Who Do You Love?

What or who do you love?

My younger son can easily articulate what and who he loves. He says I love you to my husband and I without any discomfort, and for the most part is comfortable sharing his feelings openly and honestly with others. I think he is just wired this way. My oldest keeps his emotions close. He can come across as being quick to anger or unhappiness, but am now better understanding that it is his discomfort that is causing these emotional reactions.

I’m thinking of having my oldest keep a gratitude journal. Peggy Orenstein’s talk and my Head and Heart blog made me think this is one way we can help our son keep his head and heart connected. My hope is that by journaling he’ll grow to appreciate all the good things in his life, and that while disappoint and discomfort will happen there is a different way he can respond because he’ll remember he’s loved and has a lot of things to love in his life.

How does your child express their emotions? How are you helping them remember all that is positive in their life?

Head and Heart

How does your child show others who they are?

My family and I were fortune to see Peggy Orenstein talk about her book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. My husband and I decided to have our sons attend with us. While the idea of having to hear about sex, intimacy, and porn with my kids made me uncomfortable, my husband and I knew if these topics were ‘out in the open’ we could talk more openly with our kids about what they are seeing, hearing, and thinking.

My kids shared my discomfort. “Mom, do we have to go?,” they asked. There was no getting out of it. If I as going to power through my discomfort so we’re they. We were going to this talk as a family. I did suggest a compromise, “I know you’re uncomfortable being with mom and dad at this event. If you want to sit away from us, that’s okay.” That seemed to make us all feel a little better.

One of the most powerful revelations I had during Peggy’s talk was when she shared what her work uncovered — that girls are taught to disconnect from their bodies (who you are is one thing, your body or outward appearance another), and boys are taught to disconnect from their heart (have feelings, empathy, etc., but not be able to show them). I thought about how I’ve seen my oldest son struggle with this. It’s like the empathetic kid I’ve known has been working hard to stuff his feelings and empathy way down–with it rarely surfacing as he ages. My husband and I have talked to him about toxic masculinity and encouraged him not to buy into it (or fall into its trap), but Peggy shared insights that helped outline just how hard that is. Our kids are up against what the see on TV, the internet, etc., and risk isolating themselves when they break from the “norm” — stand up for others, or freely express how they feel.

The talk has helped us start a more useful dialogue as a family around what our boys are up against. My husband and my’s goal is to teach them to keep their head and heart connected. It won’t be easy, but us being willing to be uncomfortable together has been for us a great place to start.

How are you helping your child be true to who they are?

Imaginary Audience

Has your child said something that made you pause?

My youngest son participates in a theater group that is made up of kids with challenges: whether it’s being on the autism spectrum or someone with developmental limitations. It is wonderful to see the kids be in a safe space where they are more alike than different and no judging is going on.

A new member joined the group this season and is more vocal than most of the kids. While waiting for my son in the lobby I heard this young person start to say, “they are making fun of me. Everyone makes fun of me.” The teacher quickly intervened and clarified to the student that the others were laughing at what had happened in the scene not at him. I heard him one or two more times make similar comments. Each time the teacher worked to help him understand what was really going on differently.

I asked my son about it on the ride home. “I heard someone saying they were being made fun of. What was that about?” I asked. “He kept saying that, but no one was making fun of him,” my son said then continued, “I think he had an imaginary audience.” That gave me pause. “What do you mean by imaginary audience?” I asked. “He’s hearing things that aren’t there,” my son said. “From people that aren’t there?” I asked. “No, the imaginary audience is in his head,” he said. The conversation got me thinking. “We all have that voice in our head that tells us things — what to eat, comments about how you look and or should feel. Do you know what I’m taking about?” I asked. “Yea” my son said, “we all have those voices.” I was pretty impressed my son had this awareness. I know I didn’t at his age. “It makes me sad if that kid hears only negative things even if they aren’t happening. That would be a terrible way to live.” I said. “Yes,” my son agreed. “What if instead of letting that inner voice or ‘imaginary audience’ be negative, we only allowed it to be positive? That would be pretty amazing!” I said. “Yea, it would say things like ‘you’re amazing. You’re going to be great.” laughed my son. We came up with other positive and somewhat silly sayings for our inner voice. After we were done and I had a moment to reflect, I asked my son where he came up with the phrase imaginary audience. “The internet, Mom.” he said. Well, duh, I thought, of course he heard that on the internet. Maybe the internet isn’t the encapsulation of all that is bad after all. ūüėä

What insights has your child shared that gave you pause?

The Magic of Pets

How do know your child’s full potential?

There are certainly times when I feel like I see or experience my children’s potential. When one of them pushes themselves to do something new or challenging, but a recent comment from my son got me thinking — how do I (or anyone) really understand my child’s full potential?

My family was getting ready to head out the door for some weekend activities when our cat made his presence known. We each acknowledged the cat with a pet, or scratch behind the ears. My youngest son leaned down to the cat and said, “I love how you…” my husband and I were sure he’d finish with understand me, but we’re surprised when he said, “…see my full potential.” It actually made us laugh. My son joined in. Pets do have a magical quality about them, and do seem to understand our feelings and can feel very insightful, almost psychic, when they come to us in times of need. It can sometimes feel like the pet knows you, sees beyond your exterior and really knows who you are and what you need. I can remember an experience I had when I wasn’t much older than my son is now. I was having a tough time with puberty and adjusting to getting older. I remember sitting outside feeling sad, and my cat at the time, who typically was off on her own adventures during the day, seemed to come out of no where and sat by me. She looked at me like she understood my worries and was there to remind me that I was loved and lovable. It was magic. How I miss that cat.

My husband and I sensed our son was experiencing some of the magic pets have. A unconditional love that comes and doesn’t ask for anything in return except for basic needs (safety, warmth, food and water).

I don’t know if our cat knows my son’s full potential but I like that my son thinks the cat does. We all need someone who believes in us, that pushes us to explore and be our best selves. A loving pet is as good as anyone to help someone see the beauty and potential they have within.

Do you have pets? What magic are they bringing to you or your family’s lives?

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?

 

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?