There’s a lot of stress that comes with this raising children gig. But only one psychiatrist will tell you your instinct to say “f–k this” and flip over the dining room table is valid. Sort of. Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett are the father–daughter team behind F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems, a New York Times-bestselling self-help book. Michael is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist and Sarah is a comedy writer. Together they dispense advice on why feelings are overrated, and letting this stuff go is underrated.
Your Feelings Don’t Matter
“The basic idea of saying ‘f–k feelings’ is that people put too high a value on their feelings. And while feelings are important — they give you your energy and tell you when you’re upset — they often push you in bad directions,” says Michael.
Instead, he wants you to accept the fact that life is painful and “suck it up” (in psychiatric vernacular). Your job isn’t to figure out how to get rid of it, but how to live with it. “People say, ‘I just want to be happy. I just want to be content.’ But you can’t control those things,” says Sarah. “Your feelings are erratic, but your goals are what you can control. Going to a shrink to improve your feelings is like trying to improve the weather.”
Be A Parent Who Says ‘F It’
That doesn’t mean you’re a parent who curses like Joe Pesci stubbing his toe; it means you’re realistic about your kid’s emotions in any given situation. “So often, the issues that parents worry about the most have an element that isn’t going to change quickly. A kid is nervous, or sensitive in a certain way, or not learning in a certain way,” says Michael. “And it’s often a problem that’s not going to go away.”
When you insist that you’re going to fix whatever is bothering or challenging your kid, you make things worse and can lead to your own sense of failure. When parents accept that there’s no magic bullet for growing up, they can be more creative about dealing with it.
You Deserve An ‘A’ for Effort
Sometimes good things don’t happen to good people — and that’s a big bummer man. “Our idea of good parenting is that it’s relatively easy if you work hard. Something good will come of that, and your kid will be successful,” says Michael. “That’s nice [but not realistic]. What’s really tough is when you work hard and your kid is still struggling and suffering, to know that you have been a good parent.”
That’s not just some feel-good fluff. You need to stay positive, because the opposite is just a self-fulfilling shame spiral. Remember, if you’re not winning, it doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.
Don’t Worry About What You’re ‘Supposed’ To Do
Pediatricians, teachers, and self-aware parenting media sites all tell you what you’re supposed to do. Guess what? You know what’s right for your family. You’ve known your kid since the day they were born, so take that info in, and if something in the Big Book Of Baby Rearing doesn’t jibe, stop it. “As a parent you want to learn all the theories that could be good and what might help. You want to believe when you tried and didn’t get results that didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a limited situation,” says Michael, who recognizes that your insanity is mostly because you’re trying to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
Sarah adds that even if you’re not doing your best, you could be doing it so much worse. “If your kid plays with a plastic toy, or eats something that’s not organic once in awhile, or gets a scrape and isn’t immediately comforted and disinfected — as a parent you can only do what you can do.”
Yes, you can’t let them play in traffic, and if you forget to sign them up for school, you’ve blown it. But a lot of what happens to kids is DNA or fate. “When it makes parenting twice as hard, or makes your kid’s life more difficult, you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth [them] being miserable and having a tantrum because you won’t occasionally let him have a french fry.”
Teach Your Kid To Curse
Your kids can wait until middle school to lob f-bombs (like you did), but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach them that “f–k it” mentality. Sarah explains how her dad imparted that lesson when she was in kindergarten. She was upset about spending recess by herself, and he said to her, “Honey, that’s because you’re a nerd. You’re always going to be a little weird, and you’re not going to have a lot of people to play with. And that’s OK.” Five-year-olds aren’t great at internalizing, so it took a minute to sink in. But a few years later Sarah embraced her nerdiness. The moral of the story: Teach kids to focus on who they are, instead of who they’re not. Even if they’re giant nerds.