Life Lessons:

Joani Geltman

*Are you happy at the moment?

Yes, I am. It’s summer! I have a bit of a tan, which makes me very happy!! My daughter is happy and in a good place, and that gives me unbridled joy. I feel challenged and fulfilled with my work. I’ve been cooking great meals, and I love food, so that makes me happy. I have great friends, a good husband, life is good!

*If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self now – what would it be?

Give yourself a break. Your dad just died, your mom is grieving a huge loss, and doesn’t really know how to help you and doesn’t have much left over right now for you. Your brothers have moved on, your friends love you, but they have no idea how to talk to you or understand what it means to lose your dad. Of course you feel like crap, of course you want to eat everything in sight. It’s amazing that you are still carrying on. You have so much responsibility now to be “the best little girl in the world”, so your mom won’t be upset with you. It’s hard having the only mom who is working full-time (this was 1967) leaving you to be the “wife.” It’s not fair that your friends get to go hang after school and you have to go home to cook, clean and do laundry. But you know what? When you get through the worst of this, the pride and confidence you will feel in yourself for doing what needed to get done, will stay with you your whole life and help you to do great things!”

*What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

Normally a procrastinator, I was terrified at the prospect of delivering my book on a deadline. I honestly didn’t know that I could do it. I surprised myself by setting up a schedule and a commitment to self-imposed target goals, and the book was delivered on-time. I learned that I am capable of changing behavior, and that I can push myself to do things I never thought possible. Having gotten C’s and D’s in English, I never thought I was a person who could write. But this year, after two books and 605 blog entries I am finally calling myself a writer!

*What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

Honestly, I would like my book to be a best seller. Not for the fame, but because I truly believe this book will give parents the help that I know they are craving. I want to develop a web series, TV or radio show for parents dealing with the normal everyday issues they face raising kids in this century. I am tired of seeing families exploited in the media just for the drama of it. “Thank god that’s not my family” is not a strategy for family health!

*What’s your secret to happiness?

Perspective and personal power. I think when you lose a parent as I did at 13, that is the worst thing that can happen to a kid. When the worst has already happened it makes the other down times in your life feel manageable. I have always felt that I am the master of my life, and if I want to be happy, then I have the power to do what I need to do to make that happen. I am not a complainer, I am a doer.

*What one ritual or practice keeps you grounded?

I work out every day. It is something that I am very disciplined about. I love to eat so exercise helps with that, but I also deal with anxiety and working out makes me feel calm. It is also a time for me to do my mantras that I use to motivate me towards my goals.

*What’s your biggest regret?

When I graduated from high school in 1969, women went into Nursing, Education and Social Work. I did two out of the three. I went to a very small all women’s college that was a teaching college. I was not challenged educationally. I have always believed that if I had gone to a larger university, I might have been turned on by something completely unpredictable and new, and my life might have taken a very different direction.

*What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kid(s)?

Self-respect and treating others with respect. Your reputation follows you your whole life and it is the one thing that you alone have complete control over. It can close doors or it can open doors wider than you can imagine!

*What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?

I am a terrible procrastinator. Whether it’s late paying bills, my taxes, parking tickets, usually things that involve money. Money has always been an issue that I hate to deal with. When I procrastinate I end up paying fines, having my car booted, you’d think I would learn by now. It’s not that I don’t have the money, I just hate to spend it!

*Aside from motherhood/fatherhood and marriage what are you most proud of in your life?

I am very proud of my work. Since I started working as a traditional social worker in 1978 as a therapist, every few years I would challenge myself to take my work in a new direction. I would add a new element, starting with teaching college students, then developing seminars for parents, writing my first book called I Get It: Three Magic Words For Parents Of Teens, which I self-published, started a blog, wrote a new book that was published this year: A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens, Talking To Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs And Other Things That Freak You Out. Now I am working on developing a web series for parents of teens.

I am equally proud of taking care of my mom for several years before she died, and then her sister, who never married for several years before she died. I’m not saying I loved every minute of it, but I do feel proud of the fact that I gave both of them a loving and fulfilling end of life. I cooked, cleaned, bathed and dressed them, and got to know them on the most intimate level. The conversations I was privileged to have with them as we took care of daily living are among the most important I’ve ever had in my life.

*When were you happiest?

I am really having a hard time with this question. I don’t know that I have a happiest time. There have been many times in my life when there have been peak experiences, but they might have been paired with simultaneously difficult moments. And that is really how I see life.

*What ten words best describe you?

Loving, nurturing, warm, empathetic, energetic, passionate, funny, impatient, creative, insightful

Joani Geltman, MSW is a leading parenting expert, with four decades of experience in working with youth, including as a psychology professor, school counselor and social worker, a family therapist, and a parenting coach. She holds a Masters degree in social work from Washington University and has been quoted or published by USA Today, Psychology Today, Boston Globe and The Washington Post. She’s also a successful parent, having raised Ari Graynor, a movie actress who most recently starred in the CBS television series Bad Teacher. Visit her website at: