You Won’t Always Like What You Hear

Has your child ever said anything that shocked you?

Immigration has been in the news a lot lately and I am very clear on this topic with my kids — we are a country built on immigrants. We wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t migrated here, a majority of us wouldn’t. Immigrants are what make our country great, and we need to be welcoming and embrace the diversity we have in this country.

So imagine my surprise, when during a meal, while the kids were telling jokes, my son said, “Why did Trump build the Wall?” “I don’t know, ” I said bracing for something silly like, “because he couldn’t find a chicken,” or “because he wanted a new house,” he said, “to keep out the Mexicans!” He started to laugh. My face went from eager anticipation to fury. “That’s not funny,” I said sternly. “That is why the wall is being built and it’s not right and it’s not funny.” I continued, “When you refer to a group of people by their country, it makes it sound like you are saying something negative about them, and there isn’t anything negative about people from Mexico. They are just like you and me.” I was angry and I clearly was getting my point across. My son’s face crumpled and he began to cry, “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was saying was wrong. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He repeated himself several times. In situations like this, I would normally want to console my son and tell him “it’s okay” but I felt this situation required a different approach. It wasn’t okay, and I would never be okay with anyone in my family repeating what my son said. I was reminded of a time when I was his age and watched a TV show that I’m sure my parents weren’t aware I watched. I used to draw cartoons as a kid, and I drew a cartoon using a word that I didn’t know the definition of — rape. When I showed the cartoon to my parents, I was anticipating them to laugh (like they normally did when they read one of my cartoons), instead I can remember how upset they were. “This isn’t funny. Where did you hear this word?” I hated that I had used a word that was so hurtful to so many, and stupid because I didn’t know what it was or meant, and the worst part was that I’d clearly disappointed my parents. I sensed my son felt the same way. I shared with him that I had had a similar experience when I was his age with my parents (though I didn’t share the specifics). I let him know that I understood how he felt, understood that he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again. I told him that what he had said was serious, and there was no sugar coating it — it was wrong and I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t have a serious discussion with him about it. After a few minutes, he calmed down and we finished our meal. After some time passed, my husband and I broached the topic of immigration again — asking the kids what they understood about it, and asked them what questions they had. I’m hopeful that we’ve shed more light on the topic and our sons are more informed.

Part of growing up is making mistakes and having people who care — whether it’s your parents, a teacher, mentor, caregiver or coach — guide you along the way. You’re not always going to like what you hear, but if the advice or teaching helps you be kinder, wiser, more appreciative or just better, its worth listening to.

How do you respond when your child says something counter to how you are raising them? How do you guide them back to the person you want them to be?

We are the Champions

How do you celebrate your child’s success?

As I shared in an earlier post, my older son’s flag football team won the city-wide tournament, which qualified them for the Regional Flag Football tournament (dubbed the Super Bowl Championship).

My son was much calmer going into this round than the city-wide games. I told him to just ‘enjoy it’ (easier said than done, I know), and that ‘no one could take away what they’d already accomplished. They’d be the city-wide champions regardless.’ This seemed to help. We arrived early and waited for his teammates. The other teams were there early and were getting prepared. One team even arrived in a limousine. My initial thought was “that’s so nice” and then I thought “is this team here for a different game or tournament?” when the kids stepped out of the limo in matching uniforms, the limousine started honking it’s horn and there was a line up of fans for the kids to run through. I was genuinely confused, what was going on? Then my husband leaned over and said, “I think they’re trying to psych out their opponents.” Aha, I thought, my husband was probably right, though I was disappointed because if what he said was true the psyching out was being coordinated by the parents of the players, and not the players themselves.

Our team continued arriving slowly over the next hour. One of the coaches got caught up in traffic, another was with his son at a soccer tournament that was running long. It was becoming a little concerning.

Our fears subsided when we had five, and finally a sixth player arrive. The first game started. The other team had over ten kids, plenty of subs and we had five players with a sixth on the sidelines (he’d been injured and they were holding him out of the game unless absolutely needed). The odds were stacked in our opponents favor, but then we played. Our kids played with toughness, determination and a will to win. It was special. They beat the other team 44-6. Then they moved to the championship game. We’re going up against the kids that showed up in the limousine. Their fans were cheering them on in droves, they’ve had balloons and tents set-up. We had a decent showing on our side, but the other team had us beat. Then the game started. They drove down the field, it was looking like they might score, when we intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown; and then we get the ball back and drove down for another touchdown. My son’s team was so in-sync with each other that they were not going to let a player on the opposing team have any success if they could help it. They batted balls away from the opponents, they intercepted, they pulled flags at the last minute to stop a score from happening, it was magical. As I was watching it I was thinking this is one of those moments we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives. We won the game 28-0. My son and his teammates got trophies — they were SO excited. It was amazing to watch, see my son be a part of it, and talk to him about what a special day it was.

We went out and celebrated with the team afterwards. It was one of those days you just don’t want to end. The following day we watched, and re-watched video we had taken. My son paced around with excitement around playing flag football again in the Summer League, Fall League and any league available to play in in-between. 🙂 As the weekend came to an end my son asked, “Mom, is that it?” I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “Is that it? We won, and now there’s nothing else?” I knew what he was referring to. When you’ve prepared for something for so long, it happens and then it’s over, where do you go from there? I told my son, “You’ll see your team soon when you go to the coaches’ house for the season ending party. And we can have people over during the summer and maybe we could get a pick-up game together.” But I know there’s only a 50-50 chance that will happen. It’s hard when the victory is over, the dream realized. When you reach a goal and have to find a new one.

I’m grateful my son, and our family had this experience. It was a special one, but it reminded me that I have to help my son appreciate his accomplishments, be grateful for his opportunities, to believe in himself and his capabilities, and to set his sights on the next goal. After all, my desire is to help him be victorious in whatever he does.

How do you celebrate your child’s successes? How do you help them prepare for their next?

Happy Fourth of July! I’ll be off next week enjoying the holiday.

Letting them Go

Have you ever struggled to let your child do something on their own?

My youngest son had his first overnight trip without family. His fourth grade class took an overnight trip to a school in the woods (a nature school). His older brother went when he was in the fourth grade and loved it so much he didn’t want to come back. We were excited for our younger son, but knew he was a little apprehensive, which in turn made me a little apprehensive. My fears: will he have fun? Is he going to be and feel included? Is he going to be okay? My son’s fears (though not confirmed by him) are likely more around no screen time (no TV, no YouTube, no Internet — oh my!).

The morning of his trip he teared up at the breakfast table. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. “I know, and we’ll miss you too,” I responded, “but this is good practice for growing up.” He gave me an eye-roll suggesting my response wasn’t what he hoped for (think he was looking for a “we don’t want you to go either…please stay!”). I hugged him and tried to reassure him. “You’re going with people who care about you. Most kids say this trip is the highlight of their elementary school, and now you get to go on it! Most kids (including your brother) would do anything to go back to this camp.” That seemed to help. He wiped his eyes and got ready to go.

It’s hard to let your kids grow up, do things on their own, and help them to be independent. It’s easy to think that if they are independent they don’t need you. But I want my boys to be independent, and to have confidence they have the skills to navigate this life. I want my boys, as they grow into adults, to want to talk and engage with my husband and I because they choose to, not because they have to. It’s still hard to experience the transition as they go from childhood into early adulthood. It’s hard letting them g(r)o(w).

How are you helping your child be independent?

I will be away for the next few weeks and back in July.

 

Nervous Wreck

Have you ever been nervous for your child?

My older son plays flag football. He loves it. He was fortunate enough last year to play on a team that had fantastic coaches. The kids on the team learned to work hard and have fun. Everyone got to play, and the best part of all was the kids won enough games to get themselves into the regional Super Bowl tournament. The tournament was intense, the competition more fierce and I was a nervous wreck. It was very hard to watch what was happening. I tried to distract myself by pacing and standing back from the crowd, but nothing could quell my nerves. I so wanted my son and his team to win.

They made it through the first three rounds in spectacular fashion (winning one, losing one, going into overtime and ultimately winning to go into the next round). They lost in the semi-final game, in a game that could have gone either way — the other team had the ball last and they won. I was exhausted afterwards — you would have thought I had played four games in a row on the field.

This year my son is playing on an even better team, with the same coaches, so the kids are continuing to work hard and have fun, but they are also winning. They just won the local city-wide championship and are in the regionals, starting with the semi-final game. Watching the local city-wide championship, I again was a nervous wreck. I watched it with another mom from the team, and commented to one of the players grandmother’s that was there watching, “This is aging me beyond belief.”

My angst forced me to reflect on what am I nervous about exactly? I have no influence or power to determine the outcome of any game. All I can do is lend support and encouragement. It says nothing about my son, or me, if his team wins or loses. I actually think you learn a lot more when you lose than when you win. I know my son wants the win desperately. He is such a fan of the game and I know he has pro-football-dreams like many his age. I know that I want this for him because of how happy this will make him. Of course, I also know how disappointed a loss would be (and having to deal with him being upset wouldn’t be fun, but it’s not something I get nervous about). If I really peel back the layers, I think my nerves are around “Am I doing right by my son?” Are my husband and I giving him the experiences and opportunities to experience things that will shape him to become the person we hope him to be? If the team wins or loses, will he use the experience to grow in a positive direction?  I don’t know the answer, but I do feel like I’m better understanding where my nerves stem from.

Parenting is full of worry and angst. When moments of success happen (your child succeeds at something) there is a moment of — I’m a pretty okay parent. Moments when they make a mistake, falter or fail can make you feel like maybe you’re not as great a parent as you think you are. I see my role as a teacher for my boys. Help them learn, grow (through missteps) and have success. It’s priceless when it happens.

I’ll never forget watching my son’s team win the local championship. The shear joy radiating across his face was magical. I know my nerves will return watching him in the regionals, but I’m glad I understand what’s behind them. And despite the outcome of the game, I’ll be there for him — to celebrate with him or pick him up.

What’s behind your nerves as a parent?

 

Fireside Chat

Where do you have your best conversations with your child?

On a camping trip my husband and my older son decided they wanted to hike a trail not far from our camping site. We had just finished a different hike and my younger son and I were happy to sit by the fire and relax. After sitting by the fire for a few minutes, I could see my son was thinking about something. “What are you thinking about?” I asked. I thought he might reply, “nothing” or that he was reflecting on the day. Instead he said, “I’m thinking about life.” He paused, “And what the point of it is.”

Our earlier hike had taken us to a military cemetery where service and family members were buried. There was a large section of infants and young children in the cemetery and I had wondered, as we’d looked at some of the headstones, how the kids might be impacted by seeing so many lives lost so young. The experience reminded my son of two of his peers who have passed. A classmate from pre-school who died of cancer, and an elementary classmate who died from drowning. As a parent, both of these children’s deaths had shaken me to my core and reminded me how fragile life is. In both cases, I grieved desperately for the parents and what they must be going through, and was so grateful my boys were healthy and alive. I never knew if my son really grasped the finality of either death and the feelings that go along with it.

My son continued, “I think of my friends. They didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t understand why what happened to them had to happen to them.” He was tearing up. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “It’s one of the hardest things to understand in life — why bad things happen. Especially when it’s to good people or small children who haven’t had a chance to even truly experience life.” I paused. “You’ll never be able to make sense when these things happen. Life’s just that way. Sometimes bad things happen. I think their deaths are reminders of the gift we’ve been given — life. It’s a reminder to not take it for granted. To recognize the beauty around us, and to help others see it too.” I’d gotten his attention. “I miss them,” he said. “I know,” I said, “You’ll never forget them. They’ll always be with you. The hardest part is knowing they’re not here and that you won’t have new memories with them. But you can live for them and the lives they didn’t get to live. You just have to see what’s around you and appreciate it for however long you have on this Earth.” I knew what I was saying was a bit heavy, but he seemed to take it in and embrace it. Being in a nature setting while having this discussion really helped. I finished my thought with my son, “You know you show beauty often to others in how you treat them. You’re gift is kindness and happiness. You accept people as they are, where they are. That’s a gift. I hope you always remember that. Lots of people need people like you in their life. You might be the beauty in life they need to see.” He smiled. I used to smile too, when my father gave me insights about myself. There was something magical about being able to carry on the tradition with my son. “Life is hard sometimes. Life can be confusing and sometimes make you sad or angry, but the happiness will return. Just keep remembering to appreciate it, and treat it for what it is — a gift.”

My husband and older son walked into the campsite around this time. My younger son and I just sat there. “What have you been up to?” my husband asked. My younger son piped in, “We’ve been having a very important conversation. VERY IMPORTANT!” He gave me a knowing look. My husband caught my eye and I could almost read his mind — what exactly did you all talk about while we were away? In a way, I wish my husband had been there for the conversation, and my older son — it would have been a good conversation for us to have as a family — but if they had been there, maybe the conversation wouldn’t have happened, and I’m glad that it did.

Where do have your most meaningful conversations with your child?

 

Who’s Listening?

Do you think you’re kids are paying attention to what you say?

It feels like my kids often have selective hearing. I have to remind them to: make their lunch, pick up their clothes, wash their hands, put on deodorant and the list goes on. There are other times when my kids seem really tuned in to what they are hearing. My youngest son and I were watching TV when Facebook’s mea culpa ad came on. I didn’t think my son was paying attention to the ad. As the ad finished, he looked at me and said, “I don’t know why Facebook is apologizing. Cambridge Analytica should be. It’s their fault this happened.” I was stunned. I’m not sure I agreed with his assessment of the situation but was more in wonder of where had he heard of Cambridge Analytica? How did he make this connection? I asked him. “Mom, I listen to the radio,” he said. My husband does have NPR on most of the time he’s driving. “I’m up on world news,” and he laughed as if me asking him how he knew about Cambridge Analytica was the silliest thing he’d ever heard.

Clearly my kids are paying attention more than I realized. Yes, I will have to continue to remind them to do their chores, but they are listening — to our conversations, what’s on TV, and the radio, and they are forming their own opinions around how the world works and right from wrong. I’m inspired to pay closer attention, ask them questions and challenge their assumptions, and encourage them to challenge mine.

What are your kids listening to? How are you helping them decipher all the messaging that comes their way?

I will be off next week celebrating Memorial Day with family and will return in June. Happy Memorial Day!

 

How Am I Doing as a Mother?

When you think about what kind of mother you are, what comes to mind?

I want my children to see me as someone who deeply loves and cares about their well-being, but am also tasked with teaching them things and keeping them safe. My job isn’t to give them what they want, when they want it, or remove all the obstacles life throws their way, or to always be pleasant. My job is to teach them to navigate these obstacles, appreciate hard work and the rewards of your labor, and how to treat others in a way you feel good about.

Being a parent is challenging. You learn as you go. You learn from the modeling of your own parents and others you respect. It’s ever changing with endless opportunities to learn something new.

When my children were younger and Mother’s Day rolled around, I simply wanted a break. I wanted time to myself, to relax and rest. As my children age, I view Mother’s Day as an opportunity for me to check-in with myself and see if I am being the mother I want to be. Am I teaching my children the things I want to? Am I modeling the behavior I want them to replicate?

I love that people honor their moms on Mother’s Day, and while I’m sure I’ll enjoy a good meal with my family, I’m more interested in how I navigate my role as a parent. How I improve. How I mother my boys in a way I’m proud of and satisfied with after my children are off on their own.

What does Mother’s Day mean to you? How do you celebrate the occasion?

The Comeback

Has your child ever made a remark that has stopped you in your tracks?

When my oldest son entered middle school he struggled with people who made unkind comments. We talked about strategies for how to handle and one way we discussed was to have a comeback. Not an equally unkind comment (e.g. an eye for an eye), but a smart comeback, a clever comeback. One that shows you caught the person’s unkind comment and you’re handing it back to them (with the intent of getting them to become more self-aware and be more careful with their negative comments and how they use their words in the future).

Examples:

Unkind comment: “You’ve got a big nose.
Smarter comeback: “The better to smell jerks like YOU with.”

Unkind comment: “You’re weird.”
Smarter comeback: “Everyone’s weird, including you for saying that.”

I didn’t realize how far my son had advanced in his comeback skills until we were looking at some apps he’d downloaded. I was asking him to show me what each app did (as a parent, I wanted to ensure that there was nothing inappropriate). He showed me an app where you race cars, but the app’s title implied it was about wrecking cars. “Are you supposed to wreck the cars?” I asked. “Sometimes,” my son said and proceeded to show me how you could do it.  I commented, “Oh, you lost a wheel!” I laughed because the car appeared to be racing just fine even though a wheel had fallen off. “Well, you lost your youth” my son replied. It was matter-of-fact and direct. I don’t think he liked that I had laughed at the wheel falling off and was treating my comment as ‘unkind’ vs. an honest, non-emotional observation. “My youth?” I said. He smiled, “well, yea!” He looked sheepish as if he realized he may have had a disproportionate reaction to the situation. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Well, I know someone who better watch it or they may lose their youth if they don’t watch what they say to their Mom.” We both laughed at that.

When I grew up, I would and could have never had this conversation with my mother. It would have been seen as being very disrespectful. I’m not sure I was excited being told by my son that I’d lost my youth, but I was impressed by his comeback. It was clever, a bit out of left field for the situation, but I had to give him credit.

Self-advocacy can be hard to navigate as you age. Asking for what you want is key, defending yourself in a way that gets your point across without escalating the situation is another. My son is gaining ground in defending himself. I have to applaud him for that.

How do you help your child self-advocate? How do you help them respond when people direct unkind comments at them?

Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe even test the waters of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it. He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic kid that struggles with his self-worth.

I felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another, and the loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a city that was small and didn’t have a swim team) contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was. Thankfully we were in our house without anyone outside our family around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you think they would feel if they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My boys didn’t like that I had ‘caught’ them in object thinking. “Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

For the Beauty of the Earth

How are you celebrating Earth Day today?

I have always been taken by things that are beautiful in nature, no matter how small. I can remember finding pretty flowers and being amazed by them as a child; finding an amethyst buried on the walking path in the backyard between our house and the neighbors — and feeling like I’d found the most beautiful thing imaginable. As an adult, I’ve only seen the appreciation grow. Every time I visit a new city, or drive through a new terrain, or experience a new season, I see beauty all around me.

My youngest son seems especially tuned-in to finding beauty in nature. It is not uncommon for him to point out a blossoming tree and comment “how pretty it is.” He recently walked a path with my husband that was near some playing fields. The path was non-descript other than having a creek that ran along side it. As my son walked with his father he commented, “how peaceful” the path was. He is aware of the beauty, acknowledges it, and shares it with others (so that it won’t be missed!).

I am often in awe of nature’s beauty and what the Earth has to offer. It saddens me when we, as a country, and as a planet, aren’t doing everything we can to retain the wonderful gifts our planet has given us. I am aware that while I get to enjoy the beauty now, it may not last forever. I very much want my kids, their kids, my great grandkids and generations beyond to experience the same beauty as well.

How are you helping your child experience the Earth’s beauty? What are you and your family doing to protect the Earth?