Ep 101: Connect Deeper with Vulnerability

Episode Summary

Kari Kampakis, author of Love Her Well, joins Andy for a heartfelt discussion on parenting mistakes and repairing hurt relationships with our teens. Cat’s out of the bag: out teens know we’re not perfect!

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

It’s not always easy to be pleasant as a parent, especially when your teens push your buttons, blow off curfew, or “forget” to unload the dishwasher, no matter how many times you gently remind them. As young people still figuring out the world, teenagers can be unpredictable in their emotions and wants. Having a good relationship with your teen is important, but having to keep your teen in line makes for a hard balance.  

And when your teenager is acting crazy and just not listening, how can you make sure they start behaving without bringing your relationship to the brink of destruction? How can you set rules and boundaries while also keeping your teens trust? It seems like sometimes there’s just no easy way to maintain a solid relationship with your teenager when they are driving you up the wall.

But our guest today has faith that as parents, we were born for these challenges. Kari Kampakis, author of Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Love and Connection With Your Teenage Daughter and mother of four teen/tween daughters(!), is chock full of wisdom about how to be a more wise and graceful parent. Kari believes that as parents we can form strong, loving bonds with our kids and still nudge them towards becoming healthy, respectable adults. Whether you’re looking to empower your kids when they’ve made a mistake or just looking for ways to balance setting boundaries with fun, Kari has you covered.

How We Can “Speak Life” to Our Teens

Teenagers today are dealing with a lot of responsibilities, obstacles, and cultural expectations, so Kari says bringing positivity as a parent can be super valuable. When kids are acting crazy, it might be because they’re frustrated and overwhelmed–meaning they need you to be an ally, not an enemy. They may be dealing with more than you think, and may be more critical of themselves than you’d imagine…which is why it can be really tough for them to face your criticism as well. 

So what positive things can we say to them that will help ease all this craziness? In her book, Kari presents a list of 35 ways we can “speak life” to our teens. This could be anything from asking them, “What can I do for you this week?”, to just reminding them that they are smart and capable of handling life’s obstacles. In the episode, Kari dives into the philosophy behind this idea, and her experience doing this with her own kids.

This positivity doesn’t just apply to kids, it applies to parents too! How can you expect to be positive with your kids if you can’t be positive with yourself? You’re likely just as overwhelmed, with a schedule full of carpooling, cooking, or career obligations. In our conversation, Kari explains to me how you can get better at forgiving yourself when we mess up, and empower yourself when life gets you down.  Being a positive parent includes going a little easier on yourself as well, understanding that you and your teen are both doing the best you can.

Now, Kari  knows  from her own experiences with motherhood that constant positivity isn’t always realistic. Sometimes teens just make you want to scream, shout and pull your hair out! In the episode, Kari emphasizes the importance of not taking your anger out on your kids, however, and  shares how you can find other ways to vent all that frustration. 

Although an outburst may seem harmless to you, Kari explains how kids remember what you say. When you want to yell and scream, it might be better to just breathe and remind yourself that a more positive approach can help you and your teen get to the root of whatever it is you’re fighting about instead of just digging a deeper divide. 

Balancing Positive and Negative Reinforcement

It’s hard not to feel that urge to be negative, however, when your teenager comes home late, refusing to tell you who they were with or what they were doing. How are you supposed to smile and stay positive when you’re infuriated and want to angrily remind them they have a curfew? Kari knows this feeling well, and talks a lot in the episode about the challenges of setting rules while also trying to maintain a positive relationship with your teen. Interestingly, she says that the goal is not necessarily for our kids like us when they’re sixteen, but to respect us when they’re forty.  

By this Kari means that even though it can be hard to find the right words, it’s important that we step in and give our kids some rules that they’ll appreciate in thirty years. Although they may not like us now, they’ll thank us later. 

But if we’re being tough on kids, where does positivity come into play?  Kari explains in our conversation how, when kids mess up, you can let them know you’re disappointed while also being there for them as they grow from their mistakes. If we can remind kids that we love them unconditionally, even when we don’t approve of their behavior, we can help them learn from risky behavior instead of reverting back to it.

For example, say your son fails his calculus exam because he chose to play his xbox instead of crack open the books. You could yell at him, sure, but will that really help? Kari says no. Instead, she suggests letting him know you expect more from him. It could be valuable to remind him that you think he’s smart and hardworking––that way, when he goes to text his next exam, he might see himself that way and study a little harder.

Kari is a big proponent of using positive affirmations to remind your teen that you hold them to a high standard. By telling kids that they’re capable, tough, and kind, we can prepare them to handle the unpredictable journey of life without falling too far off the path. It’s like the great sculptor, Michelangelo, envisioning a brilliant work of art in a block of marble before it’s even carved. Your child might not know how great they are, but by recognizing their potential, we can ensure that they grow up to amaze the world.

In the Episode…

Kari and I have a great conversation about how a positive attitude can be a powerful parenting tool. Along with her tips on staying positive and balancing discipline with praise, we talk about:

  • What inspired write a book for parents
  • How we can be better at listening and empathizing with teens
  • When it might be better to let teens forge their own way forward
  • How cultural stereotypes about gender may be hurting your kids
  • 35 ways you and your teen can spend more time together

I’m really thankful to Kari for coming on the podcast today to share her unique perspective on parenting. If you want to check out some more of Kari’s work, you can go to her website, karikampakis.com where you can check out her blog, her other two books and her podcast! Hope you enjoy this episode and we’ll see you next week.

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Let your teen know you love them, without approving of their behavior:

“I don’t like your behavior, that was a terrible choice, but I love you and I’m going to walk beside you as you face the consequences of your mistake.”

-Kari Kampakis

3. Use this to check in with your teen each week:

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3. Use this to check in with your teen each week (religious):

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4. Make it clear to your teen that you hold them to a higher standard:

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5. When your teen goes through any kind of letdown or disappointment:

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6. Give your teen hope when they mess up:

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7. Check in on what your teen is thinking: 

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8. Open up a dialogue when your teen is stuck in a rut:

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2. Use this to check in with your teen each week:

“How can I help you this week?”

-Kari Kampakis

3. Use this to check in with your teen each week (religious):

“How can I pray for you this week?”

-Kari Kampakis

4. Make it clear to your teen that you hold them to a higher standard:

“This is what some of your classmates are doing, but this is not who you’re going to be or what you’re going to do–we’re going to aim higher.”

-Kari Kampakis

5. When your teen goes through any kind of letdown or disappointment:

“What will your recovery be?”

-Kari Kampakis

6. Give your teen hope when they mess up:

“This is so out of character, and I know we all mess up, so let’s think through this so it doesn’t happen again. You’ve got so much potential.”

-Kari Kampakis

7. Check in on what your teen is thinking: 

“What’s the conversation you’re having with yourself?”

-Kari Kampakis

8. Open up a dialogue when your teen is stuck in a rut:

“What are you telling yourself when you do mess up?”

-Kari Kampakis

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1. Create a Safe Space to ‘Parent Vent’

As our kids enter the teen years, it starts to feel awkward to talk or vent about them to our parent friends or family members. Kari Kampakis found this exact thing happening to her with four daughters entering the teen years. She notes it can be isolating for parents and bottling everything up just seems to create more stress. To solve this problem, Kari decided to create a safe space for her and a few select others to “parent vent” when they needed to. 

For this exercise, you’ll first come up with a list of five people you feel (1) accept you fully and (2) you trust. This could be friends, family members, mentors, colleagues, pastors or community leaders. Narrow the list to the three people you could bring together, either on the phone or in person. Schedule a meetup once per month. If it helps, have a purpose like a book or TV show discussion, recipe sharing, joint workout, etc and let the ‘venting’ come up organically. Don’t be afraid to be the first to bring it up! 

(*As an alternate to doing this in a group, you can first try journaling to see if that provides a respite. However, Kari mentions that there is nothing quite like interactions with other people.)

2. Where Are You Pushing Too Hard?

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3. Turn Mundane Appointments Into 1-on-1 Time

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Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Love Her Well, what inspired this book? And it’s super heartfelt, it’s really vulnerable, there’s a lot of stories in here that parents can relate to so what inspired you to dig so deep and put it all down and make it public knowledge?

Kari: It’s one of those books I never planned to write. Actually go back a few years, most books are like that, I think. The story that I opened with is about a big mom fail on my part and when that actually happened, that was one of those moments that I was thinking, “I don’t ever want anybody to find out about this moment.”

Kari: So, it is kind of funny that was five years ago, and it just shows how we can grow personally. It gets to a point where we realize some things about ourselves and work through some issues we have, and get to a better place and decide that we want to share our stories and help other parents. I wrote some books for teenage girls six years ago and that was my heart for a while. I wrote, just empowering girls through faith, and I started traveling around the country.

Kari: And of course, it was their moms who were buying the books for them. I’d meet the moms and they would tell me, “Thank you for writing this book. It’s like, you took the thoughts in my head and put them down on paper.”

Andy: Wow.

Kari: “And my daughter’s at an age who doesn’t always listen to me. So it’s good for her to hear these stories and these things from someone besides me.” And the moms would then say, “Now, when are you going to write a book for us?” But I would just kind of shrug and say, “Oh, I don’t know.” And I never planned to write a parenting book, I think probably a lot of people who do parent, write parenting books, would say that. Because I don’t consider myself an expert, but I consider myself more of a resource just because of the stories that I have from raising four daughters.

Kari: And then also, I’ve spent six years traveling around the country, meeting mothers and daughters for my book with teen girls.

Andy: Yeah.

Kari: What really inspired this book was as my oldest daughter became a teenager, our relationship changed. We started locking horns. We went through some hard seasons, and I really had to search on how do you love a teenage daughter? And my instinct was to buy into all those negative scripts that people had told me since they were babies. “Just wait until she’s a teenager, it’s a nightmare. You just have to survive it.” And when we started locking horns, that’s what was my initial thought was like, “Oh, it’s coming true.”

Andy: Yeah right.

Kari: Those predictions. And that just really made me dig my heels in and just be firmer, and think, “I just got to show these girls who’s boss.” And it really caused the division in my relationship with my daughter.

Kari: And I realized, “This is not working.” And I had a lot of pride on my part that I had to work through. That I wasn’t approaching her the right way. And I definitely wasn’t loving her. And I knew I wasn’t loving her because of how I felt when I went to bed at night. I didn’t feel good about our relationship and how coldly I was treating her. So, that’s the heart behind the book, how do you be a mom during the teenage years, but also love them well, and find joy and connection in the teenage years, and really finish strong. Because if you think about it, in our last years with our children at home set the stage for our long-term relationship, that’s going to last longer than 18 years. And if we want to have a healthy dynamic in place for that long-term relationship, it really starts in what happens during adolescence.

Andy: I think so. And I think it’s so easy to get stuck there, in a place within a relationship where there’s stubbornness or something, and neither person wants to kind of be the first one to give in. So I wonder, if you have any thoughts for parents who find themselves in a similar situation like that on how to kind of see a way through it.

Kari: Yes. I would say it takes a lot of soul searching and humility, and just know that you’re not the only one. I know nobody likes to hear that word, but…

Andy: Was there an easy kind of way to do it without going through all that soul searching and stuff?

Kari: No, not that I know of. For me, that’s what it took. You know, after I had that… There was a breakdown moment and that’s what I opened the book with. My daughter and I just had this big fight. We had been fighting for a few months. It just had built up and it was over something dumb. I don’t even remember what we were finding over, but she left mad, slammed the door and I’m in… After she left and my house is quiet and then I regretted it and I regretted all these stupid fights we’d had. And I was like, “I need help.” And I basically just fell to my knees and my closet. And I just admitted that this was not working. I needed a new approach in this relationship. So, I went to the gym that day and I saw a friend that I trust that has an older daughter.

Kari: And I asked her, “How do you handle these fights with your daughters?” And she told me, she’s like, “You know, we argue, you’ve got to circle back around. You know, go back when you’re calm and you’ve had time to think and go circle back around.” And you know, “don’t let the sun go down on your anger” Like we’ve always heard. So I did that, that afternoon. And I asked my daughter, I decided I’d say “Well maybe I’m doing something that’s causing this division.” I didn’t think I was, but I thought I’d ask her. So I asked her, “I’m sorry you for our fight earlier. I don’t like it. We’re not getting along. I really want us to have a better relationship. Am I doing something that’s causing this division between us?” And I expected her to say, “No.” And she said, “Yes.”

Kari: And I think this is where a lot of parents might find themselves. And she told me, you know, she was, she had just started school as a middle schooler. And she told me that I’d just become more critical lately. And as she told me that, it felt like a punch in the gut, but I realized that she was right. And I realized that I’d been more critical of myself lately. And I had been projecting that on her and I had higher expectations on her as a new middle-schooler. And now I can look back and say, maybe I was being hard to please and that really made me take a look at myself, but I apologize.

Kari: And this is my big message to parents is that our kids are so forgiving, even as teenagers, they can accept that we’re not perfect. They know that we’re not perfect because that’s what causes a lot of tension. They don’t believe we’re perfect anymore. They see it. But when we admit our humanity, we own up to our failures. We teach them to do the same. And it just, we also teach them that that conflict resolution, but I think is so important. And then I have seen in my work with teenage girls that they have so much conflict with friends and drama and they don’t know how to work through it. And that’s a lot of times they just end their relationships when really they could work through certain issues if they had this conflict resolution skills.

Andy: Wow. I think that’s so positive and so difficult to do when you’re in the middle of it. It’s nice that what you did was kind of take some time off from it. I think that’s kind of a common theme with those kinds of really emotional situations, stepping back and being able to look at it with some perspective. And it sounds like you got some good advice from a friend also, which is probably… It helps you get even more perspective. That’s really cool.

Andy: You have a collection in here of “35 ways to speak life to a teenager” and it’s a bunch of different phrases and things that you could say are early on in your book in pages nine and ten. I thought a lot of these were really good so I was curious to how you came up with these, it seems to me like, you could not go wrong by saying one of these things to your teenagers every time you talked to them, how can people incorporate more of this kind of language in their conversation?

Kari: Yes. I just think it’s a lot of being intentional and looking for opportunities. And I have to say that one reason I wrote this book was because I feel like I have a lot of smart parent friends and I met a lot of great parents and sometimes they tell me, “Oh, I tell my daughter this” and so I take notes of those things.

Andy: Wow, oh that’s good.

Kari: Yeah, and so those thoughts have played into these lists like that. It really does it. And I’ve learned that teenagers are already so critical of themselves and they already feel like maybe they’re not pleasing their parents. So just these words that we speak, even when we’re disappointed in them, I think there’s a way to do it that still offers them hope and still lets them know that, “I don’t like your behavior, that was a terrible choice you made but I love you and I’m going to walk beside you as you face the consequences of this mistake.”

Andy: Yeah, “I support you” and that’s really cool. Making sure to just keep affirming that, you can’t say that enough.

Kari: Right. You know, one thing that my friends and I talk about is that I really feel like as moms, especially, we’ve got to have a safe place to vent and sometimes we don’t. We’ve got to have our spouse or our friends or a therapist or somebody that we can just talk unfiltered, if we are angry at our child.

Kari: If you have those safe places, then you’re less likely to say something hurtful to your child. If you have a friend like, “This is what I wanted to say to my daughter but this is what I said” You know? “This is what I was tempted to say, but I bit my tongue” and I have lots of friends who are in therapy and they’re counselors and all of that. And one thing that you really do hear a lot is that they’re like, it breaks my heart how I hear these parents talk about their kids in front of their children. They’ll say something like “She’s such a brat.” Or “Why can’t you be like your sister, Sarah?” and it’s just the things that as parents and I get it, we have these breaking points.

Kari: Sometimes our teenagers push us to the edge. We don’t know if they love us. It’s hard. And our patients has found, especially in years like this. And so it’s really easy to just blurt out those comments so there’s hurtful words, especially if that’s how we were raised or if that’s what we’re around, just the negativity, which a lot of us are right now. There’s so much negativity, but those words… Our kids don’t forget what is said to them from their parents. So I really believe that as moms we have kind of a super power. What we say to them. We’re all going to mess up and that’s where the apologies and the reconciliation comes in place, but also just to speak life. And it could be something as simple as, “How can I help you this week? How can I pray for you this week? Be alight. Make good choices. This is what some of your classmates are doing, but this is not who you’re going to be or what you’re going to do, we’re going to aim higher.”

Kari: Another good one. I really… I’m big about, if they do make mistakes, how do you handle those moments? I have a friend with five teenagers and no, not crazy. And she said, her husband’s big question that they’re teenagers is “What will your recovery be like?'” You had this heartache or you didn’t make this track team or you didn’t get what you wanted or this person broke your heart but what will your recovery be? How are you going to respond to this difficult situation? And I really think that’s what teenagers need. They need us as parents to just help them create a vision for their life and help them say that, “You are kind, you are strong, you are smart, you can do this.” and just help them walk into what we know they can be, into that potential.

Andy: I think that’s really cool. There’s so much research that we need, to let kids fail more and get out of their way and especially during the teenage years. And I think adopting that mindset of your job being to help them figure out a plan to get over it basically, is really cool because then it takes you out of the position of trying to save them from failure and puts you more in that mindset of looking for ways to help them think about their recovery. Learn those strategies.

Andy: Another question that I had was, I really like this chapter you have on listening and empathizing, you talk about how sometimes it’s really, really hard to listen to your kids and actually hear what they’re saying because the thoughts in your head about what they’re saying are so loud. So how do you turn those down and really listen to what’s being said,

Kari: Right? I think that we just have to be aware of what we’re telling ourselves and how sometimes we make their life about us and here’s an example. I have a friend and her daughter fell in love with Pepperdine out in California, like who wouldn’t fall in love with Pepperdine it’s an amazing…

Andy: It’s like the most beautiful place in the world.

Kari: That’s what she said. She’s like, “It’s impossible not to fall in love with it.” She was seriously considering going to Pepperdine but we live in Alabama, that’s not a quick flight and in her mind she’s thinking; “You can not get to Pepperdine, that’s too far away from home.” And I think that’s just an example of what we do sometimes as parents, rather than just giving them that space, like, “Okay, what is it that you like about this school? What is it that speaks to you? Let’s help me understand” Because we can understand our children better. Even if she doesn’t go to Pepperdine, you get to know more about your child. There might be another school that is closer, that’s a better fit. It’s closer, but it’s a similar vibe and a similar fit.

Andy: Yeah. There’s something that choice is… She’s making that for a reason. Tuning into the deeper reason behind that.

Kari: And I can say having four daughters, none of them are exactly like me so it really takes the kind of thing, “Okay, well explain this to me because that would not appeal to me, but I want to know why that appeals to you.” And I think that’s helping them tune in to what they feel they’re being led to do. That’s really important for them to have that internal guidance, because that’s something else you hear about teenagers now is that they’re so coached and there’s so many voices telling them what to do that sometimes they don’t know what they want because they’re just doing what everybody else wants them to do. And so helping them tuning into that inner voice and helping them trust what they feel they should be doing with their life, but also discovering like, “Okay, what can I learn about my child through this.”

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About Kari Kampakis

Kari Kampakis the author of three books, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, Liked, and most recently, Love Her Well. After touring the country speaking to teens and their parents with the mission of empowering girls, Kari realized there was a need to talk directly to the parents too. Love Her Well does just that.  

In addition to being a speaker and author, Kari is also a blogger and newspaper columnist. Her work and writing have been featured on The Huffington Post, The TODAY Show, EWTN, Yahoo! News, and other national outlets. 

Kari lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband (Harry), four daughters, and family dog, Lola.

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