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I Need Help Parenting

I don’t know how many kids I have. I’ve never sat down and counted them all. My poor wife has conceded that I may symbolically adopt as many 16-24 year old as I care to, as long as she doesn’t have to do their laundry or get her heart broken over their struggles.

It’s not that I mind being their “dad.” It’s that an hour a week and maybe an email here and there is a lousy substitute for a father.

My job is largely to help people find their own truth, but whenever I’m asked, I don’t pull punches. I’ll tell you how I see it regardless of how it makes you feel. Incredibly, what most often happens is that my truth seems far too good to believe.

I keep meeting young people who have no idea how amazing they are. They do not know their worth because they were not taught it. More importantly, they were not made to feel secure enough in being unconditionally loved and accepted. They are inhibited – afraid to explore themselves and  their potential in healthy ways. Feigned apathy in generation Y is an unfortunate but understandable defense.

Every summer I get to work with young people who are preparing to go out “into the world” and are scared shitless. We get a handful of sessions to shore up the foundation they’re building on before they begin a new chapter of their lives. These kids have a lot of guts and they’re looking for someone to tell them what they need to know, how they’re supposed to be, and to reassure them that it’s going to be okay. Why do we expect kids to believe in themselves if we haven’t impressed upon them that we do?

In most cases, their parents meant well.

I’ve worked with a ton of at risk kids that come from horribly abusive families. I love these kids and they’re my kids because they’re nobody’s kids. The young people I do (for lack of a better term) summer therapy with are “good kids” who come from “nice” middle/upper middle class families. They did well in school, played travel soccer and they drive their mom’s hand me down Subaru.

We fell through invisible cracks. We grew up in families that maintained appearances and failed to invest in the right things. We had stuff but not each other. We learned to perform but not to create. We know what’s expected but not what we want. We know what you told us – it just never felt like anything. That’s why we look like we’re fine but we’re f@cked up – pretending is what we do best.

The very best people I know are working class poor and their kids more than anyone else’s know who they are. We are folks who struggled together and consequently overcame together. We had each other and not much more. The cohesion and love this makes possible is priceless.

I used to resent people who have never struggled to pay rent. Today I almost pity them. One of my favorite old adages – I know what it costs and I know what it’s worth.  My kids – biological and otherwise are the greatest thing I’ve ever been blessed with. I love them because it brings me joy to love them. I invest in them because the greatest thing a person can do. I’m at my best as a “dad” but the truth is they make me a better man.

Regardless of how you did raising your young adults – make it a point to show up now. Impress upon your kids that you are proud of them, that you believe in them, that you’ll go to any lengths to support and encourage them. Don’t rely on what you say to express this. Put it in writing. Show up for parents weekend. Send “care packages” from home.

There is no greater investment we can make than in helping young people find their paths. There is no greater love then giving of ourselves. Remember how scared you were back then? Don’t romanticize it. It was rough. What did you need then that you could give now?

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