Debate

It never feels good to lose an argument. Especially one you’ve been preparing for.

My youngest’s class was preparing for Oxford style debates on topics regarding social issues, equity, and diversity. His team’s topic was the federal minimum wage, and his team would be arguing in favor of it. We talked about the debate in advance. He shared some of his arguments and his team’s counterpoints for what the opposition would likely bring up. He was ready.

When he got home, following the debate, he was ecstatic. “Over 80% of the students and adults in attendance (made up of student family members) voted in our favor. The other group got only 15%.” He was pleased and thought his team had surely won.

Imaging his (and my) surprise when he came home a few days later and shared the teacher had given the win to the other team, noting how well researched their information was, and their argument strong. My son was sad, disappointed (his team had gotten 80% of the vote!), and a bit confused. “I don’t get it. Our argument was just as well researched and we had way more support.” I understood the emotions he was experiencing, but didn’t have enough information to give him a ‘counter argument’ to why the other team had ‘won’ or in what areas the other team exceeded. My son could see my wheels turning and attempted to address what he thought was coming, “no, Mom, I feel bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. I feel like a dummy for being so wrong.” Of course, this didn’t stop me. 😊

“First, we don’t know why your teacher awarded the other team the win. I get it’s disappointing, “ he stopped me to let me know it was okay for him to have and feel his feelings, and I agreed (though I was super proud of the self-awareness and emotional intelligence my son was exhibiting). I continued, “when do we learn the most?” He gave me one of those I-know-the-answer-Mom-and-you’re-so-annoying. “When we ‘lose’. We reflect on what happened, what we can do better. You really aren’t experiencing a loss here.” He was still upset and we agreed it best to just let him feel his feelings for the time being.

Later that same week, we had end-of-term conferences. My son’s school is still small enough they can do these things. During the discussion the teacher (whom had overseen the debate, and teaches my son in several topics) shared my son’s progress, where he was strong, and areas of focus. Then he brought up the debate. Not to explain why my son’s team lost, but to praise him for his compelling closing argument. He played us audio of the event. My son spoke with passion, and confidence. He engaged the audience (including the adults) in a show-of-hands question segment (how many of you had minimum wage jobs? How many of you had too much money from working those jobs? Etc)—it was impressive. My son was surprised the teacher had thought so highly of his performance and he couldn’t stop smiling. The debate he’d had internally with himself over ‘what he hadn’t done ‘right’, or better than his peers, lifted. He regained his confidence.

It’s amazing to me, even as an adult, the value we put into how others see us, and how we let it effect how we see ourselves. Too often, we don’t get that second set of feedback or information like my son got from his teacher. Imagine if we did. Wouldn’t that be something? Maybe a good question for a future debate.

How do you help your child when they are disappointed by a loss? How do you (or others such as their teachers or coaches) help them regain their confidence?

I’ll be off for Spring Break with the family and will be back later this month,

Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

Dreams Dashed

Have you ever had a dream dashed?

When I was young I swam competitively and loved it. I won most races and had my sights on being an Olympic swimmer — I had my heart set on it. I didn’t fully understand the investment of time or money that goes into making it to the Olympics, I figured if I continued to compete at the level I was it would just happen.

My family moved when I was 10 to a town that didn’t have a swim team with 30 miles of it so my Olympic dreams were dashed. I can recall being very upset with my parents that they didn’t realize the impact to me. Of course, my parents probably realized that they wanted to support me, but weren’t willing to let my love of sport guide what and where our family went next. My parents were more fully forgiven when I joined masters swimming (competitive swimming for adults) many years later and learned I had strong upper body strength but lacked the kicking strength needed to be at an elite level. In hindsight, my parents probably saved me a lot of grief, though I have wondered how far I would have gone if I’d have continued to swim in my youth.

My oldest has begged us to play tackle football since he was very young. We have said no, repeatedly, knowing the dangers of head trauma and how dangerous the sport can be. Our son never wavered. He would pitch us on why he should play, what he’d miss out on if he didn’t, and I have to admit I understood (my inner swimmer, in particular ) where he was coming from. He put a lot of effort into conditioning, even during the pandemic, and when they finally allowed students to do sports, we allowed him to join the team (with caveats, of course. A concussion will take him off the team).

He was nervous and excited about starting football. They practice daily and their first scrimmage is coming up. They are figuring out what positions the kids will play at and that has created a fracture in my son’s dreams of being a star football player. He’s played quarterback and wide receiver in flag football — very successfully in both positions. He’s grown though, and is more muscular now. He doesn’t have the arm for quarterback yet for the high school ball, isn’t running as fast as he used to and can block, but is up against guys twice his weight. After practice he came home defeated. “I suck,” he commented. “I don’t think they’re even going to play me.” I could see how devastated he was. As a parent, it’s one of those moments you wish you could take on your child’s pain for them. I reminded him that he is growing and the timing might not being aligning for him to be in ideal shape for any position now, but to keep working at it, and by fall, when sports resume, he’ll be ready. That didn’t seem to help. My husband also spoke to him and reminded him the importance of getting back up and trying again. My son’s dreams of being an star athlete are currently dashed, but we’ll continue to encourage him to not give up on himself so easily. This is a time of growth for him (mentally and physically). To see what he’s made of and capable of. I hope he sticks with this dream and sees it through and doesn’t look back one day and wonder what if.

How are you helping your child follow their dream? How are you helping them when their dream is in jeopardy?

Revenge

What game does your child like to play?

My youngest is into playing Minecraft with his friends. My son is always eager to get online with his friends, but has encountered some challenges. They play on a private server (one of the boys dad’s set it up for the kids) — I appreciate it because I know who he’s playing with. It gave my son comfort too, until he learned some of his friends weren’t playing ‘nice.’

My son would enter the game and find out that someone else had been in the game and had stolen some of his diamonds. I understand this game enough to be dangerous so forgive me if I don’t get all the details right. Essentially my son had to mine diamonds, which are desirable, and having them taken away, by a friend no less, didn’t feel good. The first time it happened he was angry and he let his peers know it. He has an awareness about his feelings and how others impact him that puts me in awe. I didn’t have his level of awareness until my 30s. He let his friends know how he felt and why he felt the way he did.

It was interesting to hear the reactions — mind you I was in another room but within ear distance. First, there was denial by the group, then one tried to play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. My son held firm. His emotion was changing from anger to sadness — he was disappointed any friend would do this, and worse, lie about it. Someone just admitting they had done it would have been much easier for him to deal with. He calmed himself but he was rattled.

He had more gaming time with his friends without issue, but eventually there was another incident—this time he’d asked the group to wait for him to start the game because they were going to get to the end together, but when he logged on, he found they had already reached the end, though they tried to pretend they hadn’t (again, I’m not super familiar with how that works, but my older son confirmed this is possible). My son was very upset. I could hear him telling his friends, “you’re lying,” over and over. The friends changed their story and all but admitted their guilt. Again if his friends had just fessed up, he could have handled it much better.

We had a long conversation about friendship over dinner as a family. My older son, who isn’t overly protective of his brother, wanted to get revenge. “Let’s go in and put dynamite under their (Minecraft) house and blow it up!” he suggested. We all agreed that wasn’t the answer. Instead we talked about what being a good friend is, and how it can be hard when you’re young, especially when you’re going through puberty, trying to figure out who you are, and trying to fit it. It can make you do things that don’t necessarily align with who you truly are, or the friend you want to be. That’s one of the gifts my son benefits from by having autism. He is who he is all the time. He doesn’t have the awareness or ability to manipulate who he is for any given situation. His friends (true friends) will benefit from this as they’ll never have to worry about him treating them any differently regardless the situation.

We decided awareness (open eyes of what his friends were doing), and speaking his truth going forward are his best weapons. He’ll have to make some determinations if his buddies are really friends, he’ll never have to question his motives or behavior, and that is much more satisfying than revenge.

Has your child been hurt by a friend? How did you help them work through it?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

To Forget or to Fail?

Have you ever struggled to do something, and when you couldn’t figure it out you felt like you were a failure and worried about your abilities to do the task?

I’ve certainly experienced this, and my youngest son has experienced it too. It started with….the spelling test. Each week my son comes home with a list of words he needs to practice for his class’s spelling test. He copies the words on Monday and is supposed to practice them each night. We were studying before a Friday test, my husband and I trying to help him learn his words. He was getting confused by how to spell the words: ocean and motion, count and country. They sound like they should have similar spelling, but do not. Or are spelled similarly, but sound like they aren’t. My husband and I offered up a couple of tricks for how to remember the difference in how the words are spelled.  We had our son write the words down, we used the ‘flow’ of the letters (e.g. think about the letters trying to stay together in the water) to try to help him remember how to spell ocean. We had him hop on one foot and recite “t-i-o-n” (we thought it would be a fun way to get the letters stuck in his memory). You could see him trying so hard to remember how to spell the words. He was struggling and very frustrated that it was so hard for him. There were tears of frustration at one point. It was difficult to watch, and realize our efforts were not having the intended impact. After 30 minutes at this, we turned a corner, and he could spell each word. We decided he was as prepared as he was going to be for the test.

The following day, when our son got home from school, we asked how the spelling test went. “Okay,” our son replied. “Did you remember how to spell ‘ocean’ and ‘motion’?” I inquired. My son paused for a moment, his face got scrunched up and he said, “No, I forgot.” You could hear the disappointment in his voice. “I guess I failed,” he concluded. I was still processing what he said when my husband jumped in. “Does forgetting how to spell a word mean you failed?” My son looked at him confused…you could almost see his mind working to figure out how to answer this, questioning himself and thinking the right answer might be maybe? My husband jumped back in and answered it for him. “No, it doesn’t mean you failed. It means you forgot. People forget things all the time. You just have to keep practicing and eventually you’ll get it.” My son seemed a bit relieved. He took a breath and relaxed, he understood he wasn’t a failure because he couldn’t remember a few words. He had an opportunity, and the potential to be a great speller. Persistence, practice and not giving up on himself was all it would take.

It was a good lesson for my son, and a good reminder for myself. Even as an adult I sometimes get frustrated when I struggle to do something correctly the first time around even if it’s new to me (I’m an adult after all, aren’t we supposed to know how to do pretty much everything by now?). Yet, I know that’s not true. We all are learning all the time. We can be new to learning something at any age. We have to be easy on ourselves, understand where we are in the learning process, and keep at it until we get it. We have to model how to handle these struggles to our kids.

How do you handle and/or internalize your own struggles? What do they say about you? How does your child experience struggles? How do you help them see them in a different (and more positive) light?