Testing Independence

How independent is your child?

When my boys were young I longed for the day they would be able to dress and feed themselves, ride their bike, play with a friend or do an activity without parent supervision. As teens, my boys have been able to do these things for quite some time, but now are moving into the phase of wanting more independence.

My oldest is quickly embracing being a young man. Learning to drive, growing taller, and feeling more confidence in his capabilities helps. He has moved into a phase where he is testing his independence.

Our son does sport conditioning most weekday mornings. He has his father or I to pick him when he is done. It can be challenging to do based on my husband and my work commitments. I was feeling good when I got to the parking lot to pick up my son early one day. I was able to finish a work call and let my son know I was there. He had his phone and asked me from the field, “A couple of upper class men want me to lift weights with them after practice. Can I stay with them? I’ll get a ride home later.” “Sure,” I replied and headed home. I didn’t think much of it until we gathered around the dinner table later. “How did lifting go?” I asked. “Oh, it was fine. We only did it for a little bit than went over to one of the guy’s houses and played basketball. That was fun.” “What?,” I said, “why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” “It just kind of happened,” my son replied. We spent the next few minutes discussing why us knowing where he is is important. I reminded him of a saying I’ve said to him before, “I can’t help you if I can’t see you or don’t know where you are.” He said he understood and would be more upfront with his whereabouts.

Fast forward to the next day. He asks if he can join a friend to go boating in a nearby lake. The assumption was there would be adult supervision. At dinner that night we asked how boating went. “It was great. We went tubing behind the boat. It was a lot of fun.” “Who all was there?,” I asked. “My friend, his 18 year-old brother and his friend.” Wait, what? I thought. “Was one of his parents with you?” “No,” my son replied, “but his brother has his boating license.” Oh boy, I thought, here we go again. My husband and I then discussed with our son the importance of providing upfront information. Being truthful about where you’re going, and who will be there, is important. It helps us as parents know how to find you if needed, give guidance, not to mention build trust. And with trust comes more independence. We pivoted the conversation and tried to help our son understand that the situation could have presented challenges he wasn’t prepared for. “You don’t know the older brother that well or his friend. What if one of them brought alcohol or an edible trying to be cool? What would you have done? There are cops of the lake that patrol for just this thing. And if you get caught on a boat where someone else is doing something wrong you may get be accused simple by proximity and/or association. Not only do we (your father and I) need to know where you are and the details, you also need to assess the situation and make sure you’ve got a plan if you feel like you need to leave.” He was upset. He thought we were challenging him on his judge of character. “I’m sure your friend’s brother is a good kid, but you’ve said so yourself, you didn’t know the friend. This isn’t about your judgment of character, it’s about you understanding the importance of being honest with us, aware of your surroundings, and having a plan for when things go south (how can you safely exit the situation, how can you get help if needed (be if from mom or dad or the authorities, etc.)),”

It was a needed conversation that I’m quite sure we’ll have again. “Part of growing up includes making mistakes and learning from them. Your father and I are trying to help you better navigate growing up, and avoid mistakes as much as we can. That’s it. We’re not trying to be harsh, or firm, or difficult.” He seemed to understand—we’ll see.

How is your kid showing their independence? What conversations are you having with them to help them make good choices as they grow?

I’ll be off for the next few weeks enjoying time away with the family and will be back later in August.

Discord over Discord

If you have a tween or teen you’ve probably heard of Discord. For those unfamiliar, Discord is an application that allows friends to communicate while playing games online. My youngest asked if he could get an account for his last birthday. We agreed but with rules — he can only talk with people he knows, and if his father and I ever have any concerns, we can take privileges away.

During Covid my son has benefited greatly from being able to connect with his friends through online gaming. After getting a Discord account he was enjoying it on another level. While I’ve been reluctant to let my son get really into gaming, I was glad he had this outlet.

Discord has been a positive experience for my son for the most part. My son sighs loudly (to maybe get me it my husband’s attention?) when he’s frustrated or upset. He sighed like this and I asked him what was going on. He shared he was frustrated because one of his friends via Discord chat was blaming him for something he didn’t do. He was upset that he was falsely being accused, but more upset that his friend did it publicly to his friend group versus messaging him directly. He was struggling with the situation. I sat down next to him at the computer and asked him to walk me through what happened. I could see the dialogue in Discord and could see what my son was saying. What shocked me was what the friend wrote — Who changed me from being the moderator? f u [insert my son’s gaming name]. I saw how my son had replied online. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. Reply from friend: well then who did it? My son: I don’t know but it’s not okay what you said. Friend: get over it. My son: uncool man, uncool.

I asked my son, “Why don’t you block him?” My son at first thought it might make the situation worse, but after we discussed, he determined blocking this “friend” would make his Discord/chatting with his friends way more enjoyable, so he blocked him and breathed a sigh of relief as his “friend’s” messages disappeared from his feed.

Afterwards, we discussed friendship and the fact that we don’t really know why his friend was acting the way he was or saying what he did, but that healthy relationships require respect and his friend needs to earn my son’s respect and trust back. I want my son to get comfortable holding firm on how he’ll allow himself to be treated by others. It’s not always easy, but so important.

How are you teaching your child about friendship and what a good friend is? How are you helping your child set boundaries around how they’ll let others treat them?

New Year New Choices

Is your child a healthy eater?

Our boys are opposites in many ways. Regarding eating, my oldest has been a pretty consistent eater throughout his life. Food hasn’t seemed to be something that dominates his thoughts, mood, etc. His teachers talked about healthy eating when he was in elementary school and it resonated with him. He started to be more conscientious of his choices and wanted to be healthy.

My youngest has had a different journey. He was a very picky eater when he was young. He’d go days at his daycare without eating if the food being served wasn’t to his liking due to taste or texture (a big thing for kids on the spectrum). We often worried about him putting on weight, but that changed around the second grade. He started expanding his food universe, but it gravitated towards processed foods. Mac and cheese, bread, bread and bread. 😊 We’d attempt to get him to eat healthier options and would get gagging (sometimes regurgitation – yuck!), or he would dig in and not eat. It was a struggle. My husband and I had set out to make one meal for the family and everyone eat the same thing, but we failed. Three of us would eat the same thing (for the most part), and my youngest wouldn’t. #parentfail

Over the years the divide has grown. Our oldest is uber healthy. My youngest is not, but he understands the importance of eating healthy and is working hard to make better good choices.

At the start of the New Year, my husband recommended we hold eat other accountable in make healthier choices starting with making sure we’re each incorporating a fruit or vegetable into eat meal. He created a chart that each of us have to fill out daily. There was resistance as first, but we’ve all grown to like the chart. Seeing what we’re eating, thinking about what else we can incorporate. And our youngest has really stepped up to the challenge — Expanding his food universe in the fruits and vegetables category. It’s a small step but feels like a bigger (more important one to my husband and I). #parentsuccess

How are you helping your child to develop a healthy lifestyle? What challenge(s) have you come up against and how have you solved for it?

Upsetting

How did you learn about what happened at our nation’s capitol this week?

I was on a call with others when someone shared what was happening. A family member called soon after confirming the news. I was hopeful with my boys remote learning they wouldn’t hear about what was happening until after it was over.

Of course, news of what was going on spread amongst the students. I was glad my husband and I were both home so we could have an open discussion with our sons about it. My youngest was more outwardly impacted by what he saw than his older brother. “It’s scary,” he said. I agreed. It was upsetting. Not only because of what happened but by the adults that perpetrated it. Kids (teens included) look to adults for how to act in different situations, and model the behavior they see. The adults who instigated this, and participated in it, failed our young greatly.

The damage is done, and I can only hope that parents, caring adults, mentors, teachers and leaders are who our kids will look to and model themselves after. I hope the young can see right from wrong and don’t believe violence is the way to make any positive change.

It’s upsetting.

How are you and your family dealing with what happened?

Assume Accountability

Have you assumed your child was thinking or feeling a certain way, and learned later you were wrong?

My oldest is a challenging person to read. He is a young man of few words. You have to work on him to drag out what he’s thinking. It can be easy to assume I know what he’s thinking or how he feels if I don’t spend the time to find out.

We had decided to go walk after dinner as a family. I was busy trying to get some remaining emails out for work while getting my shoes on to walk. I was half-listening to the conversation my husband was having with my oldest son. My husband and son were talking about how something was annoying. My oldest said, “Mom, you know what else is annoying?” My knee jerk reaction was that he was going to say “me” I’m not exactly why — I’d been holding him more accountable and knew he wasn’t super happy about that (who ever is?) and thought he might voice his disdain by taking a shot at me (to test me holding him accountable again?). I assumed wrong. I said, “I really don’t want to know.” “Why?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to hear it’s me.” “Why would I say it’s you?” he asked. “Well, you tell Mom how boring, or uncool, or whatever I am sometimes. I just figured you were just adding to the list.” He looked hurt, wounded almost, that I would think this of him. It was one of those moments as a parent where you pause and question your logic and thinking — realizing you’ve made a mistake (misunderstood, misjudged the situation, etc.). “Well, I was going to say Gator fans,” he concluded with a diminishing smile. He was trying to engage me in something he thought would make me smile (he knows I am no fan of my rival school’s mascot), maybe even laugh, and I hadn’t allowed him to do it. I hated that I hadn’t just said “what?” when he first asked the question.

I reflected on the exchange following our walk. By assuming what my son was thinking and how he would respond, I had indeed made an error. I reminded myself that he’s a teen and I’m the adult. His full frontal cortex is still forming, and mine is mature. I need to be the adult and not assume my child is out to push buttons or minimize my role, or challenge my love for him. I need him to know I am the adult, he is loved regard of what he says, and I should never put words in his mouth (or decide in my mind what he’s going to say before he’s said it). If I need to hold him accountable for saying something insensitive or hurtful I will. As the adult, it’s my job. At the same time, I need to hold myself accountable and hear him out first, and let him speak. And remember the downsides of assuming.

Have you ever assumed wrong about what your child has said or done, or about their intentions? How do you hold your child and yourself accountable?

I will be off next week, but back following. Happy Labor Day!

Difficult Conversations

Talking honestly about what happened with George Floyd and the aftermath can be difficult, regardless if the conversation is with your child, friends, or family.

I feel fortunate to have a diverse set of friends who have been willing to engage in these conversations that have been uncomfortable but needed. Being honest, owning our truths, and experiences reminds me that with knowledge comes power, and together we can make our community and country better.

In addition to my friends near me, the pandemic has allowed me to talk to my best friends who live far away each week. It has been a blessing to be able to connect with them more often. Typically when we talk I go where I can have privacy and speak freely — after all our talks include discussions about our kids, and spouses. 😊 As the issue of systemic racism, and the call for reform and an end to injustice and a need to address equality has gained traction the topic of discussion came up with my friends. I saw an opportunity to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with them out in the open (having close friendships doesn’t mean you all think alike — true friendship allows for truths to be spoken, and vulnerability, and love for each other regardless), instead of going into a room and closing the door for privacy, I FaceTime’d with my friends without earbuds in my living room. My youngest son was on our computer in the kitchen. I felt like even if my son wasn’t fully listening to the conversation I needed to do it this way — out in the open not in private. I needed to show him there is value, bravery and strength when you speak from your heart, especially on topics like this. The fact that my friends are willing to listen, respect what i have to say, and still love me makes for wonderful and sustainable friendships. I treasure them.

Change will only happen if we are willing to talk (even when it might be uncomfortable), and really listen to each other.

How are you having these conversations? How are you modeling for or teaching your child how to have them?

Parenting is a Team Sport

Have you ever felt like parenting is a competition?

It’s a topic I often cover when speaking to parenting groups–being a parent can feel like many things including a rite of passage to see how we (as parents) can out do each other, or how our kids can. It starts when our child is very young — whose sleeping better through the night, eating better, rolling over first, standing up, walking, etc. We are proud of our child hitting a developmental milestone, and want to believe their success is largely due to our parenting skills, but in reality it is more a mixture of our child’s innate capabilities and disposition, which may or may not have been influenced by us.

While we may feel like competition is only between other parents, a topic that isn’t often spoken of is competition between the parents themselves. Competition between parents can be just as common, and is not limited to couples who are divorced. Competition between a couple can be more subtle in how it shows up: a child feels they can confide in one parent more than they can another and the parent who is left out feels sadness the child doesn’t have (or maybe want) to have the same relationship with them, or competition can arise when one parent connects/relates easily with their child, while the other struggles. There are many different ways the feeling of competition can arise, but parenting is not a competition; it’s about doing what’s right for our child, not us. This can be hard to keep front and center when we have our competitive juices flowing.

My husband took our oldest to his flag football game over the weekend. My younger son and I were going to meet them there closer to game time and were just about to head out the door when my husband called and said, “Don’t go anywhere, we’re coming home.” When they got home I asked what happened. I found out that our son was getting frustrated with what the coach was asking him to do. He was struggling to do the practice drill and was showing his frustration. Instead of being respectful to the coach and listening to what the coach was saying, he was getting more and more angry, and talking back. My husband told my son to calm down and be respectful, or we’re going home. My son jumped at the chance and said, “Fine, let’s go home.” I could tell by the look in my husband’s eyes when he told me that he hadn’t thought his threat would turn out the way it did. He had thought our son would calm down, and listen to the coach, because he wanted to play in the game. But he was stuck, like many of us when we may threats and are kids call us on it (anyone have to leave the restaurant or theatre — places you wanted to go, and then your child starts misbehaving or act up, and you threaten you’ll leave if they don’t calm down and they say basically indicate they never wanted to be there in the first place? Ugh!). I said, “Oh no, you are going to the game. That’s not fair to your team, but you’re not playing. You have to earn the right to play and you lost that right in the way you acted.  You are going to go there and support them — you are going to be their #1 cheerleader today, and you’re going to apologize to the coach for your behavior.” My son looked at me like he couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened earlier, and said, “Okay.” We got in the car and went to the field. He didn’t play, he did cheer and he apologized to the coach — not once, but twice. My hope was that he would understand you can never walk away when things get tough, you can’t let your actions let down a larger group (your team), and there are consequences, sometimes uncomfortable ones like apologizing to a coach, when you behave a certain way.

Later that night my husband and I were talking about what happened. Without discussing it, we easily could have been filed this incident in the competition file, where one parent did the “right” thing and the other did the “wrong” thing (one is a better parent than the other — see how easy situations can have that competitive feel?)…but that’s not the way we viewed it. Instead, one of us experienced, with the best intentions, a misstep and the other helped them recover. We are a team, and need each other’s help. Parenting is a team sport, not an individual one. We have certainly had scenarios where my husband helped bail me out of a misfired threat. We learn each time we experience this together, and allow ourselves the chance to discuss, reflect, and think about how we would handle the situation differently in the future. We get better together.

Have you ever felt like you were competing with another parent or your spouse? How do you parent as a team, versus as an individual?

Go Team!

Family Fun?

It is important to my husband and I that we teach our children how to manage their money. They are recently taken on more chores and are given a modest weekly allowance, which we encourage them to save, share or spend. So far, their desire to save has been modest, share has been virtually non-existent and spend has been high. My husband and I are big on saving and sharing, so it’s a bit frustrating that our kids don’t share our same financial mindset presently. I had to reflect on my own childhood. I too had chores and earned a modest weekly allowance. I was encouraged to save or share, nor was I encouraged to spend. I remember really not wanting to part with my money (e.g. give it away), and honestly can’t remember ever spending my money until I was in high school and things like clothes became more important to me (and required money I earned to get).

My boys have recently found a new place they love to go. It is geared towards families and offers putt-putt golf, cars you can race, rides you can go on, and games you can play. We enjoy talking the kids here to play putt-putt and spend some quality time together. What my kids currently like best is playing the games.

I can understand the draw, you play a game you win tickets which you can trade in for prizes. The downside, it costs money to get tokens to play the games, the games don’t normally produce a high volume of tickets, and the prizes, well, aren’t so great (or the great ones require a tremendous amount of tickets). You quickly realize that it is easy to pay $20 for tokens and only earn enough tickets to get $5-10 worth of merchandise in return. “Isn’t this gambling?” my husband asked. Boy, he makes a good point, I thought. Playing these games is equivalent to taking a chance with your money — you will almost never win out (e.g. hit enough jackpot payouts to earn enough tickets to get those big prizes).  We decided that instead of offering to just buy the tokens, our kids needed to chip in as well (hoping this would deter them). It hasn’t worked yet. They are willing to give up their hard earned money to play these games. Ugh!

My husband has been recently doing some construction projects in our backyard. He asked our boys to help him with his projects. They asked if they could earn extra money from helping out. We said, “No.” We expect our boys to help out around the house because we’re a family and we all have a part in keeping our house up and in order. Instead, my husband offered to participate in a water gun fight with them, after they finished helping him. They quickly agreed.

I know our sons will want to go to places that have games they can play (with prizes to win), and we’ll go occasionally, and continue to work on teaching financial responsibility to our boys. We’ll also be looking to load the calendar with opportunities for more water gun fights.

How are you teaching your child fiscal responsibility? How do you have fun as a family?

The Advocate

Do you ever struggle to speak up for yourself? How about speaking up for your child?

If so, then we have something in common.

Speaking up for yourself is one thing. Whether it’s due to lack of confidence, the way you were brought up, or something else, you are the only one that suffers when you don’t speak up for yourself. But what about your child. They don’t have a voice, and need their parents or loved ones to advocate on their behalf.

I have to admit, I’ve often taken a backseat to voicing my opinion in regards to child development and education. My mother was an teacher for over 40 years and I have great respect for those in this profession. I’ve always been involved and stayed close enough to be  in-the-know of what is going on with my children in school, but also wanted to give the teacher a chance to successfully teach my child. I thought that might be negatively impacted if I was constantly asking for input or feedback on how my child was doing. I also thought I would be perceived as a “needy” parent. I wanted to empower my children to be independent and thrive, and thought by giving them some distance in school, it supported this desire.

My husband and I noticed our son was having some struggles in school and enlisted the help of others. We brought in someone from outside the school to observe him, and learned quickly that we needed to find and ‘raise’ our voices quickly. If we didn’t our son might  continue to struggle and develop some negative self-beliefs about his capabilities. My husband and I were going to do everything we could to ensure that didn’t happen.

We initiated a conversation with his school’s leadership (teacher, principal, counselors, etc.) and discussed our concerns. At the time, my husband and I wondered if we were wrong about our concerns and were overreacting to the situation (e.g. raising our voices too high too fast). After the discussion, one of the leaders pulled us aside and said, “You’re doing the right thing. It’s important we understand your concerns and work to help your child together.” It was a relief to hear.

I’ve gotten better at advocating for my boys ever since. No longer worried about being perceived as the “needy” parent who wants information, and to have influence in who teaches my child, etc., but instead seen as the advocate who will do whatever is needed (even if uncomfortable or scary) to ensure her sons gets needed resources, attention, etc. for the best chance of success. Finding my voice is a muscle that I continue to develop and make stronger.

For those of you who have always been vocal and will continue to be — you are an inspiration to me and others. For those of you working to find your voice…remember you need to be heard. You are the best advocate your child has.

How do you advocate for your child?

When Helping Isn’t Helping at All

I recently discovered that my youngest son has been manipulating me. Not just once or twice. This has been ongoing for quite some time. To provide you with a somewhat recent example, he has learned to manipulate my attempts to get him ready and out the door with his sweetest smiles, his best ‘I’m sorry’, sprinkled in with many ‘I love you-s’. Of course, my son doesn’t realize what he is doing is manipulation, nor does he understand what that word means. He does know that when he invokes these strategies they work!

I love my children very much and tell them when they exhibit an undesired behavior that while I might not like what they are doing I always love them. Yet here is my child over apologizing and saying, “I love you” upwards of ten times a day to delay having to do something or trying to get out of something altogether. I had to reevaluate what was really going on.

Being the baby in the family, I realized in some ways I have treated my youngest son like one. He can put on his own clothes, make his bed and clean up after himself. He’s been able to do this for a while, yet I still jump in to help him when he takes too long. I know if I just jump in I can get things done more quickly and we can be on our way. What wasn’t clear to me was the unintended message of “I don’t think you can do the task, therefore I’m going to help you,” I was sending him. Not a great confidence builder for my son.

I do have commitments that require my family to be out the door at a certain time each day. It takes all of us working as a family to make that happen. Each of us has tasks we each our responsible for, and all of us need to be done in a certain amount of time.

I invoked some strategies that I hadn’t used in a while and am helping my son move towards doing his share and feeling good about his contribution. Breaking free from the use of “sorry” and “I love you.” I now give him time limits for when things need to do done with reminders when we are nearing the end (e.g. he has 20 minutes to eat breakfast. I give him a five warning and another at two minutes if we still have a lot of food to go). A consequence is communicated up front if he is unable to meet his goal (e.g. you won’t have anything to eat until snack time at school if you don’t eat your breakfast now). It takes work, discipline and patience to implement this. It would be so much easier if I just did it myself, but in the long term, doing this the right way, holding my son accountable and giving him the framework to have success should yield better long term results around his own confidence, sense of accountability and ownership.

I won’t miss all the “sorrys” or “I love yous”.  I’ll treasure the new ones I get, because they’ll come without motivation behind them other than to express how he really feels. And while it will take practice on my part I believe there will be much satisfaction knowing I helped him more by not helping him.