We all hit rough spots in life. Particularly as we’re getting out on our own in later teens/early twenties, we’re most likely going to hit some rough spots. Being out on our own is different — and different feels different. There is stuff we won’t be able to prepare for in advance — because we won’t know what’s going to come up until we get there.
I remember heading off to college, feeling so ready to be out of the house and on my own, and then finding myself surprised to be away at school and actually missing my parents and old room and all of the known people and places — within the first month. And with this longing, classes, gymnastics practice, and pretty much everything started to feel harder. The longing seemed to be continually present, lapping at my ankles. I didn’t anticipate this. I started worrying about it, wondering if I was doing something wrong, lacking and not enough.
Looking back, I can see now that this longing — this rough spot — was part of my growing up. It was showing me some gaps in my life skills (such as learning to ask for help) and knowledge, an opportunity for learning and growing on the road to becoming my own main anchor. We don’t know what we don’t know — until we become aware of it. And it’s good for us to become aware of the gaps. Then we can learn and grow, patch up the holes, and/or just become more aware of them so we can avoid our personal landmines. (And we all have them.)
I consider that next decade that I spent struggling with depression, eating disorders, and other self-destructive behaviors (attempting to feel better, fix myself, prove I was “okay” and/or numb out). The discomfort with all of the newness and fear I was doing something wrong because I was feeling this way (along with other pressures and expectations I was putting on myself) — I missed that I was at a point where I needed to build some new life skills. And so I (and others around me) started to try and “fix” something that wasn’t really broken, which resulted in creating problems that sucked energy, focus, and life — for years. I suffered and struggled until it hit me that maybe I hadn’t been broken and didn’t need to be fixed. I was just needing to learn more life skills.
The gaps in knowledge aren’t a problem. We all have gaps. They’re part of the learning process, of growing up and becoming our own main anchors. Rather, things get hairier when we start worrying about having gaps (or others around us worrying about us having gaps). And this is where things can go sideways. (Crap! I’m broken. Clearly everyone else has it all together except me! Just look at their Instagram feed and the awesome pictures and shining smiles!) And rather than beginning to address the gaps and pick up some new life skills, we actually make them bigger and/or create issues. In trying to “help” ourselves (or others becoming aware of their own gaps), we can make things worse.
Our teens have their own learning gaps. Perhaps they are starting to show now; they may show up down the road. We may see signs such as anxiety, depression, or extra fatigue (or more frantic busyness). And this isn’t to say that we and/or our teens may not need some extra support. We may. However, this is an invitation to consider the situation from a different perspective. Rather than immediately wondering how we can fix the situation (or our teen), what if we reminded them and ourselves that we and they aren’t broken? That they are growing up and there will be bumps in the road.
What if we listened, asked, and offered support and space? What if we acknowledged the bumps, pain, and discomfort — and included a hug and reminder that we’re all human, messy, and inherently whole?
The road in life is bumpy — because it’s bumpy. Rather than trying to eliminate every bump (which can actually make the ride more bumpy), we can take the time to gain the skills and tools to help us and our teens better handle future bumps.