What does it mean to thrive? To flourish? These terms have picked up popularity in the last decade or so. With websites, books, psychological terms and more all embracing and using these terms, it seems to me that the popularity must be in direct correlation with the rising feelings of apathy, fear, and loneliness in the 21st century. The term “thrive” has also taken over quite a bit of my working life and taken up much discussion over the past couple of years. But what does it mean?
What is so enticing about the word thrive?
My head tells me to pay close attention to the research, the definitions, the science, and the experts who have known and will know so much more than me. But this word, it calls to me much deeper than my head can follow. There is something about this word “thrive” that speaks to me in a primal kind of way. It is the part of me that is far away from the professional me. It’s deeper than the friend me. It’s more primal than the Jewish me. It is the mother me.
Mother-me hears “thrive” and she wakes up. She lifts her eyes. She begs, “Yes, Please! Tell me how. Show me the way.”
Trying not to let fear take over
There are moments I experience on a near daily basis where a fear grips me so tightly I’m not sure how to move or breathe. How will my children be safe? How will they ever be okay? There are terrorists and mass shootings to worry about. There are poisons in the water, life-altering chemicals in plastics, cancers and fatal accidents, hurricanes and fires. Of course, there are also cruel and hateful and angry people. And now there is technology and social media and homework for kindergartners and fear and hopelessness all around. How can they live in this mess? How do any of us live in this mess?
These moments of intense fear come at me quickly; they seize me. But I grew up in a home of no excuses. There were no mental health days. There was just get up and go to school. Get up and go to work. And I can still hear mom’s voice in these moments and she’s saying, “Time to get up and go, Anna-leh. We don’t have time for this. Let’s go.”
That word “thrive,” it does not speak to my brain, only a little to my heart. But to my gut, to my primary parental instincts… the word alone wakes it all up. I want my children to thrive. I don’t care if they go Harvard, or learn musical instruments, or become Homecoming royalty. Let them thrive.
Does technology keep us from thriving?
One of the most frightening things mother-me has read recently was the article by Jean M. Twenge, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? In this article, Twenge recounts a number of horrifying statistics about young people today (she calls them “iGen”), a generation of kids who grew up with iPhones. She claims this generation is on the brink of a mental health crisis, writing, “They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.”
She claims that the dramatic shifts in many of these mental-health-related statistics correlates with the release of the first iPhone:
The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.
Technology and loneliness
Mother-Me read this article with heart pounding, especially as she said:
More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
Technology and Anxiety
Professional-me read this article and wondered how it might be used to reflect on the work. In what ways might the educators I work with meet the needs of teens today? “We’ve been arguing for increased technology for a long time,” Professional-me pondered. “Perhaps we should have focused instead on removing the technology?”
But mother-me… she had something different to say. Well, not “say” exactly. She was mostly busy gripping the steering wheel, or front of the office desk, or the sofa arm – whatever was nearby. She was seized with that fear again. Is there nothing we can do to protect our children? How will they thrive?
And then I listened to a podcast with Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who wrote the popular piece in the New York Times Magazine: Why are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?
What did I learn from this podcast? Well, there are no clear answers about the anxiety of course. But it is clear that it’s worse and more prevalent than ever before. Some are trying to support teens by taking away as many external anxiety provokers as possible. Others are intentionally putting teens in difficult situations to teach them resilience. And far too many are ignoring the problem altogether.
Once again the smart phone comes up in his research. He explained that the smartphone offers a micro-world, one in which the teen has almost full control over what occurs. Many teens turn to the smartphone for an escape from the chaos of real life. But when they return, they find the real world pretty overwhelming, one they have no control over.
The technology is pervasive; you can’t just take it away
Professional-me pops in and wonders again if we ought to simply be removing these phones. But mother-me knows it’s not nearly so simple. My kids are little and easy to keep from the phones. But as they age, parents tell me it is near impossible to avoid them. One of my co-workers said she waited as long as possible. She refused her son a cell phone in fifth grade, feeling confident in her choice because she knew there was exactly one other child in the class who did not have a phone.
She told me, “As long as he wasn’t the only kid without a phone, I felt okay.” But, that changed this year in middle school. At the parent orientation, she learned that teachers were now asking kids to use their phones as part of lessons. How could she keep a phone from her child when the teacher was using them for class? Wouldn’t this be like refusing a textbook for your child?
And mother-me feels hopeless. There’s no fighting it. The world might not be the most dangerous it’s ever been, but it must be the saddest and most anxious it’s ever been. How will my children live in this mess? How will they thrive?
Learning from another mom
Last year I attended an event called Together Live. It was co-organized by an author I fell in love with last year, Glennon Doyle. At the beginning of the evening, while she was telling one of the many stories she would tell over the night, she spoke about falling in love with the woman who is now her wife. She was married at the time to a man, the father of her three children, and they had climbed together out of some pretty dark places. This journey was described in open detail – all the trauma, discovery, and healing – in her memoir, Love Warrior. When she was fighting with her own self over her new found love, she reached out to many trusted friends for advice. She insisted she could not follow her heart. “Choosing my joy means choosing their pain.”
Oof. Hello mother-me. Is that not the question I ask myself every day? If I take on an executive’s workload and schedule, if I go to a retreat in California, if I [fill in almost any non-child option here]… will I choose my joy over my children?
It’s not about protecting, it’s about preparing
But Glennon didn’t rest. She told us, “I had this parenting thing all wrong. I thought my job, as a parent, was to protect my children from the fire. But really, my job as a mother is to take my daughter by the hand and lead her right into the fire, again and again, so that she will learn that she’s fireproof.” And when her husband was ready, they sat down with their children to tell them about the divorce and the new person in her life. She began, “I’m about to break your hearts. But, broken hearts expand and over time they heal and they love again. My job as your mother is to show you how to live your truth, how to be brave and do what you know is right. And I’m about to show you how that’s done.”
And in that gorgeous historic theatre, alone among thousands of women, I thought just one word: “Thrive.”
It’s not about sheltering or making pleasantries. It’s not about shielding or smiling or positive thinking. We must take them by the hand and walk them straight into the fire, again and again. And then mother-me and professional-me felt like one again.
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!