Preparation

How prepared is your child to be independent?

My teens are opposites in many ways. One showers, wears deodorant, brushes and flosses without being asked. The other has to be prompted, reminded, nagged more often than not. They will take proactive action only in more extreme situations (e.g., they recognize they smell pretty bad too).

One teen can get around on public transit, without complaint. The other one prefers to be driven and picked up, and complains when these options aren’t available. 😉

Neither’s room is clean per se, but one child does put their clothes in their dresser drawers, and has made their bed more days than not. The other uses their room (more exact-their floor) as their dresser, and rarely makes their bed.

Our oldest is getting closer to the day he’ll be on his own, and my husband and I have discussed the need to get him better prepared—to live in a space he (and others) can tolerate, maybe even be proud of (that means being tidier and cleaning up after himself), getting himself to and from places without the help of mom and dad, and putting more care into his hygiene (I don’t know anyone who enjoys being around unpleasant smells).

We decided since football season has finished and our son can decide what he does after school (workout or come home), he can figure out how to get himself home — walk or public transit. The situation presented itself for us to get him doing this when my husband was tied up and I was across town when our son reached out to get a ride home. He’d have to figure out how to get home on his own (keep in mind he was about a mile away from our house). He was frustrated that we couldn’t get him but became really unhappy when we told him he’d need to start getting himself around without our help. “You can’t just change things!,” he said, “this is so unfair.” He continued to share how upsetting this change was for him. We gave him some space to calm down.

I went to talk to him after a while. He doubled-down on how ‘dumb’ and ‘unfair’ the change is. I doubled-down on the importance of us better preparing him to live on his own, and his need to demonstrate not only to us, but more importantly to himself, that he’s ready. That means he’ll need to navigate public transit sometimes, take ownership of his space (room) and personal cleanliness. He resisted. I reminded him no one likes change, it hard, and I understood he didn’t like it. He told me he was done talking to me and get out of his room. Power struggle ensues?🙃 I tell him I won’t leave until he can calm himself down. He resists (of course, trying to flex his independence). I stayed and made him show me a few deep breaths. His facial expression read I hate you so much. I get it. I had those moments with my parents too. Before I left his room, I reminded him his father and I weren’t helping him by helping him (cleaning up after him, doing his laundry, nagging him about personal hygiene, etc.). He was old enough and needs to take full ownership.

It’s tough making change, especially when resistance is high. It’s harder when it’s with someone you love. Its easier knowing it’s for my son’s benefit. He loses if we don’t allow him to grow and learn what he’s capable of.

How prepared is your child? What challenging situations have you encountered trying to help them and how did you overcome their resistance?

Strength vs. Weakness

How do you show your emotions to others?

I have to admit I struggled showing mine when I was younger. I didn’t allow myself to feel or experience my feelings as I thought they’d show weakness or an inability for me to solve problems on my own.

My oldest struggles experiencing his for similar reasons. He came home after sports practice, was mumbling under his breath, saying little to us, and closing his door in a way you knew he didn’t want it opened. He came out briefly to get dinner. When asked how he was, he looked at me incredulously and said, “practice sucked. I’m just so over it!” He’d had practices before he hated, but this felt like something more. You could tell from his body language he felt tense. I attempted to engage. He said something to the effect of “leave me alone, I’m about to blow a gasket.” My husband attempted to engage. Our son resisted. We decided we needed to let him cool down, and then revisit.

The next morning, before we needed to leave for school, I went to talk to him again. “What was going on last night?” I asked. He grumbled and shared he’d had a hard practice. I asked what made it tougher than usual. Turns out it was the wet and cold, I knew he was holding back. “What else?” I pressed. He sighed and said, “okay, when I was driving home and turning onto our street I thought I was clear, but noticed a car, at the last minute, who’s headlight was out.” I could tell they must have almost hit each other and it scared and angered him. I shared as much. “Anytime the unexpected happens, especially in the car, a normal reaction is fear — am I’m okay are they okay? — and then anger — how dare you scare me!” He looked like he was taking this in though we’ve talked about this before. I continued, “what I’m more concerned about is you being unwilling to talk about your feelings when you got home last night. What you were feeling seemed disproportionate to what you were sharing. “Mom, I don’t need a spotlight on me every time I’m upset.” “It’s not a spotlight,” I said, “it’s helping you work through your emotions. If you don’t talk to someone about your feelings and you hold them in, eventually they will come out in an explosive way that others won’t understand. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you don’t work to understand your feelings and find a healthy release for them. Talking to others is one of the easiest ways. I’m here. You’re dad is here. Talk to your friends if needed, just talk to someone.”

He appeared to be considering our conversation. He’s becoming more independent and wants to handle things more on his own. I can appreciate that, but desperately want him to avoid the all-too-common pitfall that keeping your emotions to yourself and not experiencing and working through them is a sign of strength instead of what it truly is, a sign of weakness. I learned this when I talked to a therapist for the first time later in life. Learning how powerful and cathartic it could be to talk and work through emotions lifted my confidence in navigating life and armed me to better deal with challenges as they come my way. My hope is that my son sees how sharing and working through his feelings can benefit him too.

How do you work through and express your feelings? How are you helping your kid work through and express theirs?

Combating Sticks and Stones

Words can hurt, right? Even when unintentional.

My youngest has grown tall for his age (over 6’), understands the importance of healthy eating and movement to live a long and healthy life, but eats more than the energy he’s expending, and is quickly growing out of his clothes.

He and I were out for a walk when he shared a comment one of his fellow students made, calling him fat. Of course, I wanted to know details so I asked him, “What exactly did they say?” He shared it was someone he didn’t know, it happened in the hallway, and the person was smiling, made eye contact with my son, and said, “hey man, your clothes don’t fit,” and kept walking. He wasn’t laughing, his tone wasn’t harsh, but his words landed like a punch to my son’s gut. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Sad,” he said. I understood. Of course the momma bear in me went into high gear, and I said, “if someone says that again, you can say, ‘well your personality doesn’t fit.’ It might confuse them in the moment, but should get them to think more carefully about their words to others.” I was angry.

We walked for a while more. My own feelings of insecurity and body image/shame that were more intense in my younger years came flooding back. I HATED that my child was having to experience people being so careless with their words, and trying to diminish my son and his self-worth. We talked about why the person may have said what they did — their own discomfort, or not feeling good about themselves and wanting to direct their negative energy elsewhere and my son being the unfortunate recipient. My son felt sorry for the other student and their ignorance. That student has no idea who my son is, or what he has to offer others (much like my son doesn’t know the other student).

We were fortunate that my son had been reached out to on the same day by his former school asking him to come back and volunteer, and commenting on how much he was missed. It helped ease my son’s pain. I was grateful.

Having a child that struggles with anything — looks, smarts, physical abilities, etc. is tough. People being thoughtless with their words and hurting others, just mean. I have to remind myself we all can and should do better. Be thoughtful. Be caring. Be kind.

How do you help your child when others aren’t nice? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your child and others?

Transitioning

Parenthood is all about dealing with transitions, right?

The transitions came fast and furious when my sons were babies. The transitions slowed and felt more manageable as they aged, but there is always that period of time, at least for me, at the beginning of a new phase of their life, that I am uncomfortable because I’m learning how to adjust to the newness as well.

After several challenging moments with my oldest, I started googling for books on ‘my son hates me’. I’ve always been okay with my kids being unhappy with me especially in times where I’m trying to impart a lesson, or teach a moral or value, but lately with my oldest it seems I can do nothing right, it’s embarrassing that I exist, and I’m clearly the most annoying person in the world. It’s the plight of many teenage parents, I know. 😬 I stumbled upon the book “He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself,” by Adam Price. The reviews were high so I gave it a shot. What was I missing in my interactions and communications with my son?

I read the book while our family was together for a weekend away. The context of the book is focused on boys who’ve checked out of school, but I found you can easily apply what your son is ‘checking out of’ to almost anything. For my son, he’s fine in school (we’ve taken a pretty hands off approach) with the exception of having him show us progress/reports cards online periodically. We’ve been way more involved/vocal on his activities and have tried to motivate/prompt/threaten (lost privileges) for not being more proactive. In reading the book, I took away the following—I need to give my son more space, even in his activities. He still needs guidance/guardrails, but essentially he’s capable enough and needs to take more ownership. I need (along with my husband), to step back, give him room, and let him show us who he is. This is soooo hard. My son is capable and does need room to grow. He needs to build confidence in himself and his capabilities, but oh how I still want to be able to help him navigate things with ease, and remove obstacles where I can. I’m not helping him by helping him. The age-old trap us parents can fall into. I have to tell myself to zip it (when I want to give coaching or advice), and let him g(r)o(w). Soooo hard.

How are you helping your child grow their confidence? If you have a teen, how are you helping them transition into adulthood?

Storytelling

We read stories as a family. It is much more rare as our kids have gotten older. There is often pushback — no, ugh, why??? It’s so boring!. But when our youngest came in and said, “Mom, I just read the best book, and you have to read it too,” I knew family reading might be in our future.

My son had just finished reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. It’s about how we’ve justified the mistreatment of people of color for centuries through the stories we’ve been told, and allow ourselves to believe. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the contents of the book, but after reading it, upon my son’s recommendation in less than two days, it was the essence of what I took away. The mistruths of what I’ve allowed myself to believe up to this point made me uncomfortable but was also freeing. How could I have been so blind?

Now, before we go further, I’ll share that I, by nature, am a curious person, and am often seeking how to improve myself. I know I am flawed (we all are, we’re human). What happened to George Floyd really opened my eyes to the horrors and trauma that still occur today. It made me (and I believe many of us) want to explore our beliefs and behaviors, and change things for the better. I have actively been working on that, but reading this book helped me better understand how we (collectively as a country and beyond) got to where we are at. I knew we needed to read this as a family and my youngest agreed.

In lieu of a family movie night, we changed it to reading the book. Each of us would read a chapter. While our oldest pushed back — no, ugh!, this is going to be so boring! — it was quicker to read than watch a movie, and he liked getting time back, so he agreed. 😊

We read several chapters then talked about what we read. There was some reluctance on what some family members thought of as “feeling judged” by the author. My son and I disagreed and we proceeded as a family to work through the discomfort being felt. Why do you feel judged? Could/should we be judged in the future for things we still haven’t gotten right now (think equality, gun control, environment)? YES! At the essence, we discussed whitewashing, and how we “wash” over things because they make us feel bad or uncomfortable, and our need to understand things “as they are” and try to see others through a newer, clearer lens.

It wasn’t an easy conversation, but a needed and good one, and by the end I think we all had grown a little more. We still have more reading and growing to do, but I’m grateful that we’re closer to understanding reality for others, and learning how to improve ourselves as a result — in how we engage with, appreciate, and seek more truth vs. what makes us comfortable.

What stories are resonating with you and your family? What discussions are you having as a result that’s helping you (all) grow?

Facing Fear

While Halloween is this weekend and many are looking to be scared, my youngest was faced with a fear unrelated to ghosts and goblins, but something that had been haunting him for a while — riding a bike on public streets.

My son’s school has teamed up with an organization that has the students ride bikes to a destination within a few miles of the school one day a week. When they reach their destination they do a service project and then bike back to school. It’s been a great activity for the kids. My husband and I were curious how our son was doing. He had had a bad experience at a younger age when he biked on a public road accidentally running his bike into a car (I blogged about it previously). When we asked how biking went he gave short answers, and was vague. We started pressing him for further details and he confessed that he hadn’t been riding bikes with his classmates and had been staying behind at school with the teachers. We asked him why he hadn’t talked about this before, and he shared he had been embarrassed that he couldn’t do it. We talked through options: we could help him practice riding with us at home in our neighborhood to get him more comfortable, he could talk to his teachers about ways to help him get more comfortable. He didn’t take us up on our suggestions. Another week went by, another excuse why he didn’t ride.

The night before our son’s school was due to ride bikes again, my husband and I sat our son down. We stressed the importance of pushing his comfort zone, and his need to have success riding his bike. We told him our expectation was he would ride, and working through his fear was a skill he needed to develop, and that building it now, would help him when he needs to face uncomfortable situations in the future. He agreed he would ride.

I half expected to learn my son didn’t ride his bike again, but was pleasantly surprised when he texted me on his way home from school alerting me that he had ridden with the group the entire time. I was so proud of him, but what made me happiest was seeing how proud my son was of himself. He was glowing. What a wonderful moment to share.

What does your child fear? How are you helping them work through any fears?

Jealousy

Have you ever been jealous of someone else?

It’s a rhetorical question. Everyone experiences jealousy at some point. My oldest’s thinking on his athletic capabilities is being challenged this year in new ways. Where he once was confident, he’s now unsure. Who he is, if he isn’t strong athletically is depressing him, and his outlook for what the future holds. As a parent it is heartbreaking and scary to watch (how can I support him best? Get him out of this funk? Help him see he is way more than what he’s athletically capable of).

After a game, he got in the car and said, “I suck.” He proceeded to talk and talk. He is normally not much of a talker, so the fact that he was talking let me know he needed to. We got home and sat in the car talking for almost another hour. It came up that not only was he feeling bad about himself, but also envious of others — a peer, in particular, who is gifted athletically without having to put much effort in. “This isn’t even the sport he loves, and he’s a starter every game.” I attempted to help him see things from another point of view, but he wasn’t fully listening. He had dug in on the situation being dark and hopeless for him. I worried going to bed that night — would he be okay?

The next morning, after a good nights sleep, he came out to where I was. I shared I’d like to talk with him a little more whenever he was ready. I thought he’d delay the conversation but asked for a minute and then asked what I wanted to talk about. First I asked him if he was feeling any better and he said he was. Phew! I said, “ There’s two points I didn’t make last night, that I think are important. One, things feel really intense right now. You’re 15, you’re going through puberty, you’re still growing, trying new things, and everything can feel really intense,” he nodded in agreement, I continued, “things will get better. If I could go back to my 15 year-old self, I would tell her to be a lot kinder and to not take things so seriously. The second thing I want to talk about is jealousy. We all experience it. You need to understand that while you’re jealous of others, others are jealous of you — for reasons that are out of your control — you’re tall, math comes easily to you, you don’t want for anything. You may think ‘that’s crazy, no one would be jealous of me’, but I’m telling you it’s the truth. Remember that. Your friend can’t help he’s athletically talented. That has more to do with the genes he was given from his parents than anything else. He can’t help that. Just like you can’t help that you’re tall, or good at math, right?” He nodded. “That’s all,” I concluded. “Thanks, mom,” he said. Then we sat and watched a game together on TV. He seemed calmer and more at peace. I hope that is the case.

Has your child experienced jealousy? How have you helped them come to terms or work through it?

Fundraising

What has your child had to fundraise for?

I sold cookies, candy bars, a game of Monopoly based on our local town, and wrapping paper to fundraise growing up. I asked for sponsorship in walks, runs, and other physical feats to raise money to fund trips (camp, mission trips, school outing), or a good cause (awareness, research, prevention). While all things needed the money I never felt comfortable doing it (particularly when I sold things no one wanted, like the Monopoly game based on my local town).

Fast forward to present day, my son has been asked to raise money for his sport. The funding will help pay for equipment, uniforms and other things the staff and team need. They are asking each child to send out an email to 20 people they know (family and friends) asking for financial support. In normal times I would most likely be okay with this, however, with COVID and how it has impacted so many, not to mention what seems like non-stop natural disasters (flood, fire, hurricane, etc.) everywhere you look, it doesn’t feel right. I get the program needs the money. I also get that the staff are underpaid and don’t have the extra money to cover (nor would I expect them to) the costs to fund the sports program adequately. My son and I discussed.

“You know you’re supposed to be asking others for money for the team?,” I asked. “Really? No one said anything,” he shared. I explained that the parents had received several notices and that he had to set up a page and it tracked how many people they sent the solicitation out to (by # of unique emails, and by unique donation). There were prizes he could win if enough individual people donated. I then shared my discomfort with him doing this due to COVID, and so many hurting. His father and I could make a donation to hopefully cover what was needed from him. He said he agreed. I’m sure he felt relieved he wouldn’t have to ask others for money as well.

Raising money is something we all do to help fund the underfunded or good causes. It can be uncomfortable but rewarding when we see positive progress, or outcomes. Did our son miss out on an opportunity to learn the pros and cons of fundraising? In this scenario, yes. But he has fundraised before selling pumpkins, and Christmas trees, so he knows what goes into raising money including hard labor, selling a product, and helping give the customer good service so he increases his chances of a return (happy) customer. He’s even shared that it felt like they really earned the money when they raised it this way.

Solicitation for fundraising is an easier way to bring in money for a cause, but can also be oh, so uncomfortable. Am I missing out on an opportunity for my son to learn life lessons by not having him participate, possibly. But our hope is that he’ll be on the team in future years and we can revisit fundraising this way hen it feels more appropriate (more people are doing financially better).

How does your family handle fundraising requests? How do you handle any discomfort with asking or being asked?

Summer Camp Inspiration

What is keeping your child busy this summer?

Summer camps can be a godsend for parents when school is out — with the exception of the carpooling, odd hours, and cost, right?

My oldest decided he wanted to go to a specialty sports camp. It was a single day and very intensive. He was excited to go as the camp was touted as preparing the participants to become college athletes some day. I expected to hear all about how awesome the camp was when my son got home, but he was more in a daze (he got sunburned and had been outside for ten hours, but still).

“How’d it go?,” I asked. “Okay,” my son said. He was quiet. I had expected him to add more without prompting, but to no avail, so I continued, “was it all you were hoping for?” “Not exactly,” he said. He drew out the word not. “How so?” I asked. “We’ll, they had us run drills and this one coach kept yelling at me. I thought they were going to teach me, but I don’t feel like I learned anything new.” I asked him a few more questions then gave it a rest. He was clearly disappointed with the experience and exhausted.

About a week after this my son asked me to go for a walk. That rarely happens, so I jumped at the chance to get outside and have one-on-one time with him. As we walked he talked about his plans for the summer and things he wanted to do. As we walked the conversation went back to the camp he had attended. “I just can’t get it out of my mind what that coach said,” he started, “what he was asking me to do made sense but it was my first time doing it, so unsure why he kept singling me out and yelling at me.” We talked for a while about how the coach gave his critiques. Based on how my son described it the coach ‘motivated’ by shaming. I had to stop my son and make sure he understood something very clearly. “There are different ‘leaders’ that will come in and out of your life and will come in the form of teacher, your boss, and even coach. Leadership styles vary, but the best leaders know how to get the best out of you without having to break you down. When a leader feels this is the only way they can motivate you, it says more about them, than it says about you.” I corrected myself, “It says everything about them and nothing about you.” I explained further, “When you use shame or intimidation to motivate, it will work but there can be collateral damage, I.e., devastating consequences. You don’t want someone to be the best athlete or musician or dancer or worker or (fill in the blank), but be stressed all the time, hate themselves, and/or suffer mentally. You want to be led by someone who inspires you, understands how to get you to push beyond your comfort zone, and get the best out of you. When that happens you thrive vs. survive.” I took a breathe with the hopes that what I was saying was sinking in. “If the coach taught you a new approach and you think it’s a good one, then work on getting comfortable with it, and better at it, but do not waste one second allowing how he delivered his assessment to you sink it. Just let it fall on the ground where it belongs. He doesn’t know you or your capabilities. My guess is he would single out anyone he thought might make him look bad. Pitiful.” I rested my case.

My son was still taking in what I said. He shared other comments the coach had made that were directed at the larger group that confirmed my suspicion that this coach wasn’t someone I wanted my son around, and was grateful it had only been for the one day.

We’ve all had experiences in our lives where a leader didn’t necessarily show good character. It’s disappointing when you experience it, and angering when you see (of hear after the fact) your child did. I’m just glad my son shared. I hope he’ll take this lessen on leadership and look for leadership that will help him grow in a positive and healthy way — leaders who inspire him, push him to be his best, while appreciating him for who he is as he is.

What is your child doing this summer? Who are the leaders inspiring your child?

I will be off next week enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, and will return in July.

A Quiet Place

Things seem quieter now, right?

Having the out-of-the-house distractions go away at first was difficult. We are used to having noise around us. If you are like me, prior to the pandemic having the house be quiet — no sounds coming from from kids, my screens making noise, or the sounds of running, playing or arguing — felt good for a little bit, but inevitably the silence would turn to discomfort. I’d get a feeling I was wasting time and should be doing something. If I was doing something I would be making and/or hearing noise. Cue the tv or radio coming on (at a minimum). Hearing noise would calm me.

But now there is a lot less noise all the time — less traffic on the street, no groups of people gathering, no sounds of sports being played, or the kids running around outside with their friends — part of it makes me long for the past, but I’m hopeful for the future and know the noises will return eventually.

I’m trying to really embrace the quiet. When I talk to parenting groups it’s one of the tools I recommend — making quiet time for inward reflection. To inquire within yourself how are you doing and what do you need. It’s a great opportunity to just listen and see how your mind responds. When I do this I’m often surprised by what I hear — you need a hug, you need a break, you need to hear it’s going to be okay. I feel better once I can identify my need(s) and acknowledge getting them addressed (my husband and youngest son are always willing to give good hugs; my kids can help in the house and yard or cook a meal; my husband is always there to tell me it’s going to be okay). If something comes up they can’t address, I seek out others for what I need — talking to my girlfriends to keep those connections going, checking in on my parents to make sure they are okay, etc.

While it being more quiet may make you uncomfortable I’d encourage you to lean into it and see what ahas you have around how you are doing and what you need.

How are you caring for yourself, so you can better care for your family, during this time?

I’ll be taking next Sunday off to celebrate the holiday.