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,

Wash-Rinse-Repeat

When was the last time you felt blah?

During the first year of COVID, feeling blah was front and center for me. But as we adjusted and things have opened, closed, re-opened-ish, the ‘blahs’ have lessened.

My oldest struggles sometimes when things are mundane. He doesn’t do well with lots of free time. He likes keeping busy and gets restless when he isn’t. He came home from school one afternoon and his mood got progressively worse throughout the evening. I asked if something was wrong, wondering if he’d had something bad happen in school with a test, assignment, or friend. “No,” he said and looked downtrodden. I gave him some space thinking it might just be a teenage thing. I know I liked my space when I was his age.

Later that evening I caught him as he was heading back to his room. “Wanna talk?” I asked, thinking he’d say no, but instead he just started talking. What was interesting is that he started talking to me from his bedroom and didn’t come back to where I was. I questioned does he want to talk? But after continuing to speak, I went to his room. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Everyday is the same. It’s wash-rinse-repeat. If this is all there is, it sucks.” I asked him some more questions to better understand what was causing him to be in this funk and boredom seemed to be the answer. What I found curious is that he had many other things he could do to keep himself occupied (work on projects, get ahead on homework, connect with friends), but he was choosing to be bored and bummed about it.

Of course, as a parent you want to help your child so I made suggestions, tried to get him to rethink boredom and the gift that it can be, and ensure he was okay. It was clear I didn’t have the answer.

I know there is much to be gained by your child learning to deal with occasional boredom. I am like my son in that I don’t like being bored either, but not because of not having anything to do (that part I like). It’s this feeling of, if I’m not doing something than I’m wasting my time/not being productive, and if I’m not being productive, I’m not contributing anything of value, and if I’m not contributing something of value, than I’m wasting precious time. I have to catch myself when I think or feel this, because it’s counterproductive. If you are productive all the time, you’ll burnout or worse.

I drove my son to school the next morning. “Anything of interest happening today at school?,” I asked. “I’ve got a test, but otherwise it’s nothing new. Wash-rinse-repeat.” I asked him if he felt like he was being challenged at school thinking this might be contributing to him being bored. “No, if anything I’m too challenged.” Okay, so school is keeping him engaged that’s good, I thought. Still trying to offer something to help I pivoted to what has served me well for most of my life…noticing your environment and the beauty around you. I offered him a suggestion. “I know you feel like each day is the same, but try to find something new around you. Art on the wall, a bird outside. Just pay attention to what’s around you and see what happens.” He thanked me — whether he was appreciative or subtly letting me know he was “good” and didn’t need any more Mom intervention is unclear. 😊 Regardless, I do hope he can see life for the gift it is, and realize being busy has its place, but stopping and periodically resting (doing nothing) is valuable too.

How do you help your child when they are in a funk? How does your child deal with boredom?

Dinner Table

How has meal time been affected by Covid?

In our family, we’ve always had dinner together, but as my husband and I have had to travel for work more often, or get to meetings in the evening, and the kids have grown and become more independent, getting us all together at the dinner table became more inconsistent. Until the pandemic kept us home.

Sitting at the table in the early days allowed us to talk about what was going on, and how we were feeling. Obviously a delicate balance since none of us had been through a pandemic before, and as parents we wanted our children to feel safe (we’d take the needed precautions and would get through this together). Each family member learned about the virus, the history of other pandemics, medical findings, and shared what we learned at the table. We dealt with boredom and frustration at being home and confined to our neighborhood. We talked about looking for the good in a difficult situation.

My appreciation for us gathering at dinner time grew when school started back up. Our oldest has a modified schedule where he has anywhere from 3-4 subjects a day (vs. the normal 7). They alternate days and subjects so he receives all the instruction he needs over any given week. In previous school years if I asked him how things were going or how his day was I’d most often get a “fine.” But with Covid and him doing remote learning I could dig deeper and get him to open up. Asking him questions — “what classes did you have today?” “How is that going?” “Do you feel like you’re understanding what they’re teaching you?” “What would help you better understand the material?” — was eye opening. My husband and I felt we got a much better picture than we’ve had before. The question we left our son with was, “What can we do to help?” He wants to try things on his own for now, and we want to encourage his growing independence. We appreciate the chance to check-in and share with our kids, and better understand what they’re dealing with and going through. It will be one of the few things I hope we maintain with the same consistency once we are past the pandemic.

How are you connecting with your child? What type of conversations are you having at the dinner table?

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. 😊

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. 🙂

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. 😊 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?