Dads Matter

Today we celebrate our father’s, and the father of a child(ren), and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight mine. Some of the greatest moments I’ve had with my dad was when he was present, paying attention, acknowledging me, sharing advice or insight, coaching me, encouraging me, cheering me on, picking me up and telling me, “yes you can.”

Some of my favorite moments as a spouse has been watching my husband be a dad. When he is present with our boys, paying attention to them (and I mean really paying attention), trying new things with them that they like (even if he doesn’t), finding common ground even when it isn’t easy, being self-aware enough to admit mistakes and work to correct them.

I enjoy how much my sons love their dad. My oldest was excited about the prospect of Father’s Day coming up several weeks back. “Mom, I want to get Dad a gift this year!” he shared. He had seen a t-shirt online that said “The Best Dads are Made in ____” (and you could pick your state of choice).  He was so excited about giving it to his dad. It made me really happy to see him so excited about giving a gift to someone he loves so much. Of course, my husband loved the shirt. I think he’s still in a bit of shock our son came up with this gift idea all on his own.

Being a parent is hard. Moments when our parents were there for us mattered. It meant something. Being there for our kids now matters. Whether they show it to us in the form of t-shirt that says “The Best Dads are Made in ____” or hug, or a head nod, it matters.

Thank you to all the dads out there, with a special thanks to my husband and my dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

Talk to Me

How would you rate your communication between you and your child?

Growing up, I would have told you I had good communication with my parents. I openly shared with them what was going on in school and with me personally. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I realized my communication with my parents was probably closer to okay than good. I never felt comfortable talking in any great depth to my parents about the important stuff–kids being mean at school, my body, feelings of insecurity, the opposite sex, the act of sex, and more. I held back sharing information out of embarrassment or feeling foolish (shouldn’t I know how this works?). I don’t think I was much different than my peers, I think that’s how many of us grew up.

My husband and I have been committed to having better communication with our kids then we had with our parents. We try to talk more openly about the body and sex and allow our kids to ask questions about anything. We’ve told our boys on a number of occasions that in some areas mom and dad are new talking about these things with kids. Our parents weren’t comfortable or never offered to talk to us somethings and we are navigating new ground. We might mess up, but we’re going to try our best.

My oldest is becoming a young man, and my youngest isn’t far behind. Having our kids talk to us about the uncomfortable stuff makes me grateful (uncomfortable, but grateful). I can see how they could easily decide to only share only the good information, what they think we want to hear, instead of sharing good, not so good, ask questions, and reach out when they are confused or don’t understand how something works, why something happened, etc.. I particularly enjoy when we have a conversation and one of my boys will say, “I’m so dumb, I should know this” and I get to respond, “how in the world could you have already known this? What do you think growing up is all about? If you knew everything already, there would be no point in parenting, we could just birth you and turn you loose in the world.” That always makes them smile. The movie Boss Baby gives them a mental picture of what that would look like, and they find that hilarious.

Navigating parenthood is challenging. As a parent, feeling like you are doing a good job can be fleeting. My barometer is set to how openly my sons feel they can talk to me. If they want to keep talking, hopefully that means my husband and I are doing something right.

How is your communication with your child? How are you helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about uncomfortable things?

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that.” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

Mom Appreciation

When was the first time you appreciated your parent or primary caregiver?

I adored my mother as a child. I thought she was the most beautiful, perfect person there was.

I resisted her as a teenager. I looked to her for guidance, but fought for my independence and space to make my own way.

I moved away from her (figuratively and literally) slowly over time — after I finished school, moved away and eventually got married.

Then I had my son. When I had him home for a few days I had an ‘aha’ moment. So this is what it takes to be a parent. This is work. This is hard. Wow, my mom must have really loved me. She made parenting look easy. She always had a confidence in her parenting skills and I never doubted her ability to do the job. In reflection, I am in awe of her and what she accomplished. Now it was my turn, which got me thinking will I be as good a mom to my boys as she was to me? It’s motivated me to try my best to live up to the bar she set everyday since.

As a mom, I think about my boys and how they view me. Am I adored by them? If I am, they hide it well. 🙂 Are they resisting me? A little, for sure. Are they starting to move away? Thankfully no. But one thing I know — they love me, and I, with every ounce of my being, love them.

Thank you, Mom, for everything, and Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the other moms out there.

I will be taking some time off to enjoy time with family and friends and will be back in June.

 

 

It’s Natural

Does your child like nature movies?

Mine are obsessed with Disneynature films. Every time a promotion comes on for an upcoming movie my kids get excited. I love their enthusiasm for wanting to see these films, and have enjoyed seeing each one myself.

We recently went to see Born in China. The film follows several animals for a year with a focus on the cycle of life. I had heard that the movie had a sad part, but wasn’t prepared for it when it came. *** Spoiler Alert — please stop reading if you have not seen the film and do not want to know what happens ***  The mother snow leopard is killed in battle while trying to get food for her young. As a mom I related to the mother snow leopard and her desire to do whatever it takes to feed and protect her young. My heart ached for the cubs she left behind. My mind thinking what will happen to them without her? Will they be okay?  My gut told me they would, but I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt. My oldest turned towards me. “Mom, you’re not crying are you?” he said. He clearly is leaving childhood and entering teen-hood. He would have shared my feelings only a year or two ago and now he was being stoic and acting as though it shouldn’t make anyone cry. He looked over at his younger brother, who seemed to be handling the mother’s death much better than I. He seemed un-phased. My initial reaction was please don’t let him too be growing out of openly feeling his feelings too.  When we got to the car, I asked the kids which parts they liked the most, and which parts they liked the least. My oldest sad he didn’t like it when the snow leopard family was made to leave their initial home by another. I said mine was when the mother died. My youngest chimed in and said, “She died? I just thought she was in a deep sleep.” He became visibly upset and his older brother quickly jumped in, “You’re not going to cry now are you?” To which I replied, “He and I can cry if we want to.” He let it go.

I’m not sure my youngest cried about the mom dying, but it was reassuring to know he was still willing to feel his feelings and not deny them. My oldest is growing up. I will continue to encourage him to feel his feelings, but know he wants to blend in with his peers and appear aloof and un-phased instead of allowing himself to express how he really feels. It’s a challenge to raise emotionally intelligent human beings, but I’m not gonna stop trying.

Disneynature showed a preview for Dolphins which will premiere Earth Day 2018 and there’s a good chance my boys and I will take in the movie. If nothing else for the beauty and intimacy you feel seeing with the animals in their natural environment. The movie may have parts that will make me cry, it may not, but I’ll treasure it either way because I’ll get to see it with my kids.

Where do you see similarities in parenting in nature?

 

Be Easily Forgotten or a Hero?

Have you ever been embarrassed by a sibling or family member?

My oldest has reached an age where he is becoming embarrassed by his younger brother. While he loves his brother, they get along quite well together, he is starting to be influenced by what his friends think.

We were having dinner and my oldest decided he needed to share with us that his friends make fun of his younger brother because he gets excited over little kid things — mind you he’s a few years younger than his brother, so it’s normal for him to be into the things he’s into, but his older brother was embarrassed none-the-less.

My youngest son was at the table, made a frown and said, “that hurts my feelings and kind of makes me feel bad.” I agreed. I was pretty unhappy my oldest had shared his opinion so openly with disregard for how it might make his brother feel.

My husband and I began to talk to our oldest. My husband reminded our son of a  segment we’d listened to on the radio where a man recalled an experience from his childhood where he’d followed an assignment given by the teacher to write down something you like and then asked the kids to give their assignment to a peer to read aloud. The boy hadn’t realized the assignment would be read aloud and immediately became embarrassed when he knew it would. As he suspected, the kids started to laugh at what he’d written. He wanted to disappear, until one of his peers, a girl in the class asked, “What’s the point of this assignment? To embarrass each other?” It stopped the class, it stopped the teacher, it ended the assignment. He never forgot that girl and how she stood up and ended his humiliation. He ends the story by challenging the listener to consider who you want to be in life — one that flies under the radar and is easily forgotten, or be the hero and remembered forever? We challenged our son to think about who he wanted to be — we’d hope he’d want to (and have the courage to) be the hero. “You stand up for your brother. You don’t ever tolerate someone else making fun of him,” I said. I looked at his younger brother and said, “And you do the same for him. You guys both need to look out for one another.”

We ended the conversation after getting the boys to confirm they understood us and would work to stand up for each other, even in uncomfortable situations. I’m hoping to raise heroes, not those easily forgotten.

How are you raising your child to stand up for their siblings or peers? How are you teaching them to be someone’s hero?

Cutting Your Own Path

What reminds you that winter is over?

For me, it’s when the tulips and daffodils finally bloom. They are at full peak where I live and are a constant reminder that warmer weather is coming. This winter was bitter cold and gray. The sun and blooming colors is doing all of us well. There is nothing better than walking down a path or street that’s bursting with different colors. It’s quite glorious.

My sons know that winter is over when we go outside more, and this year the occasion was marked with their bike riding. My youngest has finally learned how to ride his bike to where he can really enjoy it. It was a struggle for him to learn — getting started was what tripped him up.  Getting started with any new task we are learning can trip us up, right?

I was talking to a friend who is going through a career change. She has struggled with cutting her own path (I think something many of us can relate to). It reminded me of how my son struggled to learn to ride. He convinced himself the path he needed to take to learn to ride was too unfamiliar, would take skills he didn’t have and couldn’t master. He was struggling with unfamiliar domain. I shared with her my passion for teaching my boys how to make their own way in the world and help show them how to cut their own path. It had made me think about how when you navigate something new, it’s like looking at an overgrown path littered with brush that you have to cut away. At first, hacking at the brush can be tough, unfamiliar and even scary, but after a while, you figure out how to do it and start getting better at making a clearing you can pass through.  When you emerge into the clearing you appreciate the path you’ve made and the place you’ve arrived. I’m not planning to take my children to the jungle or give them a machete to clear brush, but I do want them to know that they have it in them to get from the can’t (ride my bike) to the can (I did it!). Much like the seasons. You sometimes have to make your way through until you make it to the other side. It’s worth it, the scenery at the end is incredible.

How are you teaching your child to make their own way?

Kids and War

How do you explain war to your child?

My knee jerk reaction is to try to shield them from the horror. There is nothing pretty about war. What is going on in Syria is unbelievably sad, and angering. To see people suffer, lose there homes and have to flee their countries in order to survive is unfathomable. Seeing innocent people killed, particularly the children by chemical weapons is devastating.

My boys have been wondering what is going on in Syria and why. It’s hard to explain. It’s ultimately about people not being able to get along and resorting to violence instead of finding peaceful solutions. I get that solving these types of problems aren’t easy, but I really want my boys to know that war is not the answer and never will be.

My youngest son got some exposure to war recently in his social studies class.  The class was studying Native Americans and their struggle to maintain control of their native land from the settlers.  Each class member was assigned a position — you either were a Native American tribe member or a member of the American military. My son was part of a tribe. The class was given different situations and asked how they wanted to handle it. In one situation, both groups wanted a piece of land and neither was willing to give the land to the other. Their choice was to 1) sign a treaty that allowed them to share the land, or 2) decide to fight the other for the land. My son said, “Mom, I signed the treaty, but others kids in the tribe decided they wanted to fight.” “What happened? ” I asked. “Well, I lived,” said my son, “those who fought died.” Wow, I thought, this is a pretty good lesson he’s learning. The next challenge the class was faced with was 1) stay on the Reservation and be safe, or 2) fight and have to get your land back. “What did you choose?” I asked my son. “Well, I was going to go back to the Reservation because I wanted to be safe, but got accidentally shot by one of my classmates who thought I was trying to leave the Reservation,” he said. The idea that my son got ‘shot’ by friendly fire didn’t go unnoticed. Seems  this class activity was a little more realistic than I would have thought. “What did the lesson teach you?” I inquired. “Well, fighting almost always results in death. You might as well find a way to make peace.” Wow. Nine years old and he’s already figured this out. I wish some of our world leaders could.

How do you talk to your child about war? How do you help them understand unexplainable things?

No Foolin’

Have you ever had someone play a prank on you?

Up to this point, my sons have cared very little about April Fools Day. April 1st has come and gone for 11 years without ever a mention. But this year, it was different. My oldest decided that he wanted to play a prank on his brother and convince him that Saturday wasn’t Saturday but a school day and asked my husband and I if we would play along. He gave us instructions: “Don’t mention it’s Friday when it’s Friday.” “Dad, since you get up early on the weekends, wake us up at the normal time and have us get ready.” I’m not sure how far he thought his brother would believe it was really a school day, but he was committed to trying. His plan started to come apart when his brother on Friday, March 31st started singing on the way to school “It’s Friday. It’s Friday. It’s Friday.” My husband and I just looked at each other. None of us had said anything about what day it was, but of course he knew it was Friday. This was going to be harder to pull off than my oldest expected.

I have to admit I’m not a big fan of being pranked or tricked, or being made to look like an April Fool, but I can remember that I was curious as a kid — was April Fools fun for everyone and I was missing out on it?  Should I try to play a trick on someone?  Remembering that I am a terrible liar helped me make my decision. No pranks for me, thank you very much.

I can appreciate my son’s curiosity. So much of life is about trying new things, testing boundaries, finding out what is enjoyable and what isn’t. I don’t know what would have happened if his brother had taken the bait and believed it really was a Friday. I’m guessing he would have thought it was funny for a while, and then probably regretted it once his brother let him know he didn’t enjoy the trick. Thankfully the prank didn’t go very far and my husband built in a trip to the doughnut store for my son being a good sport about the whole thing. Allowing your child to explore new things — particularly ones you aren’t crazy about — isn’t easy. No foolin’.

How do you help your child navigate the unfamiliar? How do you help them try new things and test boundaries?

 

And Now for the Latest News…Potty Talk

Does your child think potty talk is hilarious?

Mine do. As much as I was hoping to avoid this phase, it’s not happening. My sons think it is hilarious to talk about passing gas. I happened to catch a segment on one of the late shows that highlighted a young boy who ‘crashed’ a newscaster who was trying to cover the weather and traffic. The boy (I’m guessing one of the news crew’s sons) entered the picture unexpectedly. The reporter tried to go along with it (and did so valiantly, in my opinion). After realizing the boy wasn’t going to leave without being extracted by another adult, the reporter asked him if he wanted to help him with the weather to which he said, “sure” and promptly turned around and said, “It looks like there are farts over here, and a bunch of toots.” I couldn’t help but laugh. This little boy was the mirror image of what my sons think is hilarious. Thankfully I was watching a recording of the show, so I had my boys watch it, and asked them if any of it looked familiar. They were in stiches. They just loved that this kid had gone on screen and done this.

I have to admit, it was hard not to laugh and see the silliness of it all. I’m still not sure why my boys (like most kids) find normal bodily functions funny, but they do. I’m still not crazy about my kids and their love of potty talk, but I am a fan of seeing them giggling and having fun.

What makes your child laugh?