I grew up with all of the elements of a complicated home and family life. When I was in college, a project was assigned where we had to graph our family relationships. Different symbols were to be used to indicate marriage, divorce, re-marriage, siblings, and step-relatives! Three years later, my sister was given the same project by the same teacher- the teacher recognized us as siblings, not by our looks or our last name, but by the incredible complication of our graphs. The family relationship turnover in my life is significant, to say the least 🙂 

As a result, I was pretty committed to raising my own children with a little more family consistency and a lot more stability than I had experienced. I got married young, so I was also naive enough to think that I could mold and shape and “create” a healthy and happy home, free from the chaos that I had seen growing up 🙂 

I was a student of Family & Consumer Sciences, so I knew all the data and research on what keeps families strong, stable, and united. Even though we had relocated several times and my kids had experienced a lot of transition, I had a small sense of victory at having raised my kids fairly unscathed! And then, one chilly Spring night, my sense of security as a wife and mom slowly developed a leak. Our family was hit with a cold, hard slap of life and challenges that sent each one of us looking at life a little more differently than we had before. Several of my children were struggling, I was struggling, and my husband was struggling; we found ourselves wondering how to define and re-define our beliefs, values, goals and relationships. We questioned our faith and our parenting; we felt void in our religious congregations and alone in our communities. The challenges we faced aren’t talked about at the gym or at social gatherings, and they sure do not show up on cute and primed for ‘likes’ social media posts! We had no way to find comfort and no idea how to navigate the challenges we were facing. In all honesty, we felt like we were drifting out to sea, on a tiny little boat, ill equipped for safe travel or survival! 

At the time, I was a graduate student and a yoga teacher. At school, I found myself studying adolescent and family distress every chance that I could; and on the yoga mat, I found myself sharing the insights and inspiration that were giving me hope and courage to move from one tough day to another. Each day, I would hear stories from yoga students and friends that sounded a lot like the stories that were unraveling in my own life~ 

I heard stories of families, who on the surface looked happy, healthy, and strong! But behind closed doors, there were stories of 16 year old girls- cheerleaders and scholars- who were cutting or starving themselves; I heard stories of teenage boys who were stuck in loops of risky behavior, extreme physical training, angry outbursts and violent behavior. And I heard stories of middle school and high school students whose lives were plagued by anxiety, depression, loneliness and hopelessness. Stories of families who prayed and cried themselves to sleep and stories of young lives cut much too short~ 

The researcher in me started asking A LOT of questions- I wanted to find similarities, differences, and causation; I wanted to understand stories, background, mindset, and beliefs. I wanted to know everything about the who, why, how, and what of this plague of perfection driven distress that has permeated every middle school, high school, and college campus around the WORLD!!! I found three pervasive topics in studying Adolescent (and family) Distress- 

  1. Perfection
  2. Religion
  3. Identity 

And I found Four consistent tools in promoting Adolescent (and family) Well-being-

  1. Hope
  2. Self-Compassion
  3. Gratitude
  4. Mindful Living (slowing down) 

As I immersed myself more deeply, my questions turned into research. The research turned into my Master’s degree final project. The final project turned into an academic publication which turned into community, corporate, and professional presentations. All of this has now become a mission and a passion to share what I’ve learned and help teens and young adults, their parents, and the adults that nurture them find a bridge from the moment where life seems overwhelming and hopeless to a moment of hope, possibility, and perspective.

I have come to appreciate the brief window of opportunity where we can frame, and re-frame, each challenge and experience we face. At the point where today’s study on neuroscience, mindfulness, vulnerability, and self-compassion come together, I have found a wonderful intersection where families and individuals have the ability to re-frame moments of chaos into moments of hope! This isn’t about pretending the story doesn’t exist, it isn’t about sharing only the “post” worthy days~ this is about telling the story, hearing the story, and growing within the story! And it is my hope, that we learn to do this together~ 

~ that, together, we will BRIDGE GAPS AND BUILD HOPE!