much to do with the child as with a parent’s unresolved need for control. OK that spoke to me. I have been feeling in the teen parenting years a lot like those early parenting days of no control, and I clearly have more work to do in that area.
Mary notes that often the spicy kids she talks about are inflexible, highly sensitive (sensitive to tags, sounds), and are persistent and often louder than the average child. This came come with some great benefits like staying true to self and goals and being aware of the world in rich ways. It can also come with some frustrations like when things don’t go as planned or when the child is able to get what they expected. It can lead to challenges with friendships and at school. Mary has the great reminder that a parent’s goal is not to control the child’s behavior but rather for the parent to stay as they want to be regardless of how the child is in any given moment. She talks about how teens often trigger in parents their own tender parts as a child at that age, so for example my 11-year-old may bring me back to things that I loved or had a time with as an 11 year old myself. I reflected that nothing seems to quite shine a light more on the unhealed parts of yourself better than your child.
One key lesson I got from talking with Mary is the idea of creating slow customer service with our teens. I know I can be quick to fill requests to clear the list of things to do and tidy up my own anxiety. Welp, it turns out that creates repeat customers with more and more requests. I am committing myself to slowing down my service. Mary suggests cultivating a inner patroness, like an inner guide to help create a inner mentor of how you might like to engage. I am working on who that could be for me.
The other big take away from Mary is that often she sees parents who lead with what they are worried about for their child and a high focus on what is not going well. She helps families shift to a focus on what is going well, and a focus on the child’s strengths. She says that instead of strengths approach we focus on their weaknesses but the world will figure that out. We need to magnify the good and blow that up for them.
We end remembering the Mr. Rogers document, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and how he reminds parents that what kids need is to be reminded that you love them exactly how they are. Mary suggests that when we give qualifiers, it creates a unspoken message that “I would be more comfortable if you were different.” Mary talks about noticing bids for connection from your kids, and that those are the key moments to build relationship with your teens. I know I am paying more attention to those bids for connection after talking with Mary.
Mary Van Geffen has such great perspective on connecting with teens and I hope you get as much out of this episode as I did.