5 Insights We Can Learn from Kate Spade’s 2017 Interview


“I enjoyed being a mother…beyond. I divide my time which is actually easy to do despite what people think.” – Kate Valentine Spade, 2017


Like many across the globe, we too, were so saddened by Kate Spade’s death. We can’t possibly know the suffering Kate Valentine Spade experienced, so to pass judgment is not only inappropriate, it is meritless. We all, however, feel the devastation, and try to make sense of it. And learn from it.

1. Be there.

We scoured articles and videos online and came away with the evidence that underscored what we advise: “Be there.”

As a therapist who worked with adolescents, psychology instructor, and parenting counselor (Poppy) for many years, some of the parents in our sessions looked bewildered when I said: “Take that getaway with your spouse when your kids are little; like between 2 and 11. A trusted adult will be a good fill-in. And when your kids turn 12 or 13, be there.”

Parents: during your kids’ teenage years, your kids are not supposed to like you. EVER. If your kids like you when they’re teens, you are doing something terribly wrong. Not them. YOU.

It seems counterintuitive that because your child asserts their independence by asking you to drop them off a block from their destination, that they don’t want you around anymore.

That is precisely when they need you: they need to practice that bossiness and sassy attitude on someone. Someone whom they trust and love the most. This is how they learn to flex their coping muscles: by figuratively trying on comments for size to see if they have the gumption to tell a school peer to shove off.

The need for belonging ramps up so profoundly at age 12, that when it reaches its peak at 16 or 17, it seems out of control. Teens do incredible things to feel neededto belong. Outrageous things. Hurtful things: join cliques, bully, experiment with illegal substances and sex.  The yearning to be part of “something” is so strong, that that need almost always overrides the moral codes and Golden Rules with which you so tenderly guided your children.

Between their development in their 12-18 years, your child will probably do the following 7 behaviors:

1. Have 11, 452 eye-rolls.

2. Hurl horrific things at you thrice daily.

3. Swear at you (or under their breath) 6,579 times.

4. Say: “I hate you,” at least 4,123 times.

5. Disobey house rules 2,194 times, especially when you’re tired.

6. Pit you against each other every day: you both need to be the bad cop.

7. Compare you to other (permissive) families; (you will fall short every time.)

They are on target, behaving exactly as they are meant to be. It’s in the adolescent DNA to whine, push back, roll their eyes and be a pain in the neck. It’s your job to be there to witness their behavior.

2. Were Kate Spade and her daughter at parallel junctures in their lives?

We believe, yes. Both had role confusion and a search for identity.

Kate Valentine Spade said in the 2017 interview: “I’m going to write a child’s book about how to get through the preteen years. I’m joking. I just want to read the book from someone who has had experience raising their pre-teen. Please.”

Kate Spade was probably not alone. All parents have this anguish—to communicate with their children in a “feel-good” manner.

Because pre-teen and teenagers is the time when your kids start to shift-shape their identities. One of our favorite psychologist’s, Erik Erikson, says this about adolescents: “The adolescent mind is essentially a moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult.” Erikson speaks of the eight stages of psychosocial development, with the fifth stage of Identity vs. Role Confusion.

Kate Spade’s daughter is newly embarking on Erikson’s fifth stage of development, which includes children 12-18 years. And it also includes adults who go through the transitional phase of an identity crisis—at any age.

When Kate and husband Andy Spade started their new business, Frances Valentine, in 2016, they didn’t want to confuse the customers with their former brand, Kate Spade, which had been sold about a decade ago. So the woman, Kate Spade legally changed her name.

And we wonder, what would Erik Erikson contribute to this powerful transition for Kate Spade, the person? Because if we explore what husband and business partner, Andy Spade, said in the same 2017 interview, we might give pause to Andy Spade’s comment: “Brands are people too.”

If brands are people too, what happens when we take away the brand? What happens to the identity of that real life human being? Kate Spade literally chose to change her name—her identity. Kate said her name aloud to an audience member: “Katherine Noel Frances Valentine Spade.” And Freudian or not, tongue in cheek or not, Andy Spade continued: “She doesn’t know who she is anymore.”

As the mother and daughter Spade navigate the huge transitions in their lives—    from Kate Spade the full-time mom, to working-mom in a new business, separated wife, and a person with a new legal name—one of any of those changes would rattle all of us.

3. Parents are basically Stage Managers.

We think of teenage years as a life stage where there are many acts that have drama, comedy, irony, sadness, and tragedy. Consider your teen is on the stage of their life and you are the stage manager. You’re not on stage with them, but you’re there. Behind the scenes with a pretty good idea of the script. And when they miss a cue, they will come to you for their next line. Only they won’t ask nicely. They’re mad that they messed up and don’t want to look at it right now. Much easier to project onto you—the trusted stage manager. They need to practice their lines on someone.

Parents: Your teen will enter stage right, and say their rehearsed and memorized line {arms folded across chest} “I hate you.” You, the stage manager (parent), embraces this because you have a knowing of how the play will end; that this is just a series of acts that will resolve in a lovely culmination of twenty-something-ness. Because your child is growing and developing, this is the natural progression of each act of their life.

As the parent, and stage manager, consider that this is just a role they are trying out for. There is always pushback as part of the teenage drama.

4. Parents need to cover their bellybuttons when their kid turns 12.

At birth, the umbilical cordthat nurtured and developed a child – is cut and tied off. All human beings have a permanent reminder of that lifeline, that indent or protrusionthat vulnerable and sensitive area that served to nourish us before we got here.  A former mentor of ours used the expression, “Cover your bellybutton.” He meant that we ought not to take things personally. That we take in what is being expressed in the context of who is saying it, how it is being presented, and seek to understand the nuances of what is presented. Nothing done or said between your child aged 12-18 should ever be taken to heart. We promise, they don’t really hate you.

5. Closed doors are invitations for open communication.

Recently we counseled parents of two teens, who, in despair, said, “We can’t reach them anymore. They shut down when we ask about their day. They hide in the rooms or behind their devices. And when we ask them to help around the house, they lash out at us and say they have too much other stuff to do.”

We examined their parenting styles, and their personal relationship with each other to learn if they were on the same page. In other words, as a couple, did they have one voice when it came to respectful communication, clear expectations and boundaries, and consistency in parental actions? (Do you do what you say you will do?) With parenting counseling, you can manage this transitional phase with education, empathy, and structure.

When the topic of pushback came up, both parents sighed in exasperation. “It’s too hard to tell them clear boundaries when they argue all the time with us. We both work. We are exhausted by the end of the day. We try to have a family dinner, but even that turns into a tension-filled event. Our kids don’t really like us.”

That last sentence was music to our ears.

It got us to thinking about how we got here. How we want to give so much to our kids; to completely loosen the tight reins that parents before us had held so tight.

We don’t want our kids to rebel and dislike us; don’t want to watch them experience failure and pain. We want to teach them kindness, tolerance—to be free-thinkers. Only we haven’t set the stage for proper education. We don’t want our kids to fail because that is a poor reflection on us. So we scurry to cover their missteps, hoping no one will notice. The honest truth is: we don’t want to hear the judgmental comments from others. Instead, we place “My Kid is an Honor Student at Woodside Elementary” bumper stickers on our cars.

The iconic brand, Kate Spade was a person, whom many, including us, spoke of Kate Spade by her first name. As if we knew her. “I’m bringing the black Kate tonight. My sunglasses? Oh, they’re Kate.”

Kate Spade—the person, the mother, the business executive, the creator, the wife—had help hotline numbers and access to professionals with whom she could speak. But despite all adversities and challenges, the inherent human need to belong—to be needed—overrides numbers, third parties and brands.

Ultimately, every single human being needs to know that they matter. That they are important to someone, not just the masses. And when we don’t have an identity—when we don’t know who we are anymore—we believe that we bring no value to anyone.

And that is a travesty for all of us to bear.

“With the Kate Spade accessories that I carried, (and will carry) with me almost every day—a little Kate talisman—I too, genuinely believed that I left a “little sparkle” wherever I went.” – Poppy Spencer, with gratitude and love to Kate Spade and her family.


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Poppy and Geoff Spencer