As a parent, you want your child’s life to be unicorns and gumdrops. You want to do everything perfectly, so they never end up in therapy discussing how they were denied Oreos and such a heinous lack of corn syrup can stunt a growing young mind. But we all mess up. Because we are human and that is what humans do. No matter how careful, how conscious, how loving we are, something will happen that our child will need help with later on – and it will probably be our fault.
But you can pass on what took you so long to learn, and give them the freedom to completely ignore it. Because that’s really all you can give your children – the ability to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. You give them the tools you have and the freedom to play and screw up and learn and fall down and get back up again.
1. You are allowed to get mad at anything you want. The injustice of the world, the color of the sky, the way that passive aggressive windbag left a note on your windshield about his “designated parking spot.” Be angry, whenever you want, at whatever you want.
2. But you aren’t allowed to take that anger out on anyone else. That anger is yours, no matter who or what you feel caused it. Yes, there is justified anger, but all anger is justified. The simple fact that you feel it is justification enough. Because all emotions are valuable, all emotions have something to teach you, and I will never tell you that you aren’t allowed to feel a certain way. But your responsibility to the rest of the world is to respect the power of your own anger and learn the tools to deal with it so that you don’t spray that anger all over an unsuspecting populace. Few things in this world cause damage the way unresolved feelings can. I will do my best to help you develop those tools, but in the end you are responsible for learning your own emotional landscape. It will be some of the best work you ever do.
3. Don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up. Just make things. Create. Play. Do whatever brings you joy. Follow anything that intrigues you. Take three banjo lessons and then give up. Teach yourself all the Italian verbs and then decide you prefer to make ravioli. Doing what intrigues you, what feels like a good idea, what brings you joy – that will guide you toward what you should be doing in the world.
4. Eat fruits and vegetables. A lot of them. I will do my best to make them tasty – you’d be amazed by how many green things you can hide in a fruit smoothie. Eat anything you want, just eat a lot of plants too. It will give you the energy and the nutrition you need to go forth into the world and wreak your own brand of havoc.
5. Be nice to yourself. Love isn’t always a fluffy feeling of joy and deep satisfaction. Sometimes loving yourself is as simple as doing the things you know make you feel better, even if they don’t seem like they’re working. Running six miles, eating a salad, sitting still for ten minutes, turning off the phone, asking for help. Take care of yourself – even if you don’t think you deserve it, especially if you don’t think you deserve it. That’s when you deserve it the most. When you can be kind to yourself, consistently and without judgment, you will have so much kindness to give to the world.
6. Go on adventures. Whether they’re down the block or across the globe. Explore your space, the space in our neighborhood and the space of this spinning blue orb we inhabit. Explore to learn about the world, to find the boundaries of your comfort zone and push past them, to meet different people, to learn that in the end we all want and value the same things.
7. Avoid horror movies. Or anything that makes you shut down. Some people love horror movies, and maybe you’re one of them. So maybe what I’m trying to say is, love what you truly love, but don’t be afraid to switch off anything that doesn’t serve you. Because if you’re anything like me, that horror movie about killer dolls you watch at a Halloween party in seventh grade will continue to haunt you decades later. There’s no shame in hiding, I don’t care what your friends say. I have far fewer regrets about cowering behind a couch than I do about staying stubbornly seated on one to watch demonic porcelain dolls go about their evening.
8. Learn to open your heart. I still haven’t completely cracked this particular nut, so you’ll probably end up helping me more than I help you. But here’s what I do know: Opening your heart will open up the entire world. Otherwise, life will open it for you and it may use a little more force than you prefer.
9. Your heart shattering might be the best thing that ever happened to you. I know it hurts, I know you won’t give one damn at all that I say “a shattered heart is an open heart” because it hurts and all you want is your heart to go back to the way it was and your life to go back to the way it was and preferably for both of those things to happen right now. But the things that hurt us the most are always what we look back on years later as the best thing that could’ve happened to us. As you move through that pain and learn how to heal yourself, you will uncover the person you truly are – loving, compassionate, wise, and strong.
10. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust that everyone is doing their best. Trust that if you get hurt, the other person is only acting out of pain. Trust that you know who to let in. It may take awhile to learn which voice to listen to – we all have multiple voices in our heads and some of those voices are jerks. But if you keep listening in the quiet, you will learn which to follow. Because when you learn which voice to listen to, which voice makes you feel peaceful and loved, your whole life will get better.