My Breath Smells Weird

At least according to my ten year old, who announced this with a face pinched into disgust after I greeted her with a hug and a nuzzle this morning. Warm olives is the exact smell, she explained further, after pausing to reflect on the matter.

“Weird” entered our life at age four, perhaps it had something to do with a new group of friends at a new preschool. Who knows. What I know is that as we have taken the steady march toward the tweener years, I have learned that an increasing number of things about me–yes, me in particular–are weird: my singing, which I am not supposed to do until the windows are up in the car; my dancing, which can only be done in the privacy of our home from now on, and oftentimes, things I choose to wear.

I take this as a very, very good sign.

When our kids target us with the messages they are taking in out in the world, it means they are inviting us to help them work through the charge around such social judgments–and all the nervousness and insecurity that these things can invite.

The social pressures on kids get more intense as they move into the teen years, and they respond by trying on different identities, to see where they fit among the acceptable categories of “not-at-all-weird” and rejecting all things that fall outside those categories.

So what’s a parent to do?

Be weird, my friends. Be very weird. Embrace it, rock it. Up the ante, even.

“Oh you mean this dancing?” you might say, while enthusiastically wagging your behind around the kitchen, wildly waving your arms.

“Oh but I just looooooove this song” you might say, belting out the wrong words in a screechy voice.

Or as I said this morning, “Oh good, because I’ve always wanted Hot Olive Breath,” sharing an extra breathy burst of it with her.

The point is not to mortify our kids further, of to teach them a lesson through some kind of reverse psychology. The idea is to join them in their search for secure feelings in socially rocky seas.

It is a deep relief to our kids if we understand, but are not phased by, the social pressures they are facing to be cool. If they can target us in their search to find their way, without it unleashing a wave of negative emotion from us, they will know that there is still a universe where the social standards of kid (and tween and teen) culture aren’t what matters.

If we can rock weird with a twinkle, in a light-hearted way, catching their eye and staying connected and playful while we improvise some delight in being “weird”—we might just find the sweet spot where their laughter begins to bubbles and roll. As they laugh their tension melts away and the hold of peer culture loosens its grasp.

So this is what we did in Mama Tribe this past week: we tried on some new playful responses to the rejection our kids dish out at us. And let me tell you, there is nothing more fun than sitting in a circle of parents, laughing till everyone is hoarse and sweaty, from trying on our own embrace of the very attitudes we would have mightily rejected in our own teen years.

This—laughing together with other weird parents—this, afterall is how we loosen up enough to prance around the kitchen wagging our behinds, bit by bit, becoming the more relaxed and secure person our kids are asking us to be for them.

Happy Summer, devoted and hard working parents. If things start to feel compressed this season, and you want to reach out for support, understanding or laughter, we will have Parent Tribe listening circles on several Wednesday evenings. I will have a just a few limited coaching spots for new or returning parents.

Whatev you do, don’t go it alone. You deserve care, understanding, and yes, lots of laughter, as you bravely step into whatever is next for you on the path of companioning your littles into bigs.

In love, listening, and laughter.


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