It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. ūüėä We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

A Death in the Family

How do you explain death to a child?

My uncle recently passed away after his health had been declining for a while. He was a wonderful man, and an amazing uncle who was an important part of my life, but knowing that he is no longer in pain gives me some peace.

My boys had met and visited their great uncle a handful of times. Twice this past year. When I realized my uncle didn’t have long to live I let the boys know. My oldest said, “That’s sad.” My youngest had a much stronger reaction. “He’s going to die?” His eyes watered as he began to cry. After a few minutes he said, “I didn’t think I would experience death this early.” We talked about my uncle and I explained that it was okay to cry, normal to cry, but to remember the good life my uncle had had, and how lucky we were for knowing him. It seemed to ease my son’s pain, but I knew his tears were a combination of both my uncle’s passing and the realization that everyone will eventually die. It’s hard to come to terms with that when you’re young. I remember having a similar realization around his age and how sad, angry and scared it made me.

Death is hard to explain. Grieving is unique to the individual and situation. I hope my son doesn’t dwell on death, and his loved ones mortality, but do hope he’ll share how he’s experiencing and processing the loss of this loved family member so we can help him work through his grieving.

How have you helped your child work through the pain and emotions of losing a loved one?

#SEEHER

Do you have concerns about how your child views them self — now or how they will view them self in the future?

As a young adult, I was asked by a friend what gender child I’d like to have when I had kids. I quickly replied, “Boys.” Not because I had heard boys were easier to raise, but because I know the struggles a female goes through in life — the self-doubt, the body image issues, the messages we get heaped upon us about what we are supposed to be, and the resistance we are met with when we don’t conform. I really feared my ability to navigate this with a daughter and do right by her.

As fate would have it, I have two sons. I see my role now being how do I teach my sons to see women as people, equals, and help them be part of the movement towards change?

I was fortunate enough to be in a conference that talked about the #SEEHER movement. As a woman, I was inspired by the women who are taking the steps to ensure women are represented as we truly are — 50% of the population, of all different backgrounds, makeups, religions, and sizes — in advertising and media. Women with influence and power, leading in a moving way. I think we are reaching a tipping point where women won’t accept the status quo for who we are “supposed” to be any longer. And my responsibility is that my sons understand that.

One of the speakers shared that she stops the TV (or movie) periodically and asks her kids what they see — who’s on the screen, what role are they playing, does this reflect the society they walk through every day? If no, it’s a good opportunity for her and her kids to talk about it. I love this idea. I watch TV with my kids, but had never thought to do this. I will now.

#SEEHER comes from the phrase “If you see it, you can be it.” With advancement opportunities still male-leaning, the statement becomes more empowering for a woman if you change it to “If you see her, you can be her.”

I am grateful for all the women and men who are raising their voices to make this change happen. We all can (and should, in my opinion) all be part of this movement. I am inspired by those — young and old — who recognize we get better as a society, culture and country as we make this change. It’s on me to educate my boys. Not to make them feel less than, but for them to recognize their strengths and where they add value, and where their female peers and counterparts do. And up to you to educate yours.

How are you helping your child #SEEHER?

Stumped

Have you ever struggled to help your child?

My youngest son shared that he had a bad day, and when I probed to figure out why it was bad, it made the situation worse. Instead of getting to the bottom of what made his day bad, he decided that his day wasn’t just bad, but everything was bad, and that he just couldn’t explain all his feelings. I could see my inquiries weren’t having the intended effect.

I attempted again to find out what was behind his feelings. He just got more upset, and after we talked in circles — me inquiring, him unable to explain — he said,”Mom, can we just stop? I’m all talked out.” I sighed, partly relieved since I wasn’t making progress and getting frustrated myself, and partly bummed because I pride myself on helping my kids work through their feelings. I was stumped. “Well, let me know if you want to talk again. I want to help if I can,” I said and that was the end of it.

My son never asked to revisit the topic, he wasn’t as upset as he’d previously been, so maybe whatever was bothering him passed. Or maybe talking helped (even if it was just s little that would make me feel better). My son knows I’m there and want to help, which I feel good about, but boy did I feel pretty helpless (and somewhat worthless) when I couldn’t help him.

It’s frustrating when you don’t have all the answers, or know how to help your child. After thinking about what had happened, I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem, it might be even more valuable to my son if I just listen and acknowledge his feelings, and in the moment, that might be enough. When I don’t have the answers I hope it is.

Have you ever been stumped with your child? How did you handle the situation? And what did you take from it?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not.¬†Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me. ¬†When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in,¬†waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane¬†chose to¬†pull in front of me and partially block¬†the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse.¬†The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go,¬†not allowing¬†me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more¬†what my upset self felt —¬†MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me¬†made it¬†through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak,¬†and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and¬†honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as¬†role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give¬†me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change¬†my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our¬†boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are¬†buried).¬†We knew from past experiences¬†anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how¬†fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad.¬†We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think¬†my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just¬†don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said.¬†He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting.¬†He felt that he would¬†say something and his brother would attack him, call him¬†names, and making him feel bad about himself. He¬†didn’t like how his brother was treating him,¬†which¬†is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got¬†my older son out of his room and¬†spent some¬†time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My¬†younger son and I¬†sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t¬†allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son¬†joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful¬†guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one¬†another.¬†When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right¬†to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you¬†don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these¬†skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I¬†never had these¬†types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t¬†figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded¬†when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?

Madden

Is your child enthralled with video games?

My oldest son is a huge fan, though we’ve never owned a gaming system. It was a conscious choice by my husband and I. We didn’t want to get caught up in having to have the latest and greatest, spending lots of money on games and accessories, turning our living room into a game room, and most importantly losing our son’s attention. We want to spend time with him while he’s growing up, not him and his video controller.

Of course, we have tablets and my son has found that gaming systems aren’t the only medium that allows you to play games. He quickly found Madden (NFL) was available as an app and begged me to download it. We agreed he could with screen limits (though I know he’s exceeded the limit many, many times). When I’ve realized this and told him to turn the game off, it is met with much resistance. “I need to finish this game!” “Just a minute.” And the list goes on. I’m the ‘bad guy’ interrupting his fun, or so he thinks. After me nagging him multiple times and then walking over and taking the tablet out of his hands he shared his anger. “Why can’t I have an XBOX? Everyone else does!” I took a breath and reminded him that we had no plans of buy a gaming system. He’d already shown us he struggled with screen time just on the tablet. He didn’t like that. I’m sure he thought my husband and I were being unfair and/or mean.

My son went away to overnight camp for a week and was not allowed to bring any electronics. We didn’t know how he’d fair. He had books to read but this would be the longest time he’d been away from electronics. Before he left on his trip, he asked if I’d update his Madden app on the tablet while he was away. “It’s very important,” he said. He even put a reminder on the calendar.

When my son returned I shared with him that I’d had trouble updating the app, but found a work around. He was grateful and started to play the game. After about 30 minutes, he gave me the tablet and said, “You know, Mom, I don’t need this. I’m glad you never got me a XBOX. If you did, I would just be on it all the time and would miss out on doing so much. Like all the stuff I got to do while I was at camp. Sorry I gave you such a hard time about it.” My younger son was standing nearby and overheard the whole conversation. His expression was priceless. He too couldn’t believe what his older brother was saying.

My son is back on his tablet, but not as much as he previously was. I know what a draw Madden can be, and know how much my son enjoys playing it, but am glad he’s seeing the pitfalls of spending all of your free time playing games and how, if you’re not careful, they can take you away from participating in life.

How do you handle your child’s screen time or gaming habits? How are you helping them be present and experience life?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in September.

Tween Vacation

How does child effect your household?

My oldest son went on a week-long trip, leaving my younger son home with my husband and I. My oldest is a bit of a force in our house. He’s passionate about his interests, thoughts and ideas. He challenges others when he is in disagreement. He is curious, thoughtful, empathetic and self-aware (more so than I was at his age). He¬†loves testing the waters with his father and I in what he can get away with (say, do, watch…you get the idea).¬†He loves messing with his younger brother. He is a typical tween, nearing full-on teenager status.

My youngest is mild-mannered and fun-loving for the most part. He is passionate about his interests, thoughts and ideas and when needed, he¬†will defend himself and stand up to his brother. He¬†doesn’t proactively start a fight. He doesn’t like ‘drama.’ He is my Zen kid.

With¬†my oldest¬†being away, it has created a bit of a void in the house. You could say it is calmer and somewhat less chaotic (I haven’t had to yell at anyone about keeping their hands to themselves this week once — amazing!), but there is an energy that is missing. A crazy, hard-to-explain, even-though-it-makes-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out-I-still-miss-it feeling created in his absence.

I think about how different my kids are. How much individually and together they bring to our family. How, when one of them is away, it changes who we are as a family in a significant¬†way. My son is missed, in all his¬†tween glory, and we can’t¬†wait to have him back with us.

How does your family change when your child is away?

 

Orientation

How do you identify with your child?

As a parent, I often feel like I’m navigating new territory. The territory isn’t changing quite as rapidly as it did when my children were very young and I was really new at being a parent, but has instead changed to steeper terrain.¬†When my children entered a new phase early in life: rolling over, sitting up, crawling, eating solid foods, walking, etc., the task¬†required me to change with my child’s physically — helping them, allowing them to¬†try, fail and learn from their mistakes, and help them grow. Now I’m navigating¬†areas that have more weight to them —¬†while no physicality is required, it requires¬†much focus on my words, actions and handling. ¬†Gender identify and sexual orientation are areas I knew may need to be discussed with my children, but I don’t have a lot experience with either outside traditional roles.

I wasn’t necessarily a ‘girly-girl’ when I was growing up, but I always felt comfortable being a girl. I¬†can’t recall¬†a time when I was interested in being¬†anything else. Same with sexual orientation. I certainly thought there were other girls that were pretty (wished I looked¬†like¬†or could be¬†them even), but¬†never recall having any romantic feelings for the same¬†sex. It never bothered me when others did. One of my uncles was gay. I loved him. I didn’t realize he had suffered as a gay person until I was much older, but have always remembered that he mattered, he was a good person. and he never deserved anything but being treated as the wonderful man that he was (he passed from HIV when I was 18).

My boys are now in their teens (tweens, to be more precise) at 10 and 12. When one of my sons was younger, he had said he wished he were a girl. I experienced a quick range of emotions. First, denial — he can’t mean what he’s saying, and then second,¬†curiosity — okay, he wishes he were a girl. I need to better understand what he means. Of course, in my mind I prepared myself for him wanting to transition from male to female (yes, I jumped to the extreme pretty quick). “Why do you want to be a girl?” I asked. “Well, because I like a lot of the same things they like,” he responded. “Do you wish you could wear girls clothes, or have the same body parts?” I continued. “No, I like being a boy,” my son said, “I just don’t like sports or rough house stuff. And I feel more comfortable around girls.” It was becoming clearer to me, that my son was concerned he wasn’t fitting into the ‘stereotypical’ male gender role. Thankfully my son has been in schools that have encouraged expression in whatever form that takes for all genders throughout his childhood. I reminded him that it was okay not to like sports or want to rough house, and that, believe it or not, there were a lot of other boys that also didn’t like the same things. “You are realizing who you are and what you like and don’t like, that’s a good thing,” I told him. Still, I feel like there is more I probably should be doing — more checking in with him — does he still have those feelings?¬†Does he like and accept who¬†he is, or does he feel pressure to conform — if so, where and why?¬†It’s a good reminder for me, that many opportunities in parenting to do right by our children reside on us not only showing up, but proactively inquiring.

One son is starting to become more attracted to others. Though he is quick to let everyone know he has no plans to act on it, despite us encouraging him to be open to the idea. During PRIDE week at school, one teacher talked to the students about¬†different sexual orientations — words/labels used to describe¬†various sexual orientations, and encouraged the kids to ask questions. When my son came home, he said, “Mom,¬†I need to tell you something.” The way he said it, I thought he was going to tell me about something that happened at school, or how he’d done on a test. Instead he said, “I think I might be pansexual.” My first thought was stay cool, you can do this. I’ve certainly seen people on TV that claim to be pansexual, but don’t know anyone personally who identifies as such. I wanted to get this right with my son. I wondered if my son was truly sexually attracted to male and female peers, or if he was struggling with normal adolescence¬†exploration.¬†I’m not sure he knew, and I felt horribly unprepared to help him navigate this the¬†best way.¬†I told him, “You father and I don’t care who you love. We love you just the same. It is completely fine to love whomever you choose.” He sighed with relief. I felt I handled it well, but know I¬†need more help.

I’ve been prepared much of my life to help my kids role-play for certain situations — how to handle a disagreement with¬†someone, how to ask for help, how to advocate for yourself, even how to let someone know you like them and/or are interested in them. I struggle with how to encourage my son to explore same-sex interests. I want to be supportive and know we, as a culture,¬†are much more open to these types of relationships, but still fear him being rejected, or worse outcast or harassed by others. I am reminded of my uncle and learning of¬†the pain he experienced at the hands of others for being gay. I¬†want to believe that¬†everyone¬†would be supportive of my son, but¬†know that might not always be the case. I want to protect him, but¬†not¬†limit him or hold him back from exploring his interests. ¬†How do you help your son let another boy know they’re interested when you’re not sure the other boy identifies as gay or pansexual themselves? Anyone who has any experience and insight, please share.

Very much like when my kids were young, I want to help them, allow them to try and fail (even in relationships) and grow. I’m navigating new territory and hope I get it right.

How are you navigating challenging parental terrain? If you have a child who identifies as gay, transgender, pansexual or other, how are you helping them navigate their identify and sexual orientation?