Becoming an Exceptional Parent, Person

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David and Alan Larson

Alone we can do so little;
together we can do so much.
-Helen Keller

“Discovering the ways in which you are exceptional, the particular path you are meant to follow, is your business on this earth,” said Bernie Siegel, MD, a pioneer in supporting cancer patients to change their perception of themselves from being a victim of cancer and disease to being an exceptional and courageous patient. I strongly agree with Dr. Siegel. I believe it is our task to accept and explore our own unique talents and gifts, to live our lives becoming more truly our best selves each day now—not waiting for a catastrophe to wake us up.

And yet so much of what happens in our lives has nothing to do with these discoveries. Much of what we are taught in life is devoted to directing, restraining, and containing us to fit a certain pattern that is called “culturally acceptable” and approved of by others. Am I saying that learning to follow the rules isn’t important? No. I think some rules are vitally important to our health, welfare, and to our community.

What I am saying is that through our acculturation and learning process, sometimes the unique- ness, the spunk, the creativity, and the dignity of the individual are sacrificed. The intentions are good—to create structure, predictability, and safety. The results are not always so good—individuals feeling controlled and dependent upon authority figures, bored, and fearful of being judged, of making mistakes, and not belonging.

I believe we must live and behave in such a way that our children (our own and those we have a responsibility to) learn to appreciate their own magnificence and learn to take action for themselves that repeatedly reaffirms their accountability, magnificence, and capabilities. That sounds like a tall order when faced with an irate teenager! And how do we do this if we have not learned this ourselves?

To become an exceptional parent (person), or to assist others in becoming exceptional people, we must decide that discovering our uniqueness is valuable, possible, and worthy of our time and energy—because it will take time and energy! From there on it is a matter of learning ways that work and using them every day with ourselves and in our interactions with everyone, especially our children.

The ways that work are simple things, simple actions that show how much you care and what you stand for. Simple things like taking ownership of your own behavior rather than blaming others, receptive listening rather than judging and rebuttal, telling the whole truth instead of editing or lying, respecting rather than disregarding, unconditional loving rather than expecting, creating clear agreements and keeping them rather than forgetting, encouraging rather than controlling, and celebrating rather than criticizing.

Simple to understand, perhaps not so simple to apply, especially in those moments when you feel most challenged. However, isn’t it amazing we want our teens to practice self-control when we are not? Imagine in those moments of feeling most challenged that you stop, breathe, and take ownership of your own behavior.

For example, “I just noticed that I am speaking loudly and using critical language as I am talking to you. I apologize. I think it is something I do with you when things don’t go the way I want them to. I think I am afraid of conflict and don’t know how to handle it very well. I feel sad and concerned that I do this with you.

What I want is to understand you and for you to understand me. I want to really hear what you are saying. I want to make clear agreements with you that we both keep to build trust between us. How do you feel about what I just said?” And then really listen.

This may sound like a mouthful to you, and I want you to know that with practice you will transform not only the way you communicate, but the level of trust, clarity, love, and cooperation between you.

Why wait to be sick or to have a life-changing event come along before you accept and appreciate that you and your teen (partner, co-worker, etc.) are truly exceptional people? Use the actions listed above with yourself and your teen for a few days, or a lifetime, and you will be amazed at what you discover about yourself and your teen.


1. When you were a kid, what do you think was the main focus of your parents’ parenting? Teaching you through correcting, or celebrating your uniqueness?

2. What was the impact on you? What did you decide about taking risks?

3. Setting aside your self-judgment and being honest with yourself, how are you exceptional? What are your gifts and talents?

4. What do you want to start celebrating about yourself and others?

With love and gratitude,
Kris King

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