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?

A Death in the Family

How do you explain death to a child?

My uncle recently passed away after his health had been declining for a while. He was a wonderful man, and an amazing uncle who was an important part of my life, but knowing that he is no longer in pain gives me some peace.

My boys had met and visited their great uncle a handful of times. Twice this past year. When I realized my uncle didn’t have long to live I let the boys know. My oldest said, “That’s sad.” My youngest had a much stronger reaction. “He’s going to die?” His eyes watered as he began to cry. After a few minutes he said, “I didn’t think I would experience death this early.” We talked about my uncle and I explained that it was okay to cry, normal to cry, but to remember the good life my uncle had had, and how lucky we were for knowing him. It seemed to ease my son’s pain, but I knew his tears were a combination of both my uncle’s passing and the realization that everyone will eventually die. It’s hard to come to terms with that when you’re young. I remember having a similar realization around his age and how sad, angry and scared it made me.

Death is hard to explain. Grieving is unique to the individual and situation. I hope my son doesn’t dwell on death, and his loved ones mortality, but do hope he’ll share how he’s experiencing and processing the loss of this loved family member so we can help him work through his grieving.

How have you helped your child work through the pain and emotions of losing a loved one?

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?

Each of us has a little Mr. Burns in us

Have you ever had your child make an observation that was both insightful and hilarious?

My boys have recently been exposed to The Simpsons. I’ve watched The Simpsons most of my adult life and attempted not to expose them to it for as long as possible. I remember my mom,¬† who was an elementary teacher, wasn’t a fan — she didn’t like the show and what it was ‘teaching‘ the kids (particularly Bart being rude to his father, principal Skinner, teachers, etc.). As a younger person, I thought my mom was overreacting to the show, but as a parent and seeing how influenced kids are by what they see (my boys included), I got it. I’ve always enjoyed the show, but felt my boys needed to be a little older so they would understand right from wrong and appreciate that this is a cartoon, not an acceptable way to act in real life.

After many conversations about it with their father and I, we finally allowed our kids to watch an episode. They were instantly hooked. My oldest in particular. He loves the situations the characters get themselves into and out of, the relationships between the characters and the humorous way they take on topics (political or otherwise). Side note: did you know there was an episode that predicted Donald Trump would be President (Bart to the Future, which first aired in 2000)? Yikes! I’m sure I thought that idea was hilarious in 2000 — not so much anymore.¬† Regardless, I didn’t remember that episode until my son watched it.

My family and I were in the car together coming home. My oldest asked why people do mean things to each other? After my husband and I attempted to explain why this happens — one person feels hurt or doesn’t like what the other person is doing, or they are feeling bad about something (maybe themselves) and take that out on someone else, or sometimes they do mean things because they can (get away with it) — my son interrupted us with a keen observation. “We all have a little Mr. Burns in us, don’t we?” He continued, “Mr. Burns only thinks about himself and what he wants. He doesn’t think or care about how his actions will effect others.” When he finished, I asked my younger son, “What do you think about what your brother just said?” He replied, “Excellent” in his best C. Montgomery Burns voice. Oh my goodness, did that make all of us laugh.

As we enter the holiday season, we can feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled, but this time of year is supposed to be joyous, festive, and a time of kindness. I thought my son’s insights were spot on when he enlightened me that we all have a little Mr. Burns in us. We do. Especially when times are stressful (particularly this time of year), or we just want things to go a certain way (our way?).¬† It’s up to us what we do with it.

How do are you handling the busyness of the season? How do you handle stress (and perhaps your inner-Mr. Burns) during this time of year?

 

Raising a Man

 

How are you raising your child to become the adult you want them to be?

I grew up with sisters and am learning about raising boys in real-time. Boys were always a puzzle to me growing up. They could be caring and kind, and then aggressive, dismissive and cruel. What makes them act this way?, I’ve often thought. I’ve heard throughout my life (both as a child, teen and now parent), “It’s easier to raise boys than it is girls.” This never made sense to me. The beauty of girls is that we are¬†allowed to have¬†emotions.¬† And while there¬†may be¬†room for improving how we experience or work through our emotions, we are¬†not conditioned to hide or repress them. Boys don’t often tell you what’s going on. My oldest son talks to my husband and I and is pretty open about what’s going on — yet he too really struggles to understand the emotion(s) he is feeling and what’s causing them. He lumps them all into two categories: those that make me feel good, and those that make me feel bad.

Watching my sons grow, I am starting to see them exhibit those same confusing behaviors I saw from boys when I was growing up. Particularly from my oldest. He can be loving and kind, empathetic and thoughtful, and then on what seems like a turn-of-the-dime, he can be rude, dismissive and cruel — whether its to his classmates, friends, brother or my husband and I. Consequences seem to have minimal impact, it’s almost like he can’t help himself. My biggest concern as I watch him grow is what kind of man he will be. I want to believe that what my husband and I are teaching him the ‘right’ things: appreciating diversity, equality, and what you have, being kind to one another, and sharing your gifts with others. He’s for equality, diversity, fairness,¬†and taking care of the planet, yet I see him struggling with being kind. He often directs feeling of negativity towards his younger brother, or us. I understand the desire to vent to those that you know will still love you and be there for you, but it’s draining on my husband and¬†our patience and takes a toll on his younger brother. He shared what he deemed a ‘good day’ that included playing volleyball well in P.E. (I’m good with this), and then watching a female classmate miss a shot and fall in a way that was ‘hilarious’ – “Mom, I couldn’t stop laughing,’ he said (I’m not good with this). I attempted to ask him how he thought the girl felt (I’m sure embarrassed) and he acted as though I were purposely trying to be a killjoy. “Mom, I said I had a good day.” and he immediately ended the conversation.

I want my child to be happy, but not at the expense of others. Particularly not at a women’s expense. Maybe I’m overly sensitive because¬†overt sexism and misogyny are¬†finally getting the exposure we¬†women have needed to¬†change what is ‘acceptable’ behavior. I feel like I’m at a pivotal point in my son’s maturing and need to ‘up’ my parenting¬†skills a notch¬†to ensure we’re¬†guiding him down a path toward manhood that¬†he’ll one day be proud of. I want him to be kind to others. I want him to see the benefit — not only to others to how he’ll feel. I don’t know how else to do that then exhibiting the behavior myself, and getting him to think (rethink) how he interacts with others.

What challenges are you facing in helping your child to grow to be the adult you hope they will be? How are you helping your child?

 

 

 

 

Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

It’s Natural

Does your child like nature movies?

Mine are obsessed with Disneynature films. Every time a promotion comes on for an upcoming movie my kids get excited. I love their enthusiasm for wanting to see these films, and have enjoyed seeing each one myself.

We recently went to see Born in China. The film follows several animals for a year with a focus on the cycle of life. I had heard that the movie had a sad part, but wasn’t prepared for it when it came. *** Spoiler Alert — please stop reading if you have not seen the film and do not want¬†to know what happens ***¬† The mother snow leopard is killed in battle while trying to get food for her young. As a mom I related to the mother snow leopard and her desire to do whatever it takes to feed and protect her young. My heart ached for the cubs she left behind. My mind thinking what will happen to them without her? Will they be okay?¬† My gut told me they would, but I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt. My oldest turned towards me. “Mom, you’re not crying are you?” he said. He clearly is leaving childhood and entering teen-hood. He would have shared my feelings only a year or two ago and now he was being stoic and acting as though it shouldn’t make anyone cry. He looked over at his younger brother, who seemed to be handling the mother’s death much better than I. He seemed un-phased. My initial reaction was please don’t let him too be growing out of openly feeling his feelings too.¬† When we got to the car, I asked the kids which parts they liked the most, and which parts they liked the least. My oldest sad he didn’t like it when the snow leopard family was made to leave their initial home by another. I said mine was when the mother died. My youngest chimed in and said, “She died? I just thought she was in a deep sleep.” He became visibly upset and his older brother¬†quickly jumped¬†in, “You’re not going to cry now are you?” To which I replied, “He and I can cry if we want to.” He let it go.

I’m not sure my youngest cried about the mom dying, but it was reassuring to know he was still willing to feel his feelings and not deny them. My oldest is growing up. I will continue to encourage him to feel his feelings, but know he wants to blend in with his peers and appear aloof and un-phased instead of allowing himself to express how he really feels. It’s a challenge to raise emotionally intelligent human beings, but I’m not gonna stop trying.

Disneynature showed a preview for Dolphins which will premiere Earth Day 2018 and there’s a good chance my boys and I will take in the movie. If nothing else for the beauty and intimacy you feel seeing¬†with the animals in their natural environment. The movie may have parts that will make me cry, it may not, but I’ll treasure it either way because I’ll get to see it with my kids.

Where do you see similarities in parenting in nature?

 

Mom in the Mirror

Has your child ever done anything that reminds you of you?

My oldest son is entering puberty and his mood swings are becoming slightly more pronounced. He is a sweet and caring kid, but it doesn’t take much to set him off. He will lash out moving from being fine to not fine relatively quickly. Moments that are most likely to trigger this — someone cheating in a game (playground or soccer field), someone embarrassing him (this one’s tricky, because you’re never sure what’s going to embarrass him), or him not knowing how to do something right the first time (it doesn’t matter if he’s had instruction on what to do or not, he has this expectation he’s supposed to know everything and be good at everything).

Thankfully, we’ve had some amazing and caring adults (teachers, coaches, professionals) who have provided us with resources (their time, talent, books, etc.)¬†to help him, but it’s still difficult to see your child struggle.

On a recent morning,¬†I had a time¬†table to get my son where he needed to be, and myself to work. My son, while aware we needed to get to various places, didn’t understand¬†my urgency. He wanted to play a game for a few minutes longer and I couldn’t wait, I needed him to stop playing the game¬†so I could get where I needed to go. I told him as much and he proceeded to express his dissatisfaction with me and how I was negatively impacting him and his day. It was an explosive burst of¬†energy directed straight at me. I was not in the mood to receive it. I promptly shut the conversation down,¬†shared my¬†dislike for his tone of voice and took away his gaming privileges. Immediately following I realized I had to calm myself down.¬† I was going to have my own explosive outburst if I¬†didn’t.

We rode in silence until we got to our¬†destination. When we¬†got out of the¬†car,¬†I didn’t want the silence to continue, so I said, “Hey, buddy,¬†you know that I love you. I just don’t like how you talked to me back there. That wasn’t okay. I understand you¬†are upset you couldn’t¬†finish your game, but you can’t use that tone, or say those kinds of things to me.” He started to defend himself and his actions, I could have defended my position, but I’m his parent and I wasn’t¬†interested in letting the direction of the conversation continue. “You had something you wanted to do. Mom has something she needs to do. I have to get to work. I couldn’t wait for you to finish your game.” He wasn’t happy but didn’t seem quite as angry as he was earlier. We parted ways, but I¬†couldn’t help thinking about what happened. What was my role in all this? How could I help my son and I avoid this in the future?

It occurred to me that my son and I had something in common. As much as I’d like to think I’m a good communicator, my son reminded me that I’ve still got room to grow. And my son does too. Our situation happened because were weren’t communicating — our wants or our needs proactively. Because I’m the adult (and his parent) I could easily believe my needs always trump his — and while in many cases they do, that’s not always the case. My son should¬†be able to voice¬†his needs and wants. It’s not my job to cave to him, or give him what he wants, but to listen to him, allow him to be heard, and then make a decision. It would be easy to say my son has the issue, but this one goes both ways, and¬†as the adult and parent, it’s my job to model behaviors I want to see from him. My hope is my son will continue to get me to revisit my interactions with him. Am I doing right be him as his parent? What can I work on to be better, and what can I help him getting better at?

My son forced me to look in the mirror, has your child forced you? If so, how did you handle it?

Soccer Mom

Did your parent(s) ever embarrass you as a child?

Of course they did, right?¬† It’s a rite of passage for most parents. While I’ve been open with my boys that mom and dad will likely embarrass them from time to time, it will never be intentionally done. They know they can call us on it, and we (my husband and I) have to own it, and try to make it right (e.g. don’t do it again).¬† What I didn’t anticipate was where I’d have the most trouble not¬†being a repeat offender¬†— at the soccer field.

I am not one of those parents who yells at the kids or the refs and tries to correct them.¬†Instead I’m guilty of¬†calling a play-by-play with what the kids are doing on the field, like it’s some how going to help the outcome of the game. “Nice pass to Jake.” “Way to block it, Luke.” “Take it away, Caleb. You’ve got this.” But one time I¬†went a little too far. My son was struggling in a¬†game, and instead of¬†doing what the coach was telling him, he got¬†angry and started to¬†talk back, “I’m doing what you told me!” “What am I doing wrong?”¬†I didn’t like the way he was talking to the coach, and instead of letting the coach handle it (like I should have) I said, “Why don’t you channel your anger back into the game, and get more focused?” My son was clearly beside himself with¬†embarrassment grunted and gave me a “zip it” hand gesture (moving his fingers across his mouth). When it was half-time he came over to the sidelines with his teammates, and knowing I was standing nearby, loudly said, “I don’t ever want you to come to a game again!”

He¬†had a point. I would have hated it if my parents had done the same thing to me.¬†I wanted to be supportive and encouraging (that’s what we need at any age), not shame him in front of his peers. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. If I wanted to have this discussion with him, I should have done it in private. I told him as much after the game.¬† “I was wrong. Not what I said, but where I said it. I should have said it away from everyone being able to hear and I’m sorry.”¬† He still wasn’t happy, but he got it. I owned my part in what happened, and haven’t made a similar comment (at least in front of his peers) since.

I think I rationalize my¬†broadcasting tendencies¬†(which¬†are now strictly the positive play-by-plays)¬†as wanting to show I’m interested and vested (e.g. my son knows I care about what he’s doing), and that somehow¬†my encouragement will help the team (know that they are supported and care). Not to worry, I’m aware that my ‘cheering’ likely isn’t doing much, if¬†any, good, and am working to be a more subdued parent. Outside of walking away from the game and distracting myself, I haven’t come up with a lot of best practices for how to do this.¬† Anyone have any suggestions to share?

I know my son realizes I mean well, and that I’m his biggest (along with his dad) fan, but I need to model for him how you support someone without strings attached (e.g. I support you even when you’re struggling…especially when you’re struggling), encourage without having to voice my praise (clapping or a yahoo is fine during the game, any points I want to make can be saved for the car ride home).¬†And maybe that’s it…a desire to share feedback real-time, versus seeing how things play out and providing more constructive¬†input at a later time. It’s not easy. It takes practice.¬†I’ve got some work to do.

Are there any other rowdy parents like me out there (willing to admit it)? Do you have a hard time being quiet and calm while watching your child participate in a competitive activity?

Cooling Off

How do you keep cool on hot summer days? Do you have memories of swimming, using a Slip n’ Slide or running through the sprinkler?

I was on a business trip after a long day and was looking forward to changing clothes and going for a walk. It had been a long day, it was hot, I’d been in a small, hot car for too long and was ready to de-stress.¬†It was late enough that the intensity of the day’s heat was gone and it was starting, ever so slightly, to cool down. I was on the 5th floor of a six-floor hotel. When I got into the elevator I joined a Dad with his two sons, about the same age as my own kids. As kids will do, they were talking about how excited they were for the pool, and how annoyed they were that my arrival (really the elevator having to stop) really bummed them out–they had a pool to get to. “How come the pool isn’t on the roof?” one of the boys asked. We all kind of looked at each other like we were thinking the same thing….that’s actually a pretty good idea, kid. Before you knew it, we were headed down, but were stopped again on the 2nd floor. This time, a young woman joined us with her cellphone next to her ear. As soon as the doors closed, one of the boys looked at¬†his father and said, “How come people on the second floor don’t take the stairs?” I couldn’t help but smile. My boys would totally have¬†said the same thing. The woman took it in stride,¬†took the phone away from her ear¬†and said, “Well, my goodness, I’m so sorry.” And the dad attempted to apologize for this¬†son’s remark. The doors opened again, and the kids bounded out towards the pool, leaving us, their comments and their cares behind.

I couldn’t stop smiling. I no longer felt the heat of the day, or the stress that I had felt only a few floors earlier. I relished in the simplicity of kids, their honesty and¬†forwardness. I thought¬†about my own kids, and how similar they were to these boys. They reminded me that sometimes you can get annoyed or delayed (much like the boys were in the elevator), but getting to where you want to go can help you leave your cares behind. I decided I would follow suit, and leave behind my cares once I stepped out of the hotel, it made for a much more pleasant walk–I was calm, and I was cool.

When has your child’s honesty gotten you to rethink a hot situation?