Sometimes the best sources of encouragement come from the unlikeliest of places. I found a gold mine of optimism that can encourage moms when parenting is hard and feels lonely--and it's in a book that has nothing to do with parenting.
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Most people would probably describe me as optimistic, but it’s honestly a word I haven’t thought much about for a while. And then I started reading Chasing the Bright Side by Jess Ekstrom who founded Headbands of Hope in 2012 when she was a junior at NC State. Her book is written to motivate and inspire people to pursue their dreams and take charge of the trajectory of their life.
We had so much fun being part of the launch team for Chasing the Bright Side!
Mary and I love to share our favorite books with you, and this one has hit home in so many unexpected ways that I wanted to dedicate an entire post to it. I thought I’d be reading a feel-good book from a young woman whose company mission impacted me...I had no idea I would be struck by her tenacity and insights, and encouraged in my journey as a mom.
An Unlikely Source of Encouragement
There’s nothing in the book's summary about parenting. I’m pretty sure Jess Ekstrom wasn’t thinking about how a working mom with a teen and tween could use her book to think differently about parenting. I do hope she comes back to this book someday if she’s a mom and reads it with fresh eyes and a new perspective.
After an incredibly difficult day with my oldest son, I shared a little on social media and was surprised by how much it seemed to resonate with people. Which made me realize--again--how rarely we see honesty and vulnerability from moms who are parenting tweens and teens.
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Just had a long and frustrating conversation with my almost teen, so I went scrolling through my photos to find a picture of him that made me smile. This one was perfect—my boys with some friends that I adore. This whole “I want more independence but I don’t want to do anything to earn it” (I’m paraphrasing 😉) is exasperating! And exhausting. Trying to keep my cool when I’d rather scream—or trying to calm down after I’ve lost my temper—sometimes feels impossible. He’s tired of getting in trouble and I’m tired of him not doing what he’s supposed to do. So there we are. Talking in circles. I never should have tried to have this conversation after 5pm—I know better. I’ll make sure we hang out together tonight and watch an episode of @cwtheflash because that’s our thing. And we’ll try again tomorrow. My parenting philosophy is on repeat—“his character matters more than his happiness” and “I’m raising future husbands and dads” so I can stay strong on the stuff that really matters. If you’re in the middle of some hard parenting stuff, you’re never alone. #salteffect #momoftweens #momofboys💙 #momofboyslife #momoftwoboys #momofthreekids #parentingishard #buildingcharacter #characterbuilding #slayitladies #instantlymoms #raisingboys
It’s a fine balance between sharing about our struggles and respecting the privacy of our kids who are just trying to survive puberty. We’re in this stage of life when interactions with other parents are largely dictated by our kids’ activities and their friends, so deep conversations at the soccer field are pretty unlikely. And it’s hard to connect with our closest friends if we don’t have kids the same ages or with the same interests because life is busy and free pockets of time are scarce.
And that's before we even mention 2020.
It can be a lonely time as a mom.
But we’re not alone.
You’re not the only one...
...whose kids want more independence but don’t want to do anything to earn it but are sure they’re demonstrating lots of responsibility.
...who wonders how many moods your kids will cycle through before it’s even 8am.
...who lies awake at night wondering if virtual school or hybrid school or home school was the right decision because it feels like it's all coming apart at the seams.
...whose kid feels left out or doesn’t make good friend choices or regularly accuses you of being stuck in the 20th century.
...who is shocked (and so saddened) by conversations with your upper elementary or middle schooler that include words like prostitute, human trafficking, suicide and more.
...who can’t believe you’re trying to figure out how to warn your kids about grooming and online predators without completely terrifying them or contributing to the anxiety or depression they’re already struggling with.
...who found messages or pictures on their phones and it felt like a gut punch because you were sure they would never get involved in something like that.
...who misses real life, in person conversations and hugs from friends.
Parenting is HARD. And it can be really lonely. Especially now.
But we can’t get stuck there. Our kids need us to be willing and determined to move through what’s hard and get to the other side...because they need to learn how to do that on their own. They need to be resilient.
Moms, this is a character-building moment. That doesn't negate how awful it is and it doesn't deny the tangled ball of emotions that feel impossible to unravel. This isn't toxic positivity (a term being used a lot lately).
I looked back at my Instagram post, thought about the book I’ve been reading and realized that optimism was an important part of what I wrote, because it’s what I believe. Here's my post, with the optimistic parts in a different color--this is what I want my boys to see.
Just had a long and frustrating conversation with my almost teen, so I went scrolling through my photos to find a picture of him that made me smile. This one was perfect—my boys with some friends that I adore.
This whole “I want more independence but I don’t want to do anything to earn it” (I’m paraphrasing 😉) is exasperating! And exhausting. Trying to keep my cool when I’d rather scream—or trying to calm down after I’ve lost my temper—sometimes feels impossible.
He’s tired of getting in trouble and I’m tired of him not doing what he’s supposed to do. So there we are. Talking in circles.
I never should have tried to have this conversation after 5pm—I know better. I’ll make sure we hang out together tonight and watch an episode of The Flash because that’s our thing.
And we’ll try again tomorrow. My parenting philosophy is on repeat—“his character matters more than his happiness” and “I’m raising future husbands and dads” so I can stay strong on the stuff that really matters. If you’re in the middle of some hard parenting stuff, you’re never alone.
We Need Optimism
I want to share some of my favorite quotes from the book because I see so much truth and connection to raising kids in a world that sometimes seems to thrive on anger and envy and fear.
Optimism isn’t ignoring the reality of the world. It’s not about putting on rose-colored glasses. It’s about seeing the possibilities in every situation, no matter how bleak, and believing in the power of our own contributions.
Moms, when you’re feeling discouraged or lonely or exhausted, I hope you’ll read this book or come back to this post for encouragement. And I hope you’ll share it with other moms, because chances are pretty good they need it too.
“We can’t always control our experiences, but we can always write our stories.”
When I was 12, my world was turned upside down. Over 30 years later, I’m still dealing with the results of choices I didn’t make and events I didn’t control. But we can control our response and that’s how we get to write our stories. I wrote a blog for my mom around Mother’s Day and titled it Dear Mom, Thank You For Living A Powerful Story because I am so grateful for the example of her strength. It’s a lesson I hope I’m teaching my boys.
“Everything wonderful that has been created or achieved had to start with someone who believed it could be better.”
Believing at your core that things can be better is a powerful force. When we’re in the middle of seasons with our kids that seem hopeless or a year that seems it will never, ever end, holding on to optimism can keep us moving forward. Mary and I started SALT effect because we believe that when moms have a better balance and can manage their busyness, families and communities and future generations are stronger.
“Give more airtime to the possibilities.”
I wrote another post called How Adoption Led to a Breathtaking View of Life because making the decision to pursue adoption was one of the biggest--and most rewarding--risks I’ve ever taken. I asked another busy mom to start a business with me when the timing didn’t make sense. My family took a mission trip this past year when the safer and more logical decision would have been to stay home. I’ve learned to say yes more often to my boys when they have crazy ideas or want to do things I would never have considered--a friend just told me that she doesn’t know how we’re not in the ER every weekend. Brave was my word of the year in 2018 and when my boys gave me a custom bracelet with “brave” stamped on it, I knew they could see the impact of living outside what’s easy and comfortable.
“Hard times are either the excuse to do less or the reason to do more.”
We all need space to deal with hard times and navigate through them. The collective trauma of the pandemic is so heavy right now, so I'm not suggesting we ignore it. We have to talk about it. But then we have a decision to make. What will we do with those experiences? How can we actively involve our kids in our response? A friend of mine recently lost her dad to Alzheimer’s and now her family participates in an annual race to raise awareness and she bakes and sells cookies with her girls to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. Those girls are being raised to do more.
“Just because you hear crickets doesn’t mean that no one is listening.”
Ever feel like nothing you tell your kids is getting through? I’m right there too. But they are paying attention, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss those moments when you can see that they’ve been listening. Tuck those gems away because you’ll need them to get through the long droughts when you’re sure you’re only talking to yourself.
“Failures aren’t reflections of worth. They’re reflections of growth.”
I should hang this one on my wall because it’s something my boys need to see and embrace. And it’s something I need to remember for myself and for them. When my boys fail, what if I could reframe that failure as an opportunity for growth? How would that change my response? Sometimes we end up in a negative cycle with my son that feels endless...I get upset with him because he doesn’t do what I expect of him, he gets mad because he’s in trouble so then he doesn’t do the next thing I ask which upsets me...and on we go. I need to interrupt the cycle and look at this situation with more optimism. I don’t want him to question his worth because of his momentary failures or struggles.
We've written about failure--and why it's a necessary part of life--more than I realized. Here are a few more posts to help you if you struggle with failure or have a hard time letting your kids fail:
- How to Help Your Tweens & Teens with Online Learning
- How to Love Your Years Parenting Tweens
- How To Stop Overthinking And Make A Decision
- The Best Way to Raise Resilient Kids in an Anxious World
"Success is not what it looks like to others, it’s what it feels like to you."
Our kids are their own people. We need to love them for who they are and celebrate the wins that matter to you and your family. My youngest wasn’t sure about trying out for a basketball team because he’s extremely competitive and had a difficult season last year. His decision to try out was a success because he was willing to take a risk. My oldest son doesn’t like school--at all--so the fact that he hates it less this year is a win for us.
"Being relentless toward your dreams is not just a good thing, it’s a necessity."
I saved this one for last. Being relentless as a parent is an absolute necessity. I mentioned my philosophy above: character is more important than happiness, and I’m raising future husbands and fathers. These are the things that drive me, that I want to relentlessly pursue. The generation we’re raising is worth it.