One New Day at a Time

How are you getting through each day with your family at home?

My husband and I went for a long walk in our neighborhood early in the morning over the weekend. Few people were up so it was easy to social distance from the handful of other neighbors we encountered. As we walked we talked about how different things were since the Coronavirus changed how we live. As we talked I reflected how I’d been experiencing a similar feeling I hadn’t felt in a while. It was a fear of the unknown tempered with a need to push through the fear — it was a feeling I experienced when I first became a parent.

I remember after my first son was born how I felt almost disconnected from my body — seeing my baby, adjusting to the baby’s needs, learning this ‘new’ normal, and trying to shake the discomfort I felt — adjusting to being a new parent. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be a good parent when I didn’t have any experience? I was learning as I went, and it felt scary. But I had to adjust, getting paralyzed with fear wouldn’t serve my son, or me well. I had to walk through the fear knowing eventually I’d get comfortable with how my life was changing.

We are adjusting. Each day seems a little easier than the last. Much like it did in those early days of parenting. I move forward with the knowledge that I did it before and I can do it again — one new day at a time.

How are you adjusting to how the virus is impacting your family’s life?

Going Viral

How is the Coronavirus impacting you?

It’s scary to think of this new disease that has emerged. Taking lives with no vaccine available. Having kids the fear is compounded. You’re worried about everyone wondering how you keep your family members safe. You hear about the virus everywhere you go. The virus has literally gone viral.

Traveling is now a challenge. Do I still fly for a business meeting? Does my son take the bus to school? What about grocery shopping and being in public spaces? And well, living your life like you normally would.

My youngest son came down with a cold this week. Of course, the first thought is ‘could this be the virus’ but he only has a runny nose, no fever or any of the other symptoms. We decided to be on the safe side and keep him home from school to ensure he didn’t pass along his germs to others.

We are also trying to keep our kids from stressing out. Nothing is worse, in my opinion, than when a child sees their parent is genuinely scared. While my husband and I may worry about the virus, I can’t say we’re scared. We are calmed by knowing that if any of us come down with it our chances of getting a deadly form of the virus are low, we live in a city with good medical care, and we’re taking the recommended precautions (washing our hands frequently, not touching our face, etc.). Still, the unknown can be unnerving. I suppose I’m trying to live by the British war time motto, Keep Calm and Carry On. Not easy, but necessary — particularly for the sake of my kids and helping them navigate this.

How are you helping your child stay safe? How are helping them during this scary time?

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

Zip Lining through Fear

Does your child seek out adventure or shy away from it?

My oldest loves thrill rides, and is more often than not, open to trying something new. Even if it might be a little bit scary. My youngest is opposed to thrill rides, and generally opposed to trying anything that involves taking a visible risk. I understand. I was scared of the same things when I was young, but through the encouragement of my parents (largely my father who reminded me, time and again, that I could do this, and that everything would be okay) I learned to not only overcome my fears but be willing to take risks.

We decided to go to a zip line operator to do something fun as a family over the holiday weekend. We knew going in we’d all be a little nervous once we got to the top of the zip line, but thought the fun of doing it together was worth it.

I went first, my youngest son after me followed by my husband and his older brother. When my youngest got to the first platform he was scared. I thought well goodness we’re not even half way up. He looked at me and said, “A bee is stinging me.” The platform wound around the tree making it awkward for me to get to him quickly to try to help. I managed to get to him, saw there was a bee on his shirt and tried to shake it off. I thought I had when my son cried, “Mom, it’s stinging me. Make it stop.” I thought the bee was gone, but when I pulled my son’s shirt away from him the bee flew out. I thought oh no, do we go on? Do we stop? We were only on the first platform. After everyone had calmed down I looked at my son. “The bee is gone now. Are you okay? Are you ready to move on?” I don’t know what possessed me to say that, maybe it was the fact that my son is getting older and things like this can happen. I didn’t want the bee to be the end of our experience. He nodded and we kept moving forward. We got to the next platform and while crossing on the bridge (which honestly was pretty scary as there were big openings where you could see the ground directly below your feet) his harness came down around his legs. This can’t be happening I thought. Maybe someone was trying to tell us not to zip line? Thankfully a staff member saw what happened and quickly got to him and got his harness back on and tightened properly. We finally reached the zip line. He was behind me as I got ready to go. “I’m scared,” he said. “I am too,” I said, “I can only get through my fear if I go.” I stepped off the platform and off I went. Almost instantly my fear was gone and I was enjoying zipping down the line. “It’s great!” I told my son as I was soaring through the air, “You’re going to love it.” It took him a while to get his courage up to go after me. My husband was on one end encouraging him and I was on the other. After a few minutes, he stepped off the platform and came hurdling towards me. I could see that he too had moved from fear to that’s what I was so worried about?

When he was off the zip line he was so proud of himself, and so was I. He had many opportunities to turn back, say “I’m done”, but he didn’t. He showed himself he’s tougher and more capable than even he could have believed.

How does your child work through fear? How do help show them what they are capable of?

Kid Pride

What makes you proud?

My youngest son starred as Aslan, the lion, in his school’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He has participated in school plays each year, and has had speaking parts, but this year’s role was as one of the lead characters meant more lines to memorize, and more pressure to get things right.

We rehearsed the lines over a few weeks. I was impressed at how much he had learned on his own, and really enjoyed working with him on his lines– it made me feel like I was helping him in some way.

Following the final rehearsal he came out of the dressing room looking down. I could tell he needed some space. I know how tense it can be in the final days of practice and thought maybe some of his fellow actors, or the director had given him some feedback he didn’t want to hear. When we were close to leaving the building we saw the director, who asked my son if he would come early the next night so he and the other leads could work on a couple of scenes. My son broke down. “I’m not having fun anymore. I don’t want to do this.” I was caught off guard by the comment and was thinking how do I get him back onboard? Aslan not being in the play.would be noticed. ūüėä Thankfully, the director approached my son in a way that indicated this wasn’t the first time one of her actors had second thoughts about their role. “What’s going on?,” she asked. “People are going to laugh at me. The other actors aren’t taking the play seriously. It’s going to be horrible.” The director gave a knowing look as if she’d had this conversation with many others in the past, and reminded him of plays from previous years “other times we were a lot less prepared than we are now and everything turned out fine.” She spent more time talking my son through the moment, giving other examples about actors who were nervous or stressed or didn’t think others were taking things as seriously. She finished by telling him how important he was to her. “You’ve been acting for me for years, and have grown so much. You don’t realize it now, but you’ve got this. You’re going to do great tomorrow.” She reminded him of the first play he did for her, Elephant and Piggy. He laughed remembering his part from long ago. His demeanor changed. He left the dark cloud he’d been under and seemed to move to a lighter brighter one.

Opening night he was in better spirits. He was relaxed, and seemed more ready. He nailed the performance. I realize I’m his mom, but I’m not sure anyone could have done a better job than he did. All family members who were there couldn’t have been prouder of him, but I don’t think that mattered. What did was that he realized what he was capable of, and that he was proud of himself, and nothing feels as good as that.

What makes your child proud?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

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

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

How is part of your child’s village?

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

An Uncertain Future

With a new school year right around the corner, there is a lot of angst in our house. What will the new school year be like? Will my children fit in, make friends and be okay?

As parents, we ask ourselves these questions each year.

This year,¬†my family¬†will be at another crossroads. My oldest will be heading off to middle school. There is a lot of angst for him, even though he will be going to a school with many familiar faces, the unknown is concerning to him. The school is much larger than his elementary school (with almost 3x the number of students). It would be overwhelming to anyone. Throw in that he is quickly becoming a teen, and all that comes with it — being more self conscious and concerned with how others view you — and your anxiety would rise too. I remember middle school and I shudder. Of all my school years, it’s those that I wish I could have skipped. They were awkward, I never felt comfortable in my own skin, and experienced a heightened sense of needing to survive to get¬†through¬†those years. I’m desperately trying not to project my experience on my son, and am hopeful his time in middle school will be much better mine.

My younger will be in elementary school for the first time on his own. Of course, he too has many classmates who are familiar to him, but I’m anxious about how he will do on his own. Part of me knows I need to give him more credit. He’s a resilient kid, and will figure it out.

As a parent, I’m reminded during times like these how much is out of our control. I can certainly try to help my children prepare for the school year, but ultimately they will be the ones going to school and while I can help them as much¬†as possible¬†up front, I have to let go and let them fail or succeed on their own.

Parenting is tough when the future is uncertain. Have I done all I can to prepare them (with knowledge, insights, strategies for how to deal with different situations, etc.)? I guess we will see.

How do you help your kids get ready for the new school year? How do you help them navigate being in a new environment?

 

Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.¬† As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety¬†as a new parent, and fearing she¬†is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.¬† “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just¬†fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her¬†some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent¬†and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?