Parenting Advice

I read this parenting advice from Tom Hanks last night and I keep thinking about it: 

“Somewhere along the line, I figured out, the only thing really, I think, eventually a parent can do is say I love you, there’s nothing you can do wrong, you cannot hurt my feelings, I hope you will forgive me on occasion, and what do you need me to do? You offer up that to them. I will do anything I can possibly do in order to keep you safe. That’s it. Offer that up and then just love them.”

Have you had a chance to read the new New York Times profile on Tom Hanks? It’s by Taffy Brodesser-Akner and it’s titled, “This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad.”It just came out as part of the publicity around the new Mr. Rogers movie, and I really enjoyed it (the profile, I mean — I haven’t seen the movie yet; I’m not sure it will make it to my little town here in France).

For those of you that are new parents, I’m guessing this advice might be too vague. Or at least I think it would have felt that way to me as a new parent. At that time, I was craving real tips and strategies for getting more sleep, getting out of the house without losing my patience, concrete steps on how to potty train, stuff like that.

But once your kids hit the teenage years or older, I feel like this advice would really hit home for lots of parents. It certainly did for me.

Thoughts? Do you relate to Tom Hank’s advice? Anything to add to it? Do you have a different favorite piece of parenting advice? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — Are you planning to see the Mr. Rogers movie? And do you have a favorite Tom Hanks film?

Image by Daniel Dorsa for The New York Times.

26 thoughts on “Parenting Advice”

  1. This is so interesting. I do have littles (6 and 3) and so I do still look for strategies, but this advice is helpful with my parenting challenges as well. My youngest is very stubborn, and is particularly disruptive in the morning when I am trying to get them out the door to get them to school (the 3 year old goes to nursery school for a few hours). I read recently that the most you can do in these moments is show empathy, maybe a hug. I had been trying more regimented approaches, but I have found that just getting low to the ground and offering hug often works to calm the situation for both of us. If that doesn’t work, just letting her work out her tantrum helps too, and then going in for the hug when she’s done blowing off steam. It seems like such simple advice but it was kind of revolutionary for me. At the very least, I feel better. It definitely feels better to be loving.

    I have 5 siblings, and we are all so different and had such different relationships with our parents (I think you wrote a post that relates to this). I think we have little control over who our kids are. I just hope my kids know how much I love them. It’s funny, I started crying a little today during drop off because I feel so lucky and the warm and fuzzies started taking over and so my kids were laughing at me. 20 minutes before that, though, they were both throwing their winter hats on the ground refusing to wear them in the 20 degree weather, and I wanted to cry for other reasons!

  2. This is so lovely – and true! I have an almost 3-year old, but I look at this through the lens of my own parents and my in-laws. My own wonderful parents have always said these things to me. We have a loving, honest, authentic relationship.

    My in-laws are…tough. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of guilt, a lot of emotional baggage and manipulation they put on their kids. I see how my husband suffers. I wonder what his life would have been like if his parents ever said, “We love you unconditionally. You cannot hurt my feelings. I messed up – I’m sorry. Forgive me?” Such simple phrases, but the lack of them is catastrophic and it lasts well into adulthood.

    Three cheers for Tom Hanks and everyone else doing the hard and beautiful work of parenting!

  3. yes. this is exactly how i feel, with three very different kids ages 14, 17, and 21. I see their beautiful and unique traits and my goal is to support and offer up possibility. I long ago quit looking at grades, or societal ‘shoulds’ and my husband and I had one singular goal….to raise kids who are interesting. That sounds broad and sweeping and maybe a little ho-hum I know. Our lives together are bolstered by an abiding love that does not judge, but seeks to elevate all of our strengths and find practical solutions for our weaknesses. I don’t think that I know best. We are all imperfect and striving to be our best selves and our LOVE is the fun and constant ship we sail on. We have collectively found that more than anything, immersive long term travel adventures and an assumed camaraderie, make us better, stronger, more caring and inclusive humans….which is probably why I love following you and YOUR FAMILY so dang much! (I should mention that we travel on the cheap…it’s not an exclusive or elitist activity…it’s an affordable lifestyle choice!)

    1. Enjoyed this article and am looking forward to the movie!

      You’ve Got Mail is my all-time favorite Tom Hanks movie. 💜

  4. I like most of this sentiment about parenting. Yes to 100% acceptance. Yes to unconditional love. Yes to being my child’s cheerleader, coach, and support. But. I think I take a little bit of issue with the “there’s nothing you can do wrong, you cannot hurt my feelings” bit. Maybe I’m not quite understanding the intention behind the sentiment here but I do think it’s OK for my child to know when something they’ve done has hurt me. Without resentment, without judgement, without losing my love or needing to pay penance. And maybe that’s what Tom is getting at when he broadly says, “you cannot hurt my feelings”. Maybe he’s getting at the deeper, “I will never hold a grudge with you.” or “I will never resent you or hold hurts against you.” THAT is something I definitely think our children need to hear. They need to know that they are not responsible for our emotional well being.

    1. I felt the same way- that “you cannot hurt my feelings” thing is totally wrong. My teenager hurts my feelings frequently, and I tell him so. Kids need to understand that parents- and everyone- have feelings, and we are responsible for being kind and gentle, especially with the people we love. I feel like he must have meant it differently than I am taking it. It is a wonderful article, and I can’t wait for the movie.

      1. I agree very much with Heather and Amanda. “You cannot hurt my feelings” sounds a little bit phoney as I think by the time a child is a teen they are fully aware they can hurt anyone’s feelings with a misjudged remark, we all can. But I think the idea is that even if feelings are temporarily hurt forgiveness is always there, I love the idea of “you are not responsible for our emotional well being”. Exactly.

    2. I think you hit the nail on the head with “I do not hold you accountable for my emotional well being”. When a child feels responsible for managing their parents emotions it is damaging. Children need to know that parents are secure, grounded, stable adults who can maintain their equilibrium.

      1. This is interesting! When my children hit their teens and became grounded and full thinking humans with both the optimism of youth and the creativity and life force of a tsunami, I no longer felt the need to have all the answers. Parenting became a diverse and interesting conversation! I’m sure not all parents are ‘secure, grounded, or stable’ all the time. Sometimes we struggle and that’s fine and perhaps there is growth potential there for the whole family!

        1. I agree, Ivey. I recently finally listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability and I loved what she said about not aiming to be perfect and kids (and all of us!) being imperfect and hardwired for struggle:

          > And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.

          My kids aren’t teens yet (almost 8 and almost 12) but I do feel that my goal is to be a secure, grounded, stable adult who models for them how to maintain and regain equilibrium in an emotionally sound way. But I think seeing me struggle and deal with sometimes not being in equilibrium honestly (without making them responsible for it) is helpful for them. Seeing that struggle in my parents (who mostly were secure/grounded/stable) when I was a kid was certainly helpful for me.

          I like Tom Hanks’ general message of love and acceptance. For the specifics, I’ve been listening to a video series the last 2 weeks at that has been full of insights on how to better connect with the kids and how to figure out when and why their actions/behaviour are triggering me and how to better react to that.

          This relates directly to the “you cannot hurt my feelings” because I’m realizing when my kids do something that hurts my feelings it’s often more about unresolved feelings in my past getting triggered than about my kids’ actions. For instance, one of the women in the series, Louise Clarke, said that when a parent is upset about a child not listening, it’s more likely about the parent not feeling heard than about the kid’s listening skills. I realized this was SO true for me and just being aware of that has been transformative.

    3. yes! I agree too! In fact, parenting teens seems to be a lot about pointing out when feelings have been hurt. I am very glad to be raising strong, outspoken kids. But they need to be told, over and dover and over again, when tiny things they do can be hurtful to others, including their parents. This is part of teaching them, a part I consider essential. If they don’t learn this from their parents, who will teach it to them? And yes, your shift in wording is spot on.

  5. As the mom of an 18-year-old college freshman this totally resonated for me. I agree that it would have seemed vague and maybe not practical enough for me when she was littler (although it’s obviously still good advice). With big kids though, I think it’s almost the only way though. You love, you support, and you help them find their wings. It’s hard and beautiful at the same time.

    (And I loved that whole article. He seems like such a great person.)

  6. This really resonates with me. I know as women we rarely say, “I am good at this”, but actually, I am somehow good at parenting. (Although I am not saying that I have been a perfect parent or know everything, of course). I have 5 kids, ages 11-20 and people regularly ask me for parenting help and tips. And I really believe that kids who are unconditionally loved will turn out ok (eventually–sometimes it does take longer to get there). There are definitely strategies that will make the road to adulthood less bumpy and more enjoyable for everyone, but unconditional love goes a long, long way.

    1. Congrats to you! I can’t imagine anything I would be happier to say than that I am good a parenting! Judging by my oldest (14), I’d have to say that I suck at parenting. But thinking of my younger two (10 and 5), I’d say I’m doing pretty well. Maybe it’s to soon to tell!

      1. I think the only way to fairly evaluate parenting is to look at effort and not so much at kids’ choices. If I am doing my best, I’m great at parenting! If I tried very hard to do what I believed was best for my kids and my kids still made poor choices beyond my control, well, it wouldn’t be right to say I was a parenting failure. I bet you’re doing better much than you think you are!

  7. I am moved by the eloquent simplicity of this message, and I am simultaneously jolted and devastated by the news of yet another school shooting today. Are we (American parents) doing enough and compelling our government officials to institute the most effective measures to keep our kids safe?
    I recently joined the local group of Moms Demand Action ( in my home town. We partner with faith leaders, schools, local businesses, politicians, etc. to educate on the issue and ultimately reduce gun violence in our communities. I strongly encourage others to get involved too. There is much work to be done to keep our kids safe, and it really does require a collective effort!

    1. Thank you so much for posting about this! And thank you for working to keep my kid and everyone’s kids safe!

      I am a member of this group and did some lobbying of the OR state legislature this year with Moms Demand, and they are SUCH wonderful women (and men too!), and they made it so easy with a great training and lots of support during the lobbying itself. Any parent, auntie, grandparent, etc. can join in, and you WILL make a huge difference!

      It really encouraged me to read your comments today, on a hard morning, and know I’m not alone in this acute concern. I’m scared to send my 6 yo to school. And that’s not right.

  8. What a wonderful article! And I couldn’t agree more with what he says. I have a 24-year-old daughter who moved out 9 months ago. We’re really close and this is what I say to her – that we are always be there for her, no matter what happens.

    Now, after the article, I really want to see the Mr. Rogers movie. I have to wait until it comes out in Germany in March. I can’t really decide what my favorite movie with him is. I loved Philadelphia, I loved Green Mile and I also love You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle.

  9. Tom’s advice is spot-on, and may be especially comforting for step-parents. I’m a stepmom. My kids were teenagers when I met them. I instantly loved them with all my heart. Biology didn’t matter. Stepping up means you have to put the kids first, be as self-less as you possibly can — and you don’t have control, authority, credibility that a bio parent does. I walked on eggshells for several years — very anxious about doing everything right, their acceptance and making family with them. And I also knew I had a short window before they were all grown up. Deadline pressure!
    I obsessed about small things — and about the big, important stuff like making sure they knew I loved them, because I showed them.
    Eventually, I came out the other side of this learning curve and landed in a place where the absolute most important thing remains that they know they are loved no matter what, and I let myself lean into the family we’ve become to each other — and stopped sweating the small stuff.

  10. I read this beautiful article with tears streaming down my face. Tom Hanks extended such kindness and compassion to the interviewer, Taffy, when she was having a hard moment, feeling ill and overwhelmed and unsure in her parenting. I love it when a beloved celebrity is as good as they seem. Kindness is always, always important. That’s why we all loved Mr. Rogers, too.

  11. As a mom of two, I came to realize soon enough that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. But as long as I love them unconditionally with all my heart, we will get through anything for I will be there for them no matter what. So I think that’s pretty much in the same wavelength as Tom Hanks’ advice.

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