… on knowing better and “no-ing” better


Photo by Timothy Hiatt Photography

To tell the truth, I should have known better. I mean, doing a post about parenting a pre-teen through the perilous waters of social media is just asking for trouble, right?  I knew opening the conversation would open the door for me to be judged for my choices and place my daughter’s newsfeed under additional scrutiny, but I did it anyway.  Why?  To tell the truth, of course.   

My post, …on the deep dive into social media, was about making sure I was on solid ground in my own use, before challenging my daughter on hers.  I used words like “integrity” and “character” not to paint myself as perfect, but to make public my commitment to align what I put “out there” with what she sees in here… in my home and in me.   

The backlash, while expected, has been a little brutal.  But, it’s ok.  It’s ok because my willingness to view my own life under a microscope has allowed me to widen the lens that I look at hers through, and take in the bigger picture.  

First, someone took a swipe at me to knock me off my pedestal.  

Then, someone swiped my daughters phone.

But here’s the thing..,. Social media isn’t a pedestal… it’s a platform for voices to speak that many don’t want to listen to and so my task wasn’t to micromanage what was on her phone but to ask what was going on in her.  

Yes, we had access to her social media accounts through other devices but the circumstances created a bubble of time that turned out to be such a luxury.  Since I did not really know the details of what was in another’s hands, we were able to clear away the rubble of the drama and focus on what was at hand.  In that, it became remarkably simple.

Discussion about whether or not her content was questionable became the framework for the questions she wanted to ask about the facts of our lives, as well as the facts of life.   

 “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better”

— Maya Angelou

I don’t know it all.  And, no, I don’t know better than you. What I do know is that if it really were that easy, we would all be doing better than we are and so what we each needed to know, separately, placed us, together, at this crossroads.  Then, rather than being at odds with each other, this moment became an intersection of what we both needed to know and when we both needed to “no”.

Throughout my life, I had found that the gap between the knowing heart and doing part could be filled by sorting my mistakes and missteps into two columns…. “When I didn’t KNOW better” and “When I didn’t NO better”.  

Ask any mother… what word do you hear most from your child when they are learning to talk?  “No”.  What word do you tune out, dumb down, prune away and overcome by picking them up bodily and carrying them out while they are carrying on?  Yep… “no”.  Ignored “No’s” become noodle-body toddler tantrums but they become ignorance based shaming episodes over time.  We know from childhood that a “NO”, whether said or heard, means nothing.  

I did then what I knew how to do…

So, now that I know better, what do I do? My previous blog post committed to starting with what I knew OF her before jumping to conclusions ABOUT her.  So I told her what I thought she needed to know.  

She needed to know that I believed IN her, which removed her question of whether I believed her, or not.  She then needed to know that she had a right to question.  A right to privacy.  A right to control who touches her and who teaches what she needs to know.  

In turn, her belief in me allowed me to learn what I needed to know.  Was there anything there that signaled imminent danger… was she considering hurting herself or someone else?  Was there anything on it that could come back to hurt her?  Were the choices she made within the illusion of privacy ones that would damage her reputation or her relationships?  Had she made agreements to meet anyone or act in any way that placed her in harms way?  No. Thank God.

Normally, these typical triage questions are asked by medical and mental health practitioners and can feel like an interrogation, but that was the gift.  We shared a space where not knowing allowed me to do better at communicating that the biggest part of unconditional love comes not from trusting the other person but from trusting the process that we go through together to get us where we need to be.   

She is in middle school.  That time in her life when her body is growing and changing at a pace that is only outdone by advances in technology.  Those technological platforms carry a language that are a mirror for the network of connections between kids and within kids.  Their world is one of mixed messages because they look grown up on the outside and their brains have not kept up. If we fail at connecting the dots with them we will be unable to bridge the gap without damaging them.  

As it turned out, the actual texts and messages my daughter was sending were the carriers of a message she could not find the words for… that she needed truthful information in order to make better choices for herself and she feared asking those closest to her for help.  

Yes.  I missed a string of her messages.  But in doing so, I was able to see the entire thread of truth.  That in the daily struggle of building a home and a business and stabilizing the structure of our lives I forgot to go back and check for structural damage in her foundation.  

If the content of her messages was hard to see, then shame on me.  Not because I am embarrassed by them… but because they point to what needs to be shored up in her, not shut down.  Parents used to tape mouths shut or wash kids mouths out with soap when I was a kid but all that gave rise to was this…. what closed our mouths did not close off our thoughts or feelings… it made them come out in other ways.  Rebels with resources became innovators that created a cloud based system that will move mountains.  What I turned my back on as a mother and a woman knocked me down when I ignored it and so my job, right now, is to teach my daughter what I could not know until I could “NO”.  To value herself and trust her instincts because this is not the first time her actions will be called into question and what will get her through is strength that comes not from self control but self esteem.  

She was asking for information… not asking for “it”. Whether or not her media use and messages were evidence of concerning behavior, this was an opportunity to reinforce not only when it was right to say “No” to others but that it was right to also say “No” to herself, from a place of worth.  That’s a tough one… because every day she sees people all around her that benefit from overriding the “no’s” of others.  Politicians and educators and cultural influencers hold hearings that captivate a nation and still do not listen to the “NO”!  Parents benefit from not listening to a child’s no’s because it’s easier to control them with a “because I said so”.  

No matter where you are in your life — start not with what you know, but with the “no’s”  

No more destruction of our planet.  No more hate.  No more school shootings.  No more victim shaming, other blaming, judgment-filled directives.  Know more, first, about yourself.  Then seek to know more about them and the world they are inheriting and own that, all too often, we did not do better, even when we knew better.  

Saying “no”, at any age, is hard because we want things and we want people to like us and we want to have it “all” but learning to say it AND learning to respect when others say it to you sets up healthy boundaries for what you allow into your life and into your head.  In honoring your own “no”, you will be able to offer an honorable “yes” to your children and your partners and your clients and the world.

So, to whoever has her phone… yes, it created some drama but, no, I am not mad about it.   I thank you. What I have learned is priceless and what has been affirmed is her worth.  What we now know is that the loss of a small piece of hardware allowed us to be soft where it counts.

Now that I know better, I “no” better and yes, that means I’ll do better, too.