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!). ūüėä

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?

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

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

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

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

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

Talking in Code

Does your child speak in code?

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

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

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

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

Road Trip

Do you enjoy traveling with your child?

I promised my son I would take him to my alma mater for a visit,¬†and a football game a few years back. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off, as my alma mater is no where near where we live, but knew we’d figure it out. We decided this summer the game we’d go to this Fall, and bought tickets.

As we got closer to going on our trip, my son and I were reaching a point in our relationship where it felt strained. He is a teenager now, and changing. He is embarrassed easily, it is hard to understand how he is feeling and how to ‘appropriately’ respond, and he¬†has taken up testing the boundaries of acceptable behavior (short hand — my child is embracing being rude). I looked at the upcoming trip as an opportunity for my son and I to¬†hit the reset button. I wanted to¬†reassess our relationship and figure out how I can better learn what’s going on with him and support him, coach him, mentor him, redirect him, versus getting upset with him. I was aware that too often I was going into “Mom” mode — where my son would do something ‘unacceptable’ and I would turn it into a teaching moment. I think my son was desperate from a break in the class. ūüôā

We left on our trip. We got our car early in the morning and headed off for school. We had a long drive ahead of us. We listened to music, we talked, he slept a little bit. It was nice. I held my tongue anytime he said something I wanted to respond to — my teacher instinct is strong — I had to remind myself that for the sake of my son and my relationship I needed to give it a brief rest. We got to campus and walked around. The campus has changed significantly since I was there. I talked about what had changed, what had stayed the same, and he asked questions about how you schedule classes, how do you take the right classes needed to graduate (he was interested in learning about credit hours worked), and how you get from one class to another on time — the campus was spread out.

We were fortunate that I had reconnected with one of my favorite former professors that still teaches at the school before we came. He encouraged me to bring my son to listen to one of his lectures. We took him up on the offer, I was excited by the prospect of seeing my former professor teach again, and my son’s interest was peeked with the opportunity to sit in on a college class. During the lecture, the professor introduced us (it was an auditorium class that probably had 100 students in attendance). He went through his lecture and at one point, reflected on me as a student, the contributions I had made, the work I had done, how I interacted with my peers and how convinced he was even then that I would do well in life. It was one of those moments that, as a parent, you couldn’t have planned or hoped for.¬†¬†Getting a public¬†acknowledgement of how others see you and no less, in front of my teenage son, and one hundred others, was more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. My son seemed to hang on ever word the professor said during the class. I think (hope) he may have even started to see his mom in a new light after what the professor said.

We went to the game the following day. There were times when I thought my son was bored or indifferent about what we were doing, because he was being quiet. But every so often, he would lean over to me and say, “Mom, this is pretty cool.” I was seeing that I’d been right, I did need to give myself and son some space to better ‘see’ him and understand him.

We got back on the road the day after the game. It was a wonderful trip, but it was still nagging me that I hadn’t had a heart to heart with my son. As we neared the end of our road trip, I said to him, “You know mom loves you. We’ve had a really nice trip. You sometimes give mom a hard time or are rude, and I want to understand why. Do you know why you do it? Because if you do, we can work together on it and figure it out.” He paused for a second and said, “Mom, I’m not sure why I do it.” You could tell his wheels were turning. “Okay,” I said, “If something comes to mind, let’s talk about it. I love you and I don’t want us to fuss at each other or be upset with each other all the time.” He nodded and I left it at that.

It was a trip of a lifetime for me. One I will cherish forever. Spending time with my son, and us reaching this new level of understanding was priceless. Everything else — the professor, the class, the campus, the game, was icing on the cake.

How are you connecting with your child? How are you navigating any strain (if it exists) in your relationship?

 

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not.¬†Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me. ¬†When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in,¬†waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane¬†chose to¬†pull in front of me and partially block¬†the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse.¬†The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go,¬†not allowing¬†me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more¬†what my upset self felt —¬†MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me¬†made it¬†through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak,¬†and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and¬†honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as¬†role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give¬†me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change¬†my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?

Let’s Talk About It

How comfortable is your child speaking openly? To you? Or Others?

My husband and I are working to help our kids better improve their communication skills. He and I have learned over the course of our relationship that what and how you talk to one another matters, and if you can clearly get across how you are feeling and what’s behind it, it can really help the other person and how they respond.

My oldest son is good about communicating how he is feeling, but not always in the most effective way. He can come on strong or ‘lash out’ as his younger brother would say. He can be defensive and will talk over others until they stop trying to talk over him.

Our¬†boys went to visit their grandparents and when they were back home we asked them about their trip. My oldest shared a few fun things they had done. My younger son started to share a story that my older son clearly didn’t want told. He became defensive, loud and was unwilling to calm down. So, my husband sent him to his room to cool off. We tried to change the mood of the room, and asked my younger son what fun things he had done on the trip. He shared a few memories, including visit a cemetery with his grandparents (where grandma’s parents are¬†buried).¬†We knew from past experiences¬†anything that reminds my son of death makes him sad. He is unique is how early in life he understands the fragility of life and how¬†fleeting it can be — that’s what makes him sad.¬†We asked him how he felt about going to the cemetery. He said it made him a little sad, but he felt okay. He became quiet. Reflective. He looked like he was on the verge of crying. “Are you okay?” I asked. “It’s okay if going to the cemetery made you sad.” “No, that’s not it,” he said, “I just think¬†my life is bad and I don’t like this feeling.” I was surprised by what he said. My husband and I started to ask questions to try to get to the bottom of what was going on. “What do you mean life is bad?” I asked. “I don’t know. I just¬†don’t like the feelings I’m feeling lately. I used to be happy a lot, but now I’m not happy as much,” he said.¬†He is my happy kid, so hearing this wasn’t easy.

After inquiring some more, he shared that what was behind his somber mode was how he and his brother were interacting.¬†He felt that he would¬†say something and his brother would attack him, call him¬†names, and making him feel bad about himself. He¬†didn’t like how his brother was treating him,¬†which¬†is understandable, but what was surprising was how concerned he was about his brother. “I wonder what he’s feeling to say what he’s saying,” he shared. We could see his concern.

My husband got¬†my older son out of his room and¬†spent some¬†time with him discussing the situation, and how he had been talking to his brother. My¬†younger son and I¬†sat together and discussed strategies for how he could better communicate and advocate for himself with his brother. We wanted to make sure he knew that he shouldn’t¬†allow his brother to talk to him however he wanted to. He needed to stand up for himself, and let his brother know when he wasn’t okay with how he was being treated.

My husband and older son¬†joined us and we sat as a family and talked about the situation. At first, the boys started rehashing the incident that had happened while they were away, with each person defending their position and how the other person was wrong. “This isn’t helpful¬†guys,” my husband shared, “there is a lesson to learn here in how to better communicate with one¬†another.¬†When one of you doesn’t like what the other is saying or how they are saying it, you have the right¬†to tell them. And the other person needs to listen. Not yell or defend your position. Just listen. If you¬†don’t understand why the other person is saying what they are saying, ask questions to get clarification. If you can learn these¬†skills now you’ll be way ahead of the game. I¬†never had these¬†types of conversations when I was your age. I didn’t¬†figure there was a better way to communicate until I was much much older. Learn from this.”

My boys looked at each other. I added to my older son, “You know, your brother was more concerned about you and what you were feeling than what you said and how you made him feel. Remember, everyone here loves each other.” My older son smiled and nodded¬†when he realized how much his younger brother cared for him, even when he wasn’t treating him very well.

That ended our family conversation. My boys seemed closer following the talk. There will inevitably be more work to do in helping our sons improve their communication with each other, but knowing that they are more aware and can start to hone these skills now gives me hope for how they will communicate in the future.

How are you honing your communication skills? How are you helping your child help hone theirs?