I’m always appreciative of stories, tips, and experiences in mental health shared from moms who have kids, sons more specifically, a bit older than my own. It’s fascinating to hear their family focal points. What they tried. And yes, even what didn’t work. This was no exception in my recent conversation with Nancy Polsky.

Nancy is certified through the same coaching program as me, but a few years prior. We were paired up in coaching bartering and I have the privilege of hearing pieces of her story through our coaching together.

Her sons are now 16 and 22. In passing, she mentioned her own focus on emotional health with a teenage son and frankly, I was hooked. Feeling the relevance of this for not only my own family, but also many of our readers more than likely.

I hope you find supportive tidbits for yourself in hearing Nancy’s story.

EMOTIONAL & MENTAL HEALTH COACHING

Nancy is a senior leader in the learning and leadership development space. However, the focus on emotional health in her two sons wasn’t initially an intentional focus.

We always talked and listened to the boys. Getting on their level. They’ve been very engaged since a young age. In fact, one pre-school teacher commented to us – she liked to sit with Caleb at lunch because he always had a lot to say!

As women, there is a tendency in families for the mom to develop the social-emotional side not only in their kids, but also with friends and even mates. This was no different in Nancy’s family.

Males tend to connect through doing things. Going to games, throwing around a ball, in other words, activities. Females connect more through conversation. Social-emotional.

EVOLUTION OF CONNECTION- IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

At the beginning of 2020, Nancy noticed a change in Ben, her now 16-year-old son. They had always talked and connected, but something was off.

The first signal was the academic implosion. He changed schools during the pandemic and experienced a hard time meeting people with everything via Zoom. As a result, his grades suffered. The second signal was the obsession with his phone. Which now makes sense knowing his social emotional health was not great… it was a lifeline to his friends.

Nancy even shared a story we both agreed is funny now, but I’m sure was not at the time. He snuck into her room at night to get his phone but made her think she dreamt it while she was sick with COVID and very groggy.

Said through laughter, “that dude is gas lighting me!!!” reflecting on the moment she realized he was lying.

They began therapy to talk through what was happening. Nancy realized something very profound through talking out the experiences they were both having.

Even though Ben and I talk a lot, I began to realize our connection points through discussion were all heavy. Dialogue about politics, what’s happening in the world, even his own mental health. We didn’t have activities to do together. He shoots hoops with his dad. He goes and does things with his friends. He and I talk, but we were at a loss of activities to do together. Everything was heavy. The foundation was heavy.

This lightbulb moment was a switch for them both to be intentional and redefine their relationship.

They are still exploring activities they both enjoy, but a few they have implemented already include watching film, sharing music, and traveling. In fact, as I type this, they are exploring Yellowstone together.

How cool is that?

Mental Health- woman and her teenage son posing for a selfie with big smiles

WORKING MOM

Nancy has always been a working mom. In fact, she was the bread winner while her now ex-husband worked on his PhD.

My boys saw it as a norm for mom to have a meaningful career. This was important to me, as my mom was also a single working mom. She came of age professionally when women were just getting into the workforce and always felt dismayed that she had a series of jobs that supported us but didn’t have a meaningful career for herself. She delighted in seeing me develop in my career, crafting it the way I wanted.

One key for Nancy has always been for life to be meaningful.

I tell the boys all the time… What impact do you want to have? You have an opportunity to show up and make a difference.

In fact, she hates it when people ask her sons what they want to be professionally. Instead, she prefers to think the following:

Find a shared meaning or a common purpose with others and have fun. Play all in doing it.  No matter what it is.

Ben, in particular, has taken this to heart.

For example, as a high school sophomore he created MindFULL Me with a teacher at his school. Teaching the art of being focused and intentional to teens.

He recognized the need in his fellow students to understand the value in a pause. Even as an active student athlete with several extracurricular activities, Ben understands the importance of being mindful and intentional for mental health.

This was a very proud moment for Nancy.

MindFULL Me strengthened his ability to find something that works for him. Growth in his own interests. Furthermore, using his autonomy and impacting change.

MOM’S IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

Nancy’s life hasn’t been all positive experiences. She shared some of the challenges such as chronic illness, family transitions in a divorce, and reinventing herself through four layoffs throughout her career, to name a few.

However, it’s the lessons within each of these experiences and how she used her own energy and action where she can stand proud.

My mom taught me to always be all in. She never expected anything but that. Put your energy and action into whatever you are doing. In fact, this created a belief in my own agency. In other words, why NOT me?

It was this ability to overcome adversity as well as deep belief in self that has led Nancy and her boys to, as she puts it, “try on different hats and see what fits.” She encourages them to be open and curious.

Nancy shares in her mom’s life philosophy…

When I was a kid, our family didn’t have much money. My mom had to make her paycheck last all month long. But she used to tell me: Nancy, I don’t want it to just say on my tombstone, I paid my bills. So, my mom lived her life. I try to live by that too – and raise my sons to do the same: Show up, play all in, play well with others, passionately – wring this life out. We’re here to make a difference and have fun doing it.

Mental Health- woman in a cow Halloween costume with two kids dressed as milk and cookies

VALUES

When her boys were 12 and 18, Nancy did a really interesting exercise with them. For the record, I’m totally going to take my boys through this here soon too!

She noticed they were arguing and the older one was teasing his little brother too often. Nancy decided to take them through a values exercise to create awareness of what is important to each of them. However, it went much deeper than even she anticipated.

First, she gave them each a list of values and asked them to pick 5 that stuck out to them personally. Then they identified the top two. Finally, the three of them each shared which values they selected and why those were important to them.

As each one shared their top values and the story behind them, the other two got excited. Instinctively pointing out specific moments where they saw (or spotted) these values in action in their family life.

In this heightened state, with them all feeling really elevated – they took a few minutes to go around again. Each saying where there might be further opportunity to lean into their values in action. For her oldest, this meant more kindness towards his little brother. And just like that, he stopped teasing his brother.

Nancy was blown away with how powerful this activity was for her family. They each learned a lot about not only each other, but also themselves. The keys were to self-identify values (intrinsic motivation), elevate one another through ‘strength spotting’ (external validation and celebration), and to seek out opportunities for even more elevation by more consistently bringing their best self to one another.

CONCLUSION- FAMILY MENTAL HEALTH

Nancy shared with great pride the emotional learning journey she and her boys not only have been on but also continue to navigate. Definitely not easy and she didn’t sugar coat the tough stuff. But it’s in this honesty I think there are a few key things I’ll take forward in my own family.

First, Nancy was brave enough to call out what she was feeling and seeing in her son. Knowing there was something off but not just waiting to see what would happen. When talking didn’t work, she sought out professional support for not only her son, but also for them as a family.

And the result? A renewed desire for the two of them to create fun and enjoyment TOGETHER.

Second, expectations can be so high from parents to kids. Whether it’s wanting them to follow a particular career path, sports path, academic path, or “fill in the blank” path… it’s pressure. And while some pressure can be good for growth and learning, her approach took a step back from specific expectation.  In other words, “Show up. Ring this life out. We’re here to make a difference and have fun doing it.”

Immediate pressure release!

Finally, understanding what your kids value and allowing them the autonomy to decide and share with you is a truly empowering experience.

My goal is not to get them to live in my values but rather to live in their key values.

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story with The Mom Huddle!

 

Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think. 

– Buddha

 

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