A Walk in the Woods

Where do you have the best discussions with your child?

We were attending a year end picnic with my younger son’s class. His older brother did not want to be there — fearing embarrassment from being associated with younger kids (how uncool, right?). While our younger son played with friends, my oldest asked his dad to go with him on a walk in the woods that surrounded the picnic area. They were gone 30 minutes or so. I didn’t mind. It was nice to being able to watch the kids enjoy themselves or talk with another parent. When my son and husband came back he asked, “Mom, do you want to go for a walk?” I wasn’t expecting to be asked, but gladly accepted. We walked and talked and walked and talked and walked and talked some more. It was a nice conversation where we got to talk about deeper things — the intricacies of relationships, being vulnerable, being judged, being true to who you are — by the time we got back we’d walked over three miles, but it didn’t leave me tired. It left me feeling energized, even elated (my teenage son will still talk to me — yes!). 😊

When my son allows me to talk with him — not to him, but with him — it feels like I’ve struck parenting gold. Moments I’ll certainly remember and I hope he does too. I hope he thinks of such conversations as being open, honest, loving, and empathetic. I hope he feels the love, support and encouragement I’m trying to share.

How does it make you feel when you connect with your child on a deeper level?

Dear Old Dad

How are you celebrating Father’s Day today?

Every year on Father’s Day, we think about our dads. Favorite memories come up. For me it’s celebrations after swim meets, running road races together as a child and teen, seeing him cheer me on regardless of the situation, helping me with math or a science project, watching sports together, or having him acknowledge me and what I have to offer the world. I am fortunate, my dad was and is present and takes his role seriously.

Dad’s are important. I can’t imagine who I would be or what I would be doing professionally if he weren’t there guiding me through life. So for all the dad’s out there I say, “Thank you!” Your daughter(s) and son(s) are paying attention and grateful for you — your guidance, your presence and your love.

How will you celebrate your father today? What gifts, as a parent, are you giving your child as their father?

Happy Fathers Day!

The “You’re a Bad Parent” Lecture

Have you ever been approached by someone or overhead comments on your parenting?

My family and I went away for Memorial Day weekend. We decided it would be fun to ride bikes where we were. We picked our bikes from the local bike shop and got ready to go. My youngest son was struggling to keep his balance on his bike. He’s outgrown his smaller bike, but doesn’t feel confident on an adult bike. We had the kids practice in a parking lot to build their confidence. After a while we decided we were ready for our ride, which would take us through a small town and back to where we were staying. We had driven our car to pick up the bikes we were renting. My husband was going to drive back to where we were staying and we’d meet him there later.

I should have known the ride might not go as planned when my oldest son refused to lead the way. He was adamant that I had to lead. I think he thought he would get too far ahead, go the wrong way, and get lost. “Easy,” I told him, “just don’t go too fast, and stop periodically to make sure I’m still behind you.” “No,” he insisted, “you have to go first.” I expressed my concern about being able to keep an eye on his younger brother, who was doing better on his bike, but still not out of the woods (I had just watched him narrowly miss hitting a parked Tesla – gulp). My husband was gone with the car, and we had a several miles ahead of us.

I went first, reluctantly. I didn’t make it a block before I heard my oldest yelling, “Mom! Mom!” I turned around thinking my youngest was having a hard time getting started. Instead I saw what happened. He’d hit a parked car. Thankfully he hit it at an incredibly slow speed, but it scared him — and the driver who was sitting inside. 😦 I made my way back to the car. My son was sobbing — hitting the car had scared him but then having the driver approach him sent him over the edge. I told my son it was okay and that this can happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my car sideswiped by a cyclist, (accidentally of course), in my downtown area. The driver realized my son was young so quickly redirected their anger at me. I started by asking if they were okay. I asked if they thought any damage had been done to their car and what I could do to help. I don’t think the driver was hoping I was to try to remedy the situation, because after doing so, and apologizing profusely, she started down the path of questioning my ability to parent. I don’t think she said ‘what kind of mother let’s her child ride his bike where he can hit a parked car’ but it was close enough. She clearly was upset about what happened and didn’t seem content on letting me leave until she’d said what she wanted. I listened. She wasn’t going to give me any wisdom or insights into how to better parent. But she could get me to review my actions, take accountability for my role, and I could let her feel heard. When she was done with her lecture I asked if there was anything else I could do to make this right and that prompted another tongue lashing. I learned my lesson and when she finished next I just said, “Okay.” And walked back to where my kids were. I called my husband to come back and pick up his bike since he was too upset to go on, and once he did, my older son and I went on our bike ride.

Having a stranger be genuinely upset with you is a terrible feeling. Have a stranger upset with you over your parenting is a whole other level of awful — they can strike a nerve and call you on some truth (I had already been concerned about my younger son on his bike — I should have stood firm(er) on my oldest son leading), or just try to public shame you revealing how little about the situation and your parenting they actually understand.

I was grateful the exchange was behind us and everyone was okay. We were able to work with my youngest son the remainder of the weekend to build his confidence with the bigger bike. We still have a ways to go, but are making good progress.

How do you handle situations where people judge your parenting choices?

 

 

I’m Curious

What is your child curious about?

It was one of those days where work was running long, and I needed to pick up my son from an after school activity. I was on a conference call that required I listen into, not actively participate. When my son and his friend jumped in the car, I told them I was on a work call. My son knows this means I need you to be quiet so I can hear what’s being said, but his friend didn’t know this and began to ask questions.

“Who is on the call?”

“Can they hear me?”

“Why are you only listening?”

“Are you listening so you can see if the people on the phone are doing their job right?”

Thankfully the call was in full swing by the time I had gotten the kids and I had a good handle on where the conversation was going and hearing everything that was being said was not quite as important as it had been earlier in the call. At first, when my son’s friend started asking questions I was trying to answer and still listen to the call. It was tough. Work can often feel like the priority, but his genuine interest in better understanding what was happening made me focus less on what was being said on the phone and more on him and what he was asking. It was clear to me he’d never heard someone on a conference call before (I was intrigued), and while I may see them as a necessity to get things done more quickly, he saw this as something new that he wanted to better understand. His curiosity was contagious. He was interested in learning and I was interested in sharing. Here’s how I answered his rapid fire questions. 😊

“People that I work with”

“No, the phone is muted”

“Because I just need to hear what’s going on, I don’t need to say anything”

“I’m listening because it will help my team and I better understand what we need to do next. The people on the phone know how to do their jobs, I’ll just be better able to do mine if I know what needs to happen next.”

We arrived at his house not long after. His attention had turned back to my son and as they said goodbye I reflected on what had just happened. Having a young person that is curious and looking to you for answers is priceless. And while the work call was important, engaging with my son’s friend, even though briefly, was a better use of my time (and much more rewarding).

How are you encouraging your child’s curiosity?

You’ve Got Talent

What is your child talented at?

My youngest loves geography, but showing his passion, or talent, for knowing every country in the world (not just be able to identify it by shape, but can also identify the flag, and key facts) can be a bit of a challenge for a talent show — especially when they asked each kid to keep their routine under two minutes, and entertaining, engaging, or, at least, interesting to the audience. I never thought I’d say this, but thanks to internet my son found Yacko’s World (Yacko is a character from Animaniacs — a cartoon from the 90s). In the video, Yacko sings the countries of the world to a catchy tune. My son decided he could do that. He can also sing, so combining his talents (geography and singing) made sense.

He practiced and practiced. He decided on his ‘costume’ — a travel shirt and two flags he could hold while singing. When it was his turn, he walked up, they started the music and he started. He added a silly dance in between the stanzas and the audience loved it. He loved share his passion, engaging the audience and being brave. It was a very good night for our son.

What I love about talent shows is that it gives you an opportunity to do something brave, step out and be vulnerable to a crowd, to show what they love and/or can do well. My husband and I commented after the show, the kids weren’t all ready for Kids Got Talent or Little Big Shots, but they had all been very brave and we’re proud of themselves for putting themselves out there.

How are you helping your child identify their talent or passion? How are you helping them to be brave and showcase it?

I’ll be off next week to spend time with family.

Appreciating Mom

When did you first realize what goes into being a parent?

I had the ‘aha’ moment days after my first son was born. I remember thinking — how did my mom do it? And make it look so easy? I reflected on the love, the sacrifice, and confidence she took in her responsibility of raising me. I never felt like my mother was ‘winging it’ though she was figuring out how to be a parent much like I am. My confidence wasn’t there yet in those early days, but I found comfort that it would come with time.

Not everyone has a loving parent (or parents), and I realize how fortunate I am that I do.

Being a mom is tough, tiring, and frustrating at times, but also filled with reward, purpose, and love. I am grateful to my mom for being so involved, loving and caring. I appreciate her more and more with each passing year.

How do you show your appreciation for your loved ones that raised you?

Growing into Yourself

How did you become the person you are today?

It’s not a simple question to answer.

It’s curious being a parent watching your children navigate who they are and want to be (now and in the future). My oldest son is very self-critical. He often gets frustrated when he can’t do something new exceptionally well the first time. He’s disappointed and gets angry that his body or mind requires him to work at something.

I don’t know where this comes from. We’ve always talked to our kids about hard work and how it pays off. How everyone, regardless how smart, strong, etc., has to work to hone their skill(s) and improve. He’s heard us talk about this numerous times, he’s heard teachers and coaches say this, but can only conclude that he believes our words don’t apply to him.

Until this last school year. For the first time Ive seen him want to get better on his own. It was as if he’d awakened and finally understood that if he wants to improve — in sports or school or anything else, he’s going to have to put in the work. During a student-teacher conference the teacher confirmed this growth / maturity my son had gained. I always feel it is a gift when someone acknowledges you in such a profound way. I could see my son appreciated the teacher’s comments as well. I left the meeting grateful that my son was maturing and taking a more active role in where life takes him, but I can’t put my finger on what led him to this realization, or desire to better himself. Is it self awareness that he lacked before and now found, or just a better understanding of how things work and realizing there are almost always no shortcuts to success?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m somewhat in awe of watching my son grow into himself.

How are you helping your child grow into who they will become?

Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. 😊

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?

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?