An Open Letter from My Chronically Tardy Teenager

Recently, I posted a blog on what to do when people are late to meetings.  Because these blogs take a minute to write, I cross-post them on my LinkedIn profile.  Over 8,000 folks read the LinkedIn version and over 80 people commented.

 

Most of the LinkedIn commenters expressed great frustration with tardy people.  I certainly understand that.  A chronically tardy teenager is currently sleeping in the bedroom next to my home office.

 

My husband and I have had serious tardiness struggles with my daughter since…forever.  It has been a source of many arguments.  And, once she got her driver’s license, her school tardiness became ridiculous.  She made straight A’s last year, mind you, but she can’t seem to get herself out of bed on time.

 

In our continuing efforts to “help” her understand the need for punctuality, I assigned her the book Never Be Late Again and an assignment to write a guest post for my blog.

 

So here it is.  I hope it is as informative for you as it was for me.


 

Dear people of the world who can’t stand the chronically tardy,

 

I am here to enlighten you on the other side of this problem. Being chronically tardy myself, I would like to explain why it is such a constant struggle.

 

I am not justifying lateness nor saying you should always forgive and forget. I’m just attempting to explain the real reasons for my tardiness and perhaps provide better understanding of this problem.

 

I am speaking from my own insight and am not generalizing all chronically tardy people, or CT as I call it from now on.

 

I’ve struggled with tardiness since birth. Literally. My mother was in labor with me for 27 hours. I’ve been this way my entire life.

 

It didn’t become a serious problem until I got my driver’s license. Until that point, all my lateness caused was an annoyance to my parents or the occasional missed bus, which clearly didn’t bother me that much.

 

Once I was responsible for leaving on time, though, the problem became more serious. I was 10 minutes late to school multiple times a week. I started work late. I picked up my brother from swim late. I made my life a living hell.

 

So, my parents tightened the reins and began to give me more alarms and send me articles filled with time management tips. Much of these efforts focused on getting me to wake up on time as that was, and still is, my kryptonite.

 

Trying to fix this issue became a cycle of frustration and self-loathing. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get over it and “just get up.” I couldn’t figure out why waking up felt like getting hit in the head with a sledgehammer.

 

I mentioned that struggle to my parents during one of many “How to get my stuff together” pow-wows, and it piqued their interest. As I really hadn’t known anything different, I was very confused by their interest in it. We dug further into it, and discovered that my tardiness was very connected to my mental health.

 

Much thought and effort has gone into how to stop being CT. I hate that people think I don’t care or that I’m incompetent or that I do it as deliberate disrespect of their time. That is never ever my intention.

 

Those consequences just add to the spiral that keeps me awake at night.

 

My tardiness isn’t something I take pride in or even see as okay. That being said, getting constantly ragged on for it really doesn’t help or fix the problem.

 

My mom made me read, Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged by Diana DeLonzor as another attempt to fix this issue and the three concepts that stuck out to me were:

  1. “Telling a chronically tardy person to ‘just stop being late’ is like telling a chronically depressed person to ‘just cheer up’.”
  2. “The Evader.” A person whose tardiness is actually a coping mechanism for anxiety/ depression and escaping from life problems.
  3. Tardiness is sometimes a means of control in someone’s life. When a person feels they don’t have any say in how their life is progressing, they decide how their morning goes by sleeping in five minutes or doing that one extra thing.

 

These points DeLonzor made hit home with me. I was fairly recently diagnosed with clinical anxiety and was surprised by this correlation.

 

Typically, mental illness has very few obvious symptoms. We go through our day fooling everyone that we’re normal and okay, when in reality that couldn’t be farther from the truth. CT is one way that those mental struggles take a peek at the outside world.

 

Now I’m not saying every single tardy person is like that, in fact, DeLonzor covers six other types and causes of CT. I highly recommend reading the book if you want to see all the reasons for CT. She even has a chapter at the end for the punctual people on how to deal with tardy people.

 

I hadn’t considered the fact that my anxiety may cause my CT. I thought it was caused by something more shallow, like mood swings. That adrenaline rush you get from trying to beat the clock was not only a way to scare myself awake, but also a way to keep myself out of my own head.

 

Yay. Another spill to add to this big mental mess I’m endlessly trying my best to clean up.

 

To all the people who have themselves together, I ask one thing: to understand. Not forgive, not forget, not even necessarily to show mercy, but to understand. We do feel bad, and wish for this struggle not to be a defining factor of our character.

 

For all the frustration other people’s tardiness causes you, I’m sorry. For the feelings of disrespect it triggers, I’m sorry. It is definitely me not you.

 

I hope this letter has shown that lateness isn’t a stand-alone problem or something deliberate or enjoyable. And if this didn’t change your views at all, that’s totally fine too. At the very least maybe it was a gentle reminder that we’re all human.

 

Sincerely,

A human being

 


 

Ok, so, there it is.

 

This is a productivity blog, not a parenting blog, so I’m going to keep my more parental thoughts to myself.

 

I collaborated with my daughter on some tips to help the CT people you know.

 

Here they are:

  • Talk with them about it. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Habit 5 from Covey).
  • Treat this problem like you would other performance issues. Teach skills.  Don’t freak CT people out by saying they need to figure it out for themselves.
  • Agree on some parameters and be prepared to follow through on the consequences so they take it seriously. Have the consequences increase appropriately.
  • Have patience.
  • Provide encouragement for even the smallest victories.
  • Read Never Be Late Again by Diana DeLonzor if you need a more detailed plan.

 

Okay, I lied about keeping the parenting thoughts to myself.

 

I am so proud of my daughter.  I am proud that she does so well in school.  I am proud that she had the courage to write the letter above.  I’m proud that she courageously faces the world every day.

 

She is smart.  She is witty.  She is insightful.  She is a caring, compassionate person.

 

She is also chronically tardy.

 

She is human.

 

Aren’t we all?

 






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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.

11 Comments

  1. Heidi Stone

    Love this! Your daughter is wise.

    Reply
  2. David Cox

    I absolutely loved this letter from a different perspective from such an insightful young lade. Of course, I loved your part too, as always.

    This really opened my eyes to a different perspective. I struggled with the same issues with my son and wished I had read your daughters wisdom earlier in his life. I really like where she explains that know they are late and don’t like results and for us not to forgive and forget; but rather understanding. As a life-long student of the psychological sciences myself, I am ashamed to say that I had not considered being tardy from an angle of depression or anxiety.

    Thanks for a fantastic post.

    Reply
  3. ConnieG

    Wise well beyond her years! So proud of her.

    Reply
  4. Rick Carter

    SHE HAS TO BE SUPER SMART TO WRITE SUCH AN INSIGHTFUL LETTER.
    YOU SHOULD BE PROUD OF HER! NOW SHE NEEDS TO WALK THE TALK.
    THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS.

    Reply
  5. B Wynkoop

    Great job on the article. I too had a child who was chronically tardy. He was an excellent student and scored almost a perfect score on his ACT. He also had a medical condition that caused fatigue and of course, he did stay up LATE at night. He also would not ‘hear’ the alarm clock. When he hit around 20 years old, he bought a “BIG BEN” clock, it would wake the entire house and vibrate his bed, even then he struggled. He eventually found some options that worked for him and NOW amazingly he gets up every morning around 4 a.m. to be at work by 6. Life has a way of working things out.

    Reply
  6. AJ

    Rick,
    Your comment is nice and wonderful, you are clearly complimenting her daughter. I feel I have to speak up on the ‘walk the talk’ comment; it is innocent but is the whole point of the issue when we deal with children with mental health issues. (I know you didn’t mean any harm, but it reaffirms an understanding that may only come with having a child with mental health issues.) Here’s another way to look at it. I have asthma. One could say just “breath normal”, “stop wheezing”, “don’t let those airways close up!”. “You just have to run without having an attack.” “Buck up”, one might say! Sure regular exercise and albuterol will help, but my lungs still have asthma. The “CT” is tied to mental health so it is not that simple. Every morning for a teen with “CT” is a real, and unfair I might add, fight to battle to get up. In simple terms it is a fight of the middle brain vs. the frontal brain. The middle brain has the upper hand after sleep and wants to stay in the depressed state. The frontal brain can inject logic into the conversation (I need to get to school, etc.)but the middle brain fights to keep the person down as the depressed brain loves to keep in a low energy state. I recommend reading The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb for more on the actual brain science. I’ve had many people give comments along the lines of just get up, just get your stuff together, you just gotta do it, even a teacher say just get your poop in a pile- to my struggling teen; all similar versions of walk the talk. What this unintentionally communicates to those who struggle is; you are not good enough, you are broken. What’s wrong with you? – just get up. This is helpful for us who just need a little kick in the butt to get going but not super helpful for those who are already down and struggle with unfair fight of mental health. To Melissa’s daughter – keep up the fight, you are good enough, the fight is real and there is healing to be had and better times ahead. Our brains all work a little differently and that uniqueness is what makes us wonderful. We love you!

    Reply
  7. Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

    AJ, thank you for your beautiful comment. And, Rick, I’ve been at the “walk the talk” state myself many, many times. Not having anxiety/depression, I just don’t empathize like I should. However, like AJ, I also have asthma. I have to take meds every day to protect my breathing. My daughter struggles with the fact that she depends on meds to function optimally in the world. It makes her feel broken, just like you said AJ. The night before posting this article, I asked my daughter if she was sure she wanted it to go live. She said yes (obviously). This is her attempt to help de-stigmatize mental illness and help all of us understand. Yes, I am so, so very proud of her.

    Reply
  8. Londie Wallin

    Best article EVER! Most excellent writing, Maddie. You’ll go far, young lady. Thank you both.

    Reply
  9. Jane M Stahl

    My absolute favorite – your daughter sounds like a rock star!

    Reply
  10. Janet Barclay

    Wow, this is fabulous. Through your daughter I may have a better understanding of a couple of people from my past. One was a young woman who reported to me and was constantly late for work; when I offered her a later start time (and of course a later finish time), she declined, saying she would be late regardless. The other was a co-worker whom I usually picked up on my way to work. I know he had anxiety issues but unfortunately he has since passed away so I can’t ask him if he thinks there was a connection.

    Big thanks to you and your daughter for helping to stop the stigma of mental illness!

    Reply
  11. Julie Bestry

    It’s a good point to make that a young lady who can be so self-aware and compose such an insightful piece must have been raised by a wise, compassionate, insightful person. 🙂 She has given us all some very important concepts upon which to reflect.

    Reply

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