Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, GROWN AND FLOWN

Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, GROWN AND FLOWN

Zibby Owens: I’m so excited to be here today with Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington who are the coauthors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. They are the co-creators of Grown and Flown, the number one community site for parents with teens and college students, reaching millions of parents every month. Mary Dell previously worked in TV and media, while Lisa had a career on Wall Street and in politics and writing. Lisa is a New York Times best-selling author of three books including Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. They live with their husbands and families in the New York City area.

Welcome to Lisa and Mary Dell. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Mary Dell Harrington: Thank you for having us.

Lisa Heffernan: Thanks, we really appreciate it.

Zibby: Not only did I really enjoy your book, but I have to say I don’t usually follow Facebook groups. The Grown and Flown Facebook group is the only one that I read all the time and get emotional about and I’m attached to. Just wanted to throw that out there. I already had this natural gratitude towards you for creating that sort of space for everybody.

Lisa: It’s been a big surprise. A lot of parents have a lot of questions. They don’t know people in their real life to ask those questions. The group is functioning in a way that fills a role that isn’t in their real life. Many times, I’m sure you see this, people are asking questions and I think they don’t know anyone in their real life who has that situation. The group’s got about 125,000 parents in it.

Mary Dell: A few more.

Lisa: When you go into a group that large, other people will have had whatever experience you’re having and really bring their insight and experience to your problem or your question.

Zibby: I tell everybody who now has a child at that age, “Are you part of this group? Do you know about this?”

Mary Dell: Thank you. We have had people tell us on more than one occasion that the group is larger than the town that they live in and much more diverse. It gives people an opportunity to really have some creative parenting ideas that they may not have in their own social circle or their own school circle.

Zibby: For people who aren’t on them, I shouldn’t have jumped into all this. Grown and Flown is intended for people whose kids are teens or aging out or just flying the nest in some form or another. You can join on Facebook, Grown and Flown.

Mary Dell: We vet everybody to make sure that they are indeed a parent of a high school or a college student. We really want the conversation to be around those topics. We’re careful.

Zibby: I snuck in.

Mary Dell: You’re close with your oldest.

Zibby: I’m divorced and remarried. I think there’s things with the kids on weekends when I don’t have them that is the same type of feeling of parents who have kids who leave, that people my age or have kids my age don’t necessarily feel as much as people in the group.

Mary Dell: It could be. That’s a good point.

Zibby: Maybe an offshoot. Maybe you make an exception for…

Mary Dell: We’re broad-minded about it. We also realize that some people whose oldest are in the ninth grade have much younger children. Likewise, people whose youngest is going off to college have kids who are possibly married. They may already be grandparents. It’s somewhat flexible.

Zibby: Let’s back up now that I’ve jumped all the way in here. Tell listeners about what Grown and Flown, the book, is about. What inspired you to write it? Then I want to hear about the inception of the whole package.

Lisa: The whole package, the whole Grown and Flown. We wrote Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults — that’s a mouthful — for the same reason that we started the whole package. These are some of the most challenging, some of the most exciting, some of the most heartbreaking, and certainly some of the most consequential years of parenting. These are when kids are setting the direction for their lives. We still play a pretty big role in some of that decision-making, if nothing else, just being a sounding board for our kids.

There was so little out there. There are so many amazing websites and amazing books for parents of little kids. The expression “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems,” the big problems we thought weren’t being addressed adequately. We thought we would start a website. Essentially, that’s where we started. At the beginning, it was the two of us talking about — I have three kids. This is Lisa. Mary Dell has two. It was us talking about our five kids. Now we have over five hundred writers on the website. Many of them are writing from the position of their professional expertise. They may also be parents of teens. They’re really writing from the fact that they’re a psychologist or they’re a physician or a teacher. We gathered a lot of this expertise. We put it in a book with some of the best parent writers we know.

Mary Dell: We know from research, parents of teens feel the most insecure in their roles. This is when parents have the least amount of confidence, when they have middle schoolers. It really doesn’t start to pick up until the kids are grown. There’s this vacuum of information. At the same time, as Lisa said, families are dealing with some of the most complex questions as teens gain more independence and grapple with the direction of their life. Simultaneously, you’re no longer going into the pediatrician with your child. You’re not having parent-teacher conferences in the same way that you do when your kids are little. You’re really not supposed to be the ones talking to the teacher on behalf of your student, or the coach on behalf of your student. All of a sudden, the scaffolding in your life melts away. I know we’re in New York City so it may not be as relevant as parents in the suburbs, but once their kids start driving, they really are out of the loop. It can be a lonely and stressful time. We hope that we can add a little bit to that conversation.

Zibby: The thought of my kids driving keeps me up at night, on behalf of everybody on the roads.

Mary Dell: It should.

Lisa: Don’t think about it. It is scary.

Zibby: There was a part in the book where you talk about overparenting. I thought that was interesting for you to address. Writing a book about this age group, there’s been all this pushback against being too involved with your kids and this whole scandal for college admissions and everything. Some people still call to wake them up for class. They say, “We got a ninety in biology” versus “I did well.” Yet at the same time, you say in the book, “Helicopter parenting has crashed.” Has it really crashed? How do you get people off of the helicopters?

Lisa: A couple of thoughts here. One is we don’t think that helicopter parenting was ever as popular as the press would have you believe. It makes a great story. It makes a great headline. There isn’t, actually, almost any data how common it is, parents who are truly overparenting, parents who are truly intrusive in their kids lives. What’s happened is parents and kids, teenagers and young adults, are much closer than they were a generation ago. We are much closer to our children than our parents were to us in terms of the amount of communication we have, in terms of what they want to talk to us about, the important things in their lives, their jobs, their aspirations, their romantic life. Maybe we conflated a little of that closeness with helicopter parenting. First of all, there are some helicopters parents. The argument to make to them is really that you’re damaging your kid. That’s what the professional said. Helicopter parents have the best of intentions. If they know how much their behavior damages their kids and keeps them from reaching independence, that’s the best argument against it.

Most parents have grown concerned that they’re a helicopter parent and they’re really not. They’re just really close to their kid. We talk in the book about a couple of things that maybe helps parents. One is a rule of thumb. If you would do something for somebody else’s kid, you should do it for your own kids. If your kid were writing a college application or if your kid were wanting to know about a career, I would proofread your kid’s letter. I would look at their letter. I would look at their resume. I would make suggestions to them. I would take them to work with me for the day to show them what it was like. If I would do that for your kid, I should do it for my kid. You’re by and large not overstepping when you’re doing something that you would do for a niece or a nephew or a friend’s kid. The other thing is what we’re trying to do over these years is we’re trying to go from the role of the parent, the all-powerful parent, to the role of mentor. If you feel yourself moving towards that, if you feel that they’re taking more and more control and you’re moving more and more into that consultative role, you’re probably doing it right.

Mary Dell: What I was going to add when Lisa was talking about the tendency now of parents to be much closer to their kids, that is the case in our two families. We noticed that. There’s research that bears that out that we draw from. One thing that we’ve tried to do throughout the book is to look at the best research we can find around things. When you were talking about there not being any research to really substantiate the quantity of helicopter parenting out there, it may be an anecdotal thing.

Lisa: The research actually shows that both the new closeness between teenagers and young adults and their parents is both beneficial for the parents and for the kids. We are helping our kids by staying close to them. It’s the best thing in life. One of the things that you see written about a lot is if your kid can do it themselves, you shouldn’t do it for them. This one, we disagree with and we talk about in the book. My husband can do a lot of things I do for him. That’s how you show people that you love them. That’s what families do for each other. He can pick up his own dry cleaning, but sometimes I do that for him. The same is true with our kids. If you make them their lunch and they’re in high school, of course they can make their lunch, but then you let them sleep that extra ten minutes. That’s showing families how you love each other. That isn’t saying, “I don’t think you can make your lunch.” It’s saying, “I can see how stressed you are and how tired you are. This is this little bit of love I can show you by making you food and getting you out the door quicker.” We don’t find that is a good criteria for helicopter parenting.

Mary Dell: This comes into play in a very pronounced way during the college admission season. So many people say, “It’s my kid’s deal. They can own it.” It is a terrifying thing to think about doing college admissions on your own, especially if you’re a seventeen-year-old when you don’t have, perhaps, the best organizational structure. Of course they don’t. We struggle to have a good organizational system. If we can help them by looking at an essay or helping them plan out a college trip that involves flying and visiting and renting a car and things that can be very complicated, I don’t think we’re over functioning for them. We’re actually giving them, as Lisa said, the sort of love and support that we would want a family member to help us with.

Zibby: As you point out in the book, the argument that nobody did this for us and we turned out just fine is not really relevant. Also you point out, which I found very interesting, were we? Were we just fine? Could we have maybe been better? Maybe this is even more beneficial.

Lisa: There’s a lot of data that suggests we were actually the worst generation. We were the worst-behaved generation in history. I’m not sure that we’re the model we want to use. What we’re finding with millennials and already with Gen Z, who are now in college, they are drinking less. They are binge drinking less. They have fewer sexual partners. They are more responsible about using birth control. When you put those two things together, there’s a lot less unwanted pregnancy. Their drug use is by and large down, though marijuana use is about the same. They are a more open-minded and accepting generation. They are getting educated in greater numbers than we did.

The notion that we were just fine is perhaps a faulty one. Yes, we got to adulthood. Yes, we’re functioning adults. To set an eighteen-year-old off of their own and say, “You got this,” the way we did — we’d call our parents once a week on the phone. When we had a problem, we would consult other eighteen-year-olds who knew no more than we did. Our kids now tend to turn to us. If they have a romantic problem, they’re as likely to talk to their parents now as they were to talk to a friend. Their parents have a lot more experience than they had and can be a steadier force in their lives. The notion that everything was fine and we should raise them the way we were raised, I think is pretty faulty.

Zibby: You put really great tips in the book on how to help your kids through heartbreak, which I thought was so sweet too. I don’t think about, how am I going to handle that? I feel like I’ll just handle it, I guess. You have a roadmap. That’s really helpful. Even just to anticipate it all coming, obviously you can guess this will happen, but there it all is laid out nicely with steps to follow. That’s awesome.

Mary Dell: It’s true. It is an inevitable thing. It’s something we actually want for our kids. We want them to have relationships that perhaps aren’t optimal for them that they can learn from. We want to let them know that we’re sorry that we see them so hurt. We want to tell them that we’ve been in their spot and know that this is excruciating. We can offer to do something for them. Go on a walk. Have a little retail therapy. That’s always a good one for me and my daughter. Send them a care package if they’re at college. Offer to come and get them. Bring them home for the weekend. That could be something that could be really beneficial. Obviously, tell them you love them. Then later after the pain has subsided and you think you can have this conversation with your teen or young adult, talk about what takeaway they have from it. Is there something about that partner that wasn’t optimal? Is it something that they realize when they think about a future spouse or future partner or romantic relationship, something that’s going to be important that they possess so they don’t make the same mistake?

Zibby: I feel like this is an offshoot of the advice for parents of younger kids too. Let them feel their feelings. The feelings themselves aren’t wrong. You have to help them through but not try to squash it.

Mary Dell: Sometimes the best thing we do is just — Lisa Damour talks about this, dumping their emotional trash on us. Sometimes the single best thing we do is just let them unload on us, and not doing that to a friend and not doing that to a roommate or something. Doing it to us because we’re able to handle that well. Sometimes they feel better just for having done that. Sometimes they don’t really need more than that.

Zibby: In your house, you don’t scream, “Don’t take it out on me”?

Mary Dell: Nope.

Lisa: I try not to.

Mary Dell: We may think it in our heads. It is very nice if they then let us know after the fact that the crisis has abated, that they’re fine. A lot of times, they will give us that emotional trash and then they’ll never call back and say, “Mom, you know what? I’m fine now. Don’t worry.” We do continue to worry about them if we don’t get that all-clear sign later on.

Zibby: Then how do you protect yourself from just being a punching bag of your child?

Mary Dell: That’s a hard one. Hopefully, we’ve had enough personal life experiences to realize that that relationship in college that didn’t turn out the way they had hoped, or that position that they didn’t get, or that grade that they didn’t get is a blip. We have the perspective on whether or not that’s a big issue in their lives or likely to be something that they learn from and move on from.

Lisa: When they’re young teens, they’re going to have a lot of disappointments. They’re going to try out for teams they’re not going to get onto. It’s heartbreaking. They’re going to try out for the play that they don’t get into or get excluded. One of the worst things we hear in the group all the time is being shut out of a friend group. You just want to cry for the fourteen-year-old, fifteen-year-old girl who’s being rejected by her former friends. It’s excruciating to listen to even when you don’t know the child. What we possess that their friends don’t possess is the ability to step back and say, “This is just one step on life. There will be more friends. There will be more friend groups.” We know that as adults. We have to be that punching bag sometimes.

Zibby: I feel, though, that when I got that kind of advice when I was going through something, it didn’t always help in the moment. If my mother, “This is just a blip. There will be other friends.” But this friend is the center of my universe!

Lisa: I’m suggesting that we know that, not that you say that to them. I think they’ll find that condescending in the moment.

Zibby: Okay, great. Thank you.

Lisa: When you were saying how do you handle being the punching bag, you step back and think that. At the time, that will be rejected. That will get you really ugly faces.

Zibby: In addition to all the tips you have on so many things, you also have the handbook on dropping your kid at college in the middle of this book. You have expert advice. It does a lot of different, amazing things for your target audience. You have tips on dropping kids at school, from what to pack to what to say. What are some of the most important things?

Lisa: The most important thing to remember is this is a really, really important moment in life. We have a professor of many years. He’s a professor at Emory who wrote a piece — it’s in the book — about how this is one of the big days. This is like weddings and bar mitzvahs. These are days we remember. Many of us can remember being dropped by our own parents. His point is don’t tell them not to mix darks and whites. Don’t tell them to change their sheets every two weeks. The last thing you want them to remember about you walking away isn’t “Don’t forget to –”

Mary Dell: Wake up on time for class.

Zibby: Brush your teeth.

Mary Dell: Something mundane.

Lisa: There’s plenty of time to nag. There’s text. You can nag tomorrow. Try and say the most meaningful things, whether it’s conveying your love to them at that moment, whether it’s telling them something big about your life or your family, whether it’s just reasserting the confidence that you have in them or the pride that you have in them. They got to this moment. They’re going to college. They didn’t get there by doing nothing. They worked pretty hard. On that day, try and think of something of consequence to say as opposed to either standing their sobbing — I’m going to put my hand up on that one.

Mary Dell: It’s a pretty common behavior, actually.

Lisa: Or saying something trivial that really doesn’t capture the moment.

Mary Dell: The most important thing to do is actually the week or two weeks before you make that trip to the freshman dorm, sit down and write a letter where you can really get your thoughts together. As you know, it’s much easier to come up with something more profound if you have a little bit of time and you have your computer in front of you where you can edit and come up with just the right words. Leave that for them so they have that to open after you’ve gone. It can be a real meaningful thing for both of you.

Zibby: I’m getting emotional just thinking about this. As I told you, my son is leaving for boarding school. I read your book. I’ve been thinking in the back of my head, I should really be doing that letter. What do I want to say? I don’t want to write anything that’s going to make him more upset. He says sometimes when he sees a picture or something, it brings it all up if they’re distracted. It’s been in the back of my head. Of course, I would love to have that myself. I’m sure we all would like to have a keepsake like that from our own parents.

Lisa: I texted my kids a lot of those things. Of course, those are gone to the memory of man because they were texts. That was foolish. The reason to write the letter is our digital communication just disappears.

Mary Dell: To mitigate that sadness and that highly emotional moment — it’s emotional for them as well as for us. Even if they do their best job of looking tough and wanting to be done with you, they’re in many cases leaving every single person they know in life, their dogs, their families, their friends, their high school experiences, their experience of being a senior in high school being at the top of the social heap, moving into something that’s much less certain as to what they’re going to do. Knowing that you’re going to see them and having a date in mind — we will be there for game day, we will be there for parent’s weekend, we will see you at Thanksgiving — gives you all an opportunity to say we know we’re going to be together then. We can get to that point.

Zibby: I’ve been seeing on Instagram, a lot of friends I have with older kids who are bereft having dropped off kids. It’s the season still where people are getting over that and transitioning to new formats. What advice would you give to those parents who are readjusting to life with a child gone?

Mary Dell: It’s very different, obviously. When you come back home and you see that empty bedroom, it is a moment where you’re thinking, how am I going to do this? Like I just said before, knowing that you’re going to get together again, it was a very big thing for us. Our son played football. We would actually be seeing him the following weekend. It wasn’t really such a painful thing. Our daughter went to school a seven-hour drive away. We weren’t going to see her until parent’s weekend which was six weeks away. Having that moment where I could focus on the positive and our future was actually beneficial to me.

Lisa: The other thing is don’t beat yourself up. If you’re feeling really sad, if you’re finding it hard to walk into their bedroom, don’t tell yourself, “This is a good thing. What’s wrong with me?” There’s nothing wrong with you. This is one of the people that you love most in this world. They’re not here. Why wouldn’t you feel sad? We chastise ourselves a little and feel like somehow there’s something weak or something wrong that we’re feeling so sad. We should actually let ourselves experience that. We find most parents feel better after a couple of weeks. Distract yourself with your other kids. Distract yourself with your spouse. Distract yourself with your girlfriends, whatever helps you move on. People talk about hobbies. I don’t find that necessarily a hobby replaces a person. Friendships and companionships and partners, they certainly can fill some of that void.

Mary Dell: Certainly, joining our Facebook group where you can commiserate with 125,000 people, many of whom are feeling exactly like you, it does make you feel a little bit better to read something where someone expresses exactly how you’re feeling. It’s like, I’m not the only one. That does make me feel better. Finding community, whatever that translates into your world, is really important.

Lisa: One of the things we’ve seen parents do that looks like so much fun — I wish I had done it, actually. They have care package parties after the kids have left. Everybody gets together with a bunch of the parents that you were senior moms together with. Everybody brings ten of one item, let’s say. Then they put packages together for the kids. Everybody puts one item in each box and writes notes to the kids — you got this, this is going to be great, I’m so excited for you — and share a glass of wine.

Mary Dell: I was going to say wine is usually part of the equation.

Lisa: Or coffee if it’s morning, and then commiserate and remember that everyone else is feeling exactly the same way.

Mary Dell: Someone just put pictures up last night of having done one.

Lisa: It looks like a lot of fun.

Zibby: They could combine that with a book party for your book. They could all read little snippets.

Mary Dell: That is a great idea.

Zibby: When I was getting used to my kids being away every other weekend, I had this big debate. Do I keep their doors open or closed when they weren’t home? What do you think? Doors open or closed, the children who have left, or away?

Mary Dell: I’d go for the door open only because it seems like it’s so much of a void if it’s shut. At least if there’s light there — it feels really good to go back home. Invariably, they have left coat hangers, bags of trash, stuff they decided not to take at the last minute. It feels really good to go in, strip the bed, clean everything up, get it all nice and neat. One thing that doesn’t generally exist with a teenager is a tidy bedroom. If you can create a tidy space in there, there’s a little tiny bit of gratification that comes with that. I’d go for the open door.

Lisa: I closed the door because I couldn’t even look. You could do it either way. I did not handle my children leaving well. It was really painful. I literally couldn’t look in their bedrooms for a while. There you go.

Mary Dell: Take your choice.

Lisa: Exactly.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about the process of writing this book. I know you two collaborated, obviously, on the Facebook group. In terms of writing this book, how did you actually do it? How did you collaborate? How did you find doing it? I know you’ve written on your own and with other people and with Mary Dell. Tell me about the whole process.

Lisa: It was really fun doing this. We, over the years, had published about five hundred different writers. We had amazing people to go to and ask for pieces for the book, experts, professors, teachers, high school teachers, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists. There’s all sorts of people in the book. First, we thought of all the people we thought were best and could write the best pieces for us and outlined the book that way. The book is not really chronological. It’s topical. It’s about love and family. There’s a section about health and mental health and happiness. It doesn’t really walk you through, per se, from ninth grade through college. Then we started drafting. Mary Dell would read a draft. She would tell me what was wrong with it. That was really helpful. The problem with writing a book on your own is you can actually go down a rabbit hole of something that’s not very relevant, something that you feel really good about that isn’t actually very good. It’s really, really fantastic to collaborate. That was really fun.

Mary Dell: Lisa and I also started our website almost eight years ago. We have had 2,000, 2,500 blog posts that we have either written or, in most cases now, read and edited and worked on together. We have a well-grooved system of collaborating. We divide and conquer in what we do with Grown and Flown. Then we work together in a collaborative way. We have figured it out long before the book project came about.

Zibby: Are there tips to working with friends or tips in general of how to balance the work-life relationship that you two seem to have?

Lisa: Check your ego at the door. Mary Dell is the easiest person you have ever worked with in your life. She’s able to bring her mind to it without letting a person’s ego get in the way. That’s the hardest thing to work with, when people find it hard to have their words cut. When somebody reads something you’ve written and says it’s not clear or there are too many words, that comes from a good place. As a writer, it’s hard sometimes to hear that. I will be honest. You have to remember that comes from a really good place and that is help. This is not criticism. This is help. If you can keep reminding yourself, “This is not criticism. This is help,” it’s really, really useful.

Mary Dell: Lisa and I also had a working relationship as school volunteers together before we started Grown and Flown. Every other Tuesday, we worked at our kids’ school’s snack bar. We would talk the entire time. We would drink coffee. We would turn around when we had a long line of kids who were waiting on us to finish our story so that we could give them their Snapple and their bagel. We developed a working relationship that was the foundation for launching it. We knew that we enjoyed spending time together. That was huge. I don’t think you would just pick somebody out of the blue that you’d never really worked with to be a writing partner or your business partner. The other real key thing for us is that we have very patient husbands. They know that we spend a lot of time together building this business and working on the book and working on all the other Grown and Flown projects that we’ve got going on. They’re really wonderful and supportive. That’s been huge.

Zibby: That’s always a good thing. That helps everything. Did you consider other formats for the book? I thought maybe this would be an anthology of essays similar to the posts in the group. Did you think about an anthology? Was this the go-to format from the beginning?

Lisa: This is what the publisher wanted. It was, yeah. They wanted a book that very much mirrored the site.

Zibby: Did they come to you?

Lisa: Yes. They did, actually.

Zibby: Nice.

Lisa: This is my fourth book. I know that’s not at all typical. I’ve gone through the process of the proposals and hoping that someone will pick up your proposal. It very much mirrors the site. We picked pieces that we think people will read and reread. We hope it’s more of a handbook in some ways. We were going for the What to Expect When You’re Expecting kind of thing where you dip into, and then set it down, and then dip into it again. Kids don’t go through the milestones the way we do in pregnancy and early childhood. They go through things at very, very different times. We’re hoping that the book is useful over a very long period of time for parents.

Mary Dell: Certainly, the chapters on mental health and happiness are really relevant for a middle school kid as well as a young adult. There are elements there that are applicable.

Zibby: Do you have plans for more books or more extensions of this brand in any way?

Lisa: The site keeps growing. The community keeps growing. It’s grown much faster and larger than we expected. We don’t have concrete plans, but yeah. We’re going to continue to expand it. Where we started the conversation, there just isn’t a lot for parents in this age group. We’ve reached a parent such as yourself, people who had their kids in the twenty-first century and have always looked for online resources for raising their kids. If you had your kids in the nineties, you might have looked for books. You might have talked to friends and your own mother more. People who had their kids in the twenty-first century have always sought out online resources from babysitter on. We’re finding that those are the people who are finding us now.

Mary Dell: The other thing too is, we have the book. We have the Facebook group. Our website has a pipeline that is always full of writers, some of whom are prolific and write for us frequently. Others are brand new that are new to us. We love the combination. We’re publishing two or three original blog posts every single day. That’s continuing on. We have the book, but the website is very active. We have new writing all the time.

Zibby: I feel like you should license it and do college care package kits. You could make it a whole thing.

Mary Dell: We have trademarked our name. Grown and Flown is a common term in England but becoming more common here to express this whole stage of your children departing. You never know. We may. Look for more Grown and Flown projects in the future.

Zibby: Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done or said before your kids left?

Mary Dell: I had a great time with college visits. My kids did not have nearly as much fun on them as I did. It made me regret that I had not done more one-on-one trips with them. Sometimes life is so busy. You want to take family trips. You obviously don’t want to exclude child or the other. To be able to go away one-on-one, with my son in particular, gave us a chance to really talk and work together as a team. He would pick out the music that we would listen to. I would find the hotels. He would come up with things we should do while we’re visiting those towns. We didn’t have that kind of opportunity to do a fun project together, especially in high school. There’s so much stress and so much busyness, and “Get this done,” and deadlines, and college application things. It wears you out. Being able to go and travel together one-on-one is really something that I wish I would’ve done.

Lisa: I have to echo Mary Dell saying that. I wish I had spent more time one-on-one with each of my kids, either travelling or just going out to dinner with one of them rather than always lumping —

Mary Dell: — It doesn’t have to be a big trip.

Lisa: No. My kids are close in age. They were lumped together from day one. I wish I had done that. There’s two other things. One is I wish I had brought less of my own baggage into their adolescence. I was so worried about them doing what I did or not doing what I didn’t do. I brought a lot of my own experience to their adolescence. They are not me. The times were different. They’re different people. I have boys. They’re not even the same gender as I am. I wish I had brought less of my past and let go of my past more in raising them. The last one is I wish I had worried less and trusted us all more. I worried so much. I worried about outcomes that we would’ve been able to handle. My kids are good kids. My husband was there and a wonderful father. Yet I worried that this wouldn’t happen or that wouldn’t happen, none of which are major consequential things. I would’ve made all of our lives a lot easier if I had just worried a lot less.

Mary Dell: That worry thing is really hard not to do.

Lisa: I used to tell them I’m paid to worry. When they say, “Mom, stop worrying,” I was like, “No, I’m paid to worry.” You know what? It would’ve made everybody’s lives a lot easier without that.

Mary Dell: I agree. That’s absolutely the case.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Lisa: This is a great time to be an aspiring author. Over the last decade, the gatekeepers that always stood between you and getting published have become less and less important. To become an aspiring author, meet lots of people, as many people as you can. Reach out to people online. Everybody wants to help everybody. We love to publish people who’ve never been published before.

Mary Dell: It’s pretty exciting.

Lisa: It’s really exciting. There are people whose writing careers have started by just reaching out to us and sending us something wonderful. They’ve ended up on national television.

Mary Dell: It’s been great. It’s been great to see.

Lisa: They’ve ended up with all sorts of wonderful progression to their career. Don’t be at all shy about reaching out to people. Don’t ever feel like you’re imposing or you’re getting in the way. People love to hear from aspiring authors. That would be one of the most important things.

Mary Dell: That’s true. The barrier to entry is low to create a blog. The hardest thing for us was to pick our name. That took us months. Then finally, your son was going back to college. He said, “It’s now or when I’m home for spring break. I will help you get the domain name. I’ll help you get going. You just have to decide.” It took him very little time. Once you decide that you want to write, definitely create a blog. Pick a name. Get going on it. Experiment. Push all the buttons. See what you can do and what you can learn on your own. Don’t be afraid of social media. Explore Instagram, Facebook, whatever works for you.

Lisa: I would say the last thing is engage and listen to your audience. The advantage we have now over people ten years ago is you can get a lot of really instant feedback about whether your tone and your voice matters, whether what you’re saying matters, whether it’s compelling to people. You didn’t have that opportunity for so long. Your readers will tell you a lot. Your readers will give you a lot of really, really useful and incredible guidance. If you’ve got a voice and you’ve got something that people want to say, you will be successful now. There are so many avenues now. If you’re finding that your readers are reacting positively and they want to hear from you, keep pushing. You will be successful.

Zibby: Great. Thank you so much for all of this advice, for your great book, for the community you’ve created, and for helping so many people.

Mary Dell: Thank you.

Lisa: Thank you for having us.

Zibby: Of course.

Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, GROWN AND FLOWN