Seeing Parenting through Another’s Lens

How do you compare your parenting style to others?

It’s hard, right? I think I’m like many who assume others parent like I do. I certainly see flaws in myself and have areas for improvement in how I parent, but like to think I, like my peers, are parenting in much the same way.

My oldest son plays sports at his school. He’s brought one of his buddies with him to the car after practice, and asked if we could give him a ride home. I agreed, though would have been more comfortable getting this child’s parents approval before doing so. My son is at the age where everything I do embarrasses him, so instead of denying the friend, I agreed to take him home knowing I would want/need to discuss this with his parents. After the boys were in the car, the boy told me how to get to his house and then I mentioned I’d like to meet his parents. He agreed then shared,”I live with my Mom and Dad. Their actually my grandparents, but I call them Mom and Dad because they adopted me as a baby.” I could tell by the way he shared the information he’d said all he was going to say about the situation and I understood. We got out of the car so we could meet his (grand)parents. They were lovely people. The boys went off to his room. The (grand)mom gave me background on the situation without any prompting from me. Over sharing to the point of personal discomfort for me. The boy’s mom had struggled with addiction and wasn’t in his life. Nor was his father. They were doing everything possible to give him as normal a life as they can but it’s tough given their age and the situation.

I left the conversation feeling a range of emotions — I felt a bit overwhelmed hearing so much detail and not knowing what to do with it (the woman had been so open with me even though I didn’t know her), I felt empathy and compassion for the boy (I can only imagine how he deals with his mom and dad not being in his life), and grateful (that he had such loving and willing (grand)parents). I was see parenting from a different lens. I thought of other kids in similar situations that aren’t so lucky. It made me feel guilty and uncomfortable–feeling a need to find ways to better help such kids, but not being sure how to in our ‘it’s none of your business’ culture.

The conversation reminded me that we do not all parent the same, situations and how people approach raising kids are different. And different is okay. No judgment. As long as what’s best for the child is what drives our decisions and behavior.

How do you view the parenting of others? What do you learn or do differently when you’re confronted with seeing parenting in a new way?

I will be away for a few weeks enjoying time with family for Spring Break and Easter.

Imaginary Audience

Has your child said something that made you pause?

My youngest son participates in a theater group that is made up of kids with challenges: whether it’s being on the autism spectrum or someone with developmental limitations. It is wonderful to see the kids be in a safe space where they are more alike than different and no judging is going on.

A new member joined the group this season and is more vocal than most of the kids. While waiting for my son in the lobby I heard this young person start to say, “they are making fun of me. Everyone makes fun of me.” The teacher quickly intervened and clarified to the student that the others were laughing at what had happened in the scene not at him. I heard him one or two more times make similar comments. Each time the teacher worked to help him understand what was really going on differently.

I asked my son about it on the ride home. “I heard someone saying they were being made fun of. What was that about?” I asked. “He kept saying that, but no one was making fun of him,” my son said then continued, “I think he had an imaginary audience.” That gave me pause. “What do you mean by imaginary audience?” I asked. “He’s hearing things that aren’t there,” my son said. “From people that aren’t there?” I asked. “No, the imaginary audience is in his head,” he said. The conversation got me thinking. “We all have that voice in our head that tells us things — what to eat, comments about how you look and or should feel. Do you know what I’m taking about?” I asked. “Yea” my son said, “we all have those voices.” I was pretty impressed my son had this awareness. I know I didn’t at his age. “It makes me sad if that kid hears only negative things even if they aren’t happening. That would be a terrible way to live.” I said. “Yes,” my son agreed. “What if instead of letting that inner voice or ‘imaginary audience’ be negative, we only allowed it to be positive? That would be pretty amazing!” I said. “Yea, it would say things like ‘you’re amazing. You’re going to be great.” laughed my son. We came up with other positive and somewhat silly sayings for our inner voice. After we were done and I had a moment to reflect, I asked my son where he came up with the phrase imaginary audience. “The internet, Mom.” he said. Well, duh, I thought, of course he heard that on the internet. Maybe the internet isn’t the encapsulation of all that is bad after all. 😊

What insights has your child shared that gave you pause?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new form of communication.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, KIT- keep in touch, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), emojis, referencing memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazes that I’m supposed to be aware of, but am not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to each other in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

When my kids were babies, they communicated with cries, then they graduated to sign language for: milk, more, change (diaper), and ‘all done.’ Then came sounds and words. And then came the tween and teen years, where they have embraced new lingo.

When I was a teen we too spoke in code — whether it was silly languages like ‘pig latin’ or acronyms – LYLAS – Love you like a sis, TTYL – Talk to you later, and CYA – slang for ‘see you!’ As in ‘see you later.’ We didn’t text or email, but passed notes in class and in the hallways because we didn’t have phones or computers to communicate. Our modes were paper, pen, and phone. 😊 We thought we were grown up, even cool in how unique and creative we thought we were.

And here we are today, with my kids talking in new acronyms that I have to decode (IYKWIM was a new one for me – if you know what I mean), reference memes and YouTube stars and other Internet crazed that I’m supposed to be aware of, but I’m not, that come and go at light speed. They too feel like they are unique and creative for finding this way to communicate with their peers. I get it, each generation needs to come up with their own code that lets them relate to their peers in their own way. As you grow, you want to separate from your parents and be your own person, and I can’t fault that. After all, we did the very same thing.

How is your child showing their independence? How are you learning to decode their language?

All That is Green

Has your child ever felt overwhelmed?

My youngest son came home from a bad school day. His teacher had sent an email alerting us before the end of the day that our son struggled with an assignment the class was given — to write about how to help the environment.

When he got home I asked how his day was. “Okay,” he said. “Really?,” I replied, “I was under the impression you didn’t have a great day.” He could have asked how I knew he’d had a bad day, but instead said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to be hard for me to help you if you won’t talk about it.” He sighed, “Maybe later.”

We got some dinner. Once he had food in his belly, I asked if he was ready to talk. He wasn’t, so I gave him a choice. “We can talk about this on the way home in the car, or when we get home, but we are taking about it.” He agreed to discuss it on the car ride home.

He started off, “This is very upsetting. I really don’t want to talk about it.” “What is making you so upset?”, I asked. “The future,” he said. Okay, that’s a broad topic, I thought. “What about the future are you most worried about?” “Well, everything,” he replied. “How does your fear about the future have to do with your assignment on the environment?” I asked. He didn’t say ‘duh’ but he might as well have. “Mom, were not doing enough to protect the environment and it’s only going to get worse. And I mean really, really bad.” Aha, I thought, climate change is showing itself in more extreme weather and there is right to be concerned about it getting worse in the future, but that is true only if we don’t acknowledge the problem and do something about it. “Okay, I think I better understand.” It took some more going back and forth before I fully understood that my son was getting overwhelmed by the assignment thinking he had to figure out how to solve all the problems, versus finding simpler doable solutions that could have a positive impact. By the time we parked the car at home he felt better, was more relaxed and seemed ready to rethink how to tackle the assignment. “Picking up trash, helps the environment. Saving water. Conserving energy. Composting.” I could tell he was thinking.

Getting overwhelmed doesn’t feel good at any age. It’s being about to break down what’s causing into smaller chunks that are easier to deal with. Helping you see the forest through the trees.

I’m glad my son is concerned about the environment. I hope this assignment prompts he and his classmates not only to think about it, but to take action and inspire others (including their parents perhaps?) to join in and do even more.

What are you and your child doing to help the environment?

Bird in the Window

Have you ever seen anything out a window that gave you pause?

My oldest son commented one morning, “Mom, the cat’s looking at a bird out the window.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, though it seemed a little odd this would catch my son’s attention. I went about getting ready for my day and walked down towards our basement, where sure enough, our cat was sitting at the window. Starring at something intently and wagging his tail. What really caught my attention was that he was looking at whatever it was at eye level out the window and not up. I assumed the bird my son had referenced was up on a fence or in a nearby tree. I stopped to see what had caught the cat’s attention. It was a bird, who clearly was having some trouble with one wing. You could see the bird try to fly only to come back down. It was scared and it really didn’t like that it felt trapped in an area where the only thing that separated the bird and the cat was a glass window.

I couldn’t watch the bird suffer. It had fallen into a well by the window and couldn’t get out. I knew my cat would love to catch this easy prey, but I just couldn’t let that happen. My son came over. “So, what are you going to do, Mom?” I stood there for a second and thought I need gloves. I had to dig through some drawers and found them. Then I had to open the window. I didn’t know how the cat, bird, my son, or I would react. I tried to prepare myself for my cat taking off after the bird, my son freaking out, and me trying to get control of the situation. I took a deep breath and slowly opened the window. The bird got as far away as it could from me. It made the saddest cry I’ve heard. I tried to reassure the bird I was there to help, but clearly the bird didn’t understand. It continued to cry. It reminded me of a very frightened child. My heart broke. I was able to get a hold of the bird, and as gently and quickly as I could, I lifted it out of the well and let it go. It took off half running, half trying to fly across the yard. Success!

“Good job, Mom,” my son said. I looked around and saw the cat hadn’t moved a muscle. He seemed content just to watch the spectacle. I let out a sigh of relief. Everything went about as well as I could have hoped.

Going through this experience got me thinking. I felt the bird was there to remind me of something. That life, whether you’re a parent, or a child, can be scary sometimes. And that sometimes you need help, even when a familiar face isn’t around. Sometimes we’re good about asking for help (e.g. when you’re a child and don’t know another way), and sometimes we’re not (e.g. when you’re an adult and think you have to do everything yourself). Was the bird there to remind me to let others in? Or remind me that there are kind people out there that will want to help in a time of need? Can I be one of those people to help a stranger like I helped the bird?

I hope so.

What do you do when you see something or someone struggling? How are you teaching your child to help others?

The Magic of Pets

How do know your child’s full potential?

There are certainly times when I feel like I see or experience my children’s potential. When one of them pushes themselves to do something new or challenging, but a recent comment from my son got me thinking — how do I (or anyone) really understand my child’s full potential?

My family was getting ready to head out the door for some weekend activities when our cat made his presence known. We each acknowledged the cat with a pet, or scratch behind the ears. My youngest son leaned down to the cat and said, “I love how you…” my husband and I were sure he’d finish with understand me, but we’re surprised when he said, “…see my full potential.” It actually made us laugh. My son joined in. Pets do have a magical quality about them, and do seem to understand our feelings and can feel very insightful, almost psychic, when they come to us in times of need. It can sometimes feel like the pet knows you, sees beyond your exterior and really knows who you are and what you need. I can remember an experience I had when I wasn’t much older than my son is now. I was having a tough time with puberty and adjusting to getting older. I remember sitting outside feeling sad, and my cat at the time, who typically was off on her own adventures during the day, seemed to come out of no where and sat by me. She looked at me like she understood my worries and was there to remind me that I was loved and lovable. It was magic. How I miss that cat.

My husband and I sensed our son was experiencing some of the magic pets have. A unconditional love that comes and doesn’t ask for anything in return except for basic needs (safety, warmth, food and water).

I don’t know if our cat knows my son’s full potential but I like that my son thinks the cat does. We all need someone who believes in us, that pushes us to explore and be our best selves. A loving pet is as good as anyone to help someone see the beauty and potential they have within.

Do you have pets? What magic are they bringing to you or your family’s lives?

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?

Thank You for Being a Friend

Who is your child’s best friend?

My younger son struggles with friendship. He is great at meeting people where they are as they are, but is challenged making more meaningful connections.

I shared in a previous post about a campfire talk my son and I had about death, and thought we were simply reflecting on some painful experiences of two classmates he had lost (one to illness, one to an accident) and I was helping him deal with, and process, those loses. I didn’t realize, at that time, I was also preparing him for what lie ahead, as my son lost another classmate and friend recently. It was very unexpected and upsetting.

My son’s friend was wheelchair bound and non-verbal, but boy could this child communicate through his facial expressions — whether it was showing joy through a big toothy smile or laugh, or a look of the eye that communicated more than words could say. He made an impact on my son and his classmates. My son invited this friend to his birthday party, and his classmate invited him to his — it was a week away from the party when we got the news that his friend had passed.

My son dealt with it very hard. Understandably so. There was a celebration of life for his friend. We attended with over a hundred others including classmates, teachers, friends, and family. It was a beautiful service with laughter and tears. At the end of the service they asked if anyone wanted to come up to say a few words. My son looked at me and said, “I’m going up. I need to say something.” In this crowd of people my son confidently walked up, took the microphone and said, “He was my best friend. My best friend. I’m going to miss him.” He trailed off and the microphone was handed to another peer.

In the typical sense of the word, this classmate and my son were not “best” friends. Yes, they invited each other to each other’s party, but they didn’t get together after school or even spend much time together on the playground. I asked my son what he meant by best friend. “Well, mom, he accepted as I am.” And I thought that’s what best friends do accept you as you are where you are. And that is what this boy did for my son and vice versa. They each have their own challenges in connecting (whether it was being non-verbal, or being on the autism spectrum), but they could see and appreciate each other better than most.

As we were leaving the service, I couldn’t help but think of this child who was no longer with us and thought thank you for being a friend not only to my son, but many. How blessed we are to have a friend who accepts as where we are as we are.

Who is your child’s best friend?

Cabin Fever

Do you live where there is snow and/or ice?

I have a love/hate relationship with snow. It’s beautiful when it falls, there is something peaceful about it. Yet, when the temperature drops I feel my anxiety rise.

A recent storm happened during the week. As the snow fell, my mind wondered from work and I started fretting about picking up my kids from school. Would the roads be icy? What would traffic be like? Should I head out early? Thankfully, I was able to break away from work and get everyone home safely.

The storm kept my boys out of school for a few days. At first, they loved it. Building a snowman, having a snow ball fight, then coming inside and watching cartoons. They were in heaven for a while, but after a few days their glee turned to boredom. My oldest son even told me, “I hope we can go back to school tomorrow.” You know things are bad when your middle schooler wants to go back to school. 😊

Thankfully the schools were back open the following day. On the heels of this storm, another storm is on its way. You’d think my kids would be happy to have more snow, but they’ve told me they’re ‘over it.’ My sons can’t meet up with friends and do their normal activities. They are feeling restless. They even think our cat has cabin fever (our indoor/outdoor cat hates going out in the snow, but also hates staying indoors all day).

We’re trying to figure out how to spend our time together as we remain home bound. We’re grateful for electricity. We’re grateful for warmth, and a roof over our head. I’m sure we’ll figure it out — whether it’s playing board games, working on puzzles, watching a movie or baking together. I love the time together, but could do without the snow.

Has weather ever kept you and your family at home for an extended period of time? How did you and your family combat cabin fever?