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?

Dress to Impress

At what age did you become conscientious at the clothes you wore?

For me, it was probably middle school. I cared about clothes — wanting to look nice — probably as early as kindergarten, but middle school it went to a whole new level. I became concerned about what my clothes said about me — did I come off as cool, lame, trying too hard, not trying hard enough, etc. Add that I wasn’t petite or small by any stretch just compounded the issue.

Thankfully, I have boys, and while all boys are different my sons haven’t had much interest in what others think of their outfits. My oldest can be found most days rain, shine, hot, cold, and anything in between in a hoodie and sports shorts. My youngest likes graphic tees, but only when they highlight his interests.

On the first day of school, my youngest put thought into his outfit. He wasn’t so concerned with his appearance as he was with letting people know he has an interest in transit. He was adorned head to toe in all things metro/subway. He knew it was overkill, but wanted to do it, in hopes others would engage with him on the topic. He came home disappointed. We asked if he got any feedback on his outfit and he said he didn’t. I asked him what he thought others were most concerned about the first day of school. He said, “themselves,” as he sighed and rolled his eyes knowing it was the truth. “Give it more time. You keep wearing it (as he has many pieces to choose from) and people will eventually notice.” He knew that, but was still disappointed. I can understand. You try to get affirmation or acknowledgement from others, and do not always get it. Especially when you are seeking it in a covert way. I reminded him to just be himself. People are getting adjusted to new classes, teachers, and peers, and he’ll find his group (be them transit enthusiasts or otherwise) before he knows it.

What does your child/teen do to connect with others?

Being Good Enough

Have you ever struggled with self-esteem?

I sure did (and still do, though no where as much as I did when I was younger thanks to the help of some very smart people (therapists) over the years). My oldest comes across as very confident in who he is, and what he’s about, which I admire, yet I see him struggle with his esteem in a repressed/painful way. He has high expectations of himself — always. If he doesn’t live up to those expectations regardless how unrealistic they are he gets frustrated and defeated. He does have resources to talk to, yet, I’m not sure how much he is sharing (working on/addressing), and how much he is holding back. I remind myself he is young, and he will continue to learn more about himself as he grows and allows himself to be more vulnerable/open.

My youngest has high emotional intelligence. He has great empathy and can quickly understand when others are feeling. He is my ‘happy’ guy, but even he gets unhappy sometimes. He starts high school this year and is starting to think about what that means — new building, new teachers, new people, new pressures, and more. He sighed while we were in our family room. I asked him what was up. He said, “I’m just thinking about high school, and what that means. I think it will be fine, but I guess I’m just worried I won’t make any friends.” As a kid on the spectrum, forming new friendships is something he struggles with, though, he has friends and people often approach him because of his sunny demeanor. He will have opportunities to make new friends, assuming he puts in the effort. The way he said his statement it made me feel like he was trying to tell me something more. I pried, “you have friends and most people like you, so what is your concern?” He thought and then said, “I don’t know. That I’m not…” he paused, looked down, then back as me and said, “good enough.” You could have knocked the wind out of me. It took me til my mid-thirties to have that epiphany about myself and here he was at only 14. I asked, “Good enough for who?” I thought he might say, “the other kids,” or something along those lines, but instead he said, “me.” Wow! I was in awe of my child. To understand something so profound about himself as his age just blew me away. I asked, “how are you not good enough for yourself?” He shared that he thought he might have to change who he is (autism mannerisms (flapping and humming) and all), and he hated the idea of not being true to himself in order to fit in at school. I loved my son so strongly in that moment. That he loved himself that much and knew he’d be letting himself down if he had to change inspired me. I need to be more like my son. He has got this loving yourself thing all figured out!

The start of high school will come and go. He will adjust, and God-willing, it will go much better than he anticipates. What I don’t think my son understands is that by loving himself and his uniqueness, he will inspire others to do the same. Wanting to fit in is normal, but oh how boring. Loving who you are is (but shouldn’t be) the exception. It inspires, and draws people in. I hope my son understands just being himself is not only good enough, but exactly (the role model) what others need.

How are you helping your child adjust to the new school year? How are you helping them embrace who they are?

I will be off taking some time off to enjoy the last weeks of summer and be back in September.

World’s Best Dad

What are the qualities you’d put on the list to determine the world’s best dad?

If I had to boil it down, for me, the qualities would include — love, support, encourage, teach, show/guide, feed (literally and figuratively), and love, love, love. These qualities are pretty much what I’d say makes up World’s Best Mom too. 😊

Because raising kids is hard, dad’s who lean into parenting are even that much more special.

If you were fortunate enough to have a dad that you’d put on the list for World’s Best Dad, congratulations! You hit the jackpot. I know I did, and my kids have too (whether they realize it yet or not is another question ☺️).

Thanks to all the World’s Best Dads out there! We love and appreciate you for being you. Enjoy your day!

Stepping Up

Is your child shy or comfortable in the spotlight?

My youngest has never been bothered by the spotlight, but he’s never purposely sought it out either. Others have seen his comfort with being in front of others — whether in a school play or talent show — and encouraged him to shine, and he’s obliged. He’s fearless in this respect.

In elementary, his after school group was going to form a student committee and asked for the kids to run for certain positions. My son was eager to participate and run for the presidency. He changed his mind a few days later after finding out others planned to run as well. When we asked why he no longer wanted to run he shared that he knew how bad one of the other kid’s wanted the position and it just wasn’t that important to him. He was happy to see his peer get the role. At the time my husband and I didn’t know if we should be proud or concerned. We wanted to make sure he wasn’t dropping out of the race to avoid incurring failure. No one wants to experience failure, but there are life lessons learned in these moments and we didn’t want our son intentionally missing out on this. He convinced us he was fine with running but his heart was no longer in it, so we backed down.

Fast forward to this school year. His school decided to put together a school council with representatives from each grade. He had to put together a speech (how he’d represent his class and convince his peers he was the right person for the job) and post a video delivering the speech. He was working on it one evening when I came into his room and asked him how his speech writing was going. I saw he had only a few sentences typed on the computer. “I’m just not sure how to say this,” he said. I read what he had down and asked some clarifying questions. “What do you mean here when you say you want the school to be safe and clean?” “Well, the school sound be safe where everyone can be who they are and not be worried about being teased or bullied. And clean, means we all need to pitch in and keep our space clean,” he said. “And why do you need your space clean?” I asked. “Well, because it’s our environment. When you have a clean space you don’t get distracted. It makes you feel better and it’s easier to focus.” “Great,” I replied. We then discussed how he just needed to think through the main points he wanted to get across and how to better explain his ideas to his classmates. We role-played him giving his speech for a while and then I left him to it. The election was held and he was chosen as one of his class representatives. He was so proud that he was selected by his peers. We were proud he was willing to step up to the challenge. The fact that he actually was picked was icing on the cake.

How are you helping your child stand up? How are you helping them to shine?

Dear Old Dad

How are you celebrating Father’s Day today?

Every year on Father’s Day, we think about our dads. Favorite memories come up. For me it’s celebrations after swim meets, running road races together as a child and teen, seeing him cheer me on regardless of the situation, helping me with math or a science project, watching sports together, or having him acknowledge me and what I have to offer the world. I am fortunate, my dad was and is present and takes his role seriously.

Dad’s are important. I can’t imagine who I would be or what I would be doing professionally if he weren’t there guiding me through life. So for all the dad’s out there I say, “Thank you!” Your daughter(s) and son(s) are paying attention and grateful for you — your guidance, your presence and your love.

How will you celebrate your father today? What gifts, as a parent, are you giving your child as their father?

Happy Fathers Day!

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?

That’s What Friends Are For

What makes a good friend?

This question has gotten a lot more attention from me as I’ve navigated the struggles my son on the autism spectrum has with making friends. What does make a good friend? Someone who is kind in the moment? Someone who wants to engage with you in a kind and supportive way? There are varying levels of friendship. I think of the friends who have come in and out of my life. I was reminded what a good friend looks like when a woman I have known for years and who I have shared just about everything with asked me timidly, “When was your son diagnosed?” She asked it in a whispered voice, and did a quick glance to ensure no one around had heard the question. While I was reluctant to talk about my son being on the spectrum when I first found out, I have come a long way — I’m happy to talk about it openly, but I remember that feeling of being unsure and uncomfortable, I was picking up on the way she was asking that she was uncomfortable. I responded, “When he was around five,” I paused and lowered my voice, “What’s going on?” She leaned in and said, “I haven’t really talked about this, but my son has spoken a word yet, and he’s two and a half, and we’re not sure why.” I could almost feel her concern. As a parent, when your child seems to have any affliction — whether it is a disease that is tough to treat, or a condition that makes them different than others — it can feel like you are at a crossroads — the childhood you imagined you and your child having will likely not be how you envisioned it to be, and that can be scary. We decided to find a time we could talk more openly. I wanted her to feel comfortable sharing and asking whatever questions she had.

Prior to us meeting, I thought about how I could best show up for her for this conversation. The truth is we don’t know if her son is on the spectrum, he hasn’t been tested and officially diagnosed, but he does exhibit behaviors similar to my son. I could easily jump to conclusions and give her all the information I’ve gained since my son’s diagnosis, but figured that really wasn’t what she needed. She needed to know that everything was going to be okay. Yes, her parental journey would be altered, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t be joyous, it was just going to be different. She asked me to share my story. I shared and then asked her what she was most concerned about. She was very concerned they hadn’t figured out what was behind her son not talking despite seeing doctors and specialists and enlisting the help of therapists and others. The next step was doing a battery of tests to get her son properly diagnosed. “I’m concerned because I need to figure this out before he turns three,” she shared. “What is special about him turning three?” I asked, thinking about how we hadn’t really enlisted help for our son until five. “That’s when it says you have the best chance of early intervention, but we don’t know what he has.” She admitted to spending too much time on the internet and going into various rabbit holes of information that all seemed to lead to a future life of doom and gloom for her son and her family. As she spoke, I was reminded of my intention coming into this meeting, what would a good friend say? I borrowed a phrase we use with our older son, who is always jumping ahead in his life and concerned about his future. I was seeing the same thing in my friend.

“How long have you been a parent?” I asked. “Well, two years” she said, clearly taken aback by the question. “And how are you supposed to know everything, and have it all figured out in two years?” I said. “Well, I guess, you’re right, there’s no way you can figure it all out in two years.” I finished, “Think of your journey like a video game, each year of your child’s life is a level. Right now, you’re on level 2, stay there, don’t try to be on level 5 or 12 or 35. You’re on 2, you’re going to continue to learn and get smarter. You are going to figure this out.” She smiled. Her shoulders relaxed. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks.” I did end up giving her a few resources that she could reach out to who could give her some sound advice — these resources had been a Godsend to me. As I left our meeting, I thought, I wish I had had a friend or support like this when my son was first diagnosed. There was support available, but I was just too scared to reach out, and I didn’t have any friends talking. I was glad my friend was brave enough to ask. I was glad I could be that support and encouragement. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Are you struggling with raising your child? What does a good friend do to help support you as a parent?

Orientation

How do you identify with your child?

As a parent, I often feel like I’m navigating new territory. The territory isn’t changing quite as rapidly as it did when my children were very young and I was really new at being a parent, but has instead changed to steeper terrain. When my children entered a new phase early in life: rolling over, sitting up, crawling, eating solid foods, walking, etc., the task required me to change with my child’s physically — helping them, allowing them to try, fail and learn from their mistakes, and help them grow. Now I’m navigating areas that have more weight to them — while no physicality is required, it requires much focus on my words, actions and handling.  Gender identify and sexual orientation are areas I knew may need to be discussed with my children, but I don’t have a lot experience with either outside traditional roles.

I wasn’t necessarily a ‘girly-girl’ when I was growing up, but I always felt comfortable being a girl. I can’t recall a time when I was interested in being anything else. Same with sexual orientation. I certainly thought there were other girls that were pretty (wished I looked like or could be them even), but never recall having any romantic feelings for the same sex. It never bothered me when others did. One of my uncles was gay. I loved him. I didn’t realize he had suffered as a gay person until I was much older, but have always remembered that he mattered, he was a good person. and he never deserved anything but being treated as the wonderful man that he was (he passed from HIV when I was 18).

My boys are now in their teens (tweens, to be more precise) at 10 and 12. When one of my sons was younger, he had said he wished he were a girl. I experienced a quick range of emotions. First, denial — he can’t mean what he’s saying, and then second, curiosity — okay, he wishes he were a girl. I need to better understand what he means. Of course, in my mind I prepared myself for him wanting to transition from male to female (yes, I jumped to the extreme pretty quick). “Why do you want to be a girl?” I asked. “Well, because I like a lot of the same things they like,” he responded. “Do you wish you could wear girls clothes, or have the same body parts?” I continued. “No, I like being a boy,” my son said, “I just don’t like sports or rough house stuff. And I feel more comfortable around girls.” It was becoming clearer to me, that my son was concerned he wasn’t fitting into the ‘stereotypical’ male gender role. Thankfully my son has been in schools that have encouraged expression in whatever form that takes for all genders throughout his childhood. I reminded him that it was okay not to like sports or want to rough house, and that, believe it or not, there were a lot of other boys that also didn’t like the same things. “You are realizing who you are and what you like and don’t like, that’s a good thing,” I told him. Still, I feel like there is more I probably should be doing — more checking in with him — does he still have those feelings? Does he like and accept who he is, or does he feel pressure to conform — if so, where and why? It’s a good reminder for me, that many opportunities in parenting to do right by our children reside on us not only showing up, but proactively inquiring.

One son is starting to become more attracted to others. Though he is quick to let everyone know he has no plans to act on it, despite us encouraging him to be open to the idea. During PRIDE week at school, one teacher talked to the students about different sexual orientations — words/labels used to describe various sexual orientations, and encouraged the kids to ask questions. When my son came home, he said, “Mom, I need to tell you something.” The way he said it, I thought he was going to tell me about something that happened at school, or how he’d done on a test. Instead he said, “I think I might be pansexual.” My first thought was stay cool, you can do this. I’ve certainly seen people on TV that claim to be pansexual, but don’t know anyone personally who identifies as such. I wanted to get this right with my son. I wondered if my son was truly sexually attracted to male and female peers, or if he was struggling with normal adolescence exploration. I’m not sure he knew, and I felt horribly unprepared to help him navigate this the best way. I told him, “You father and I don’t care who you love. We love you just the same. It is completely fine to love whomever you choose.” He sighed with relief. I felt I handled it well, but know I need more help.

I’ve been prepared much of my life to help my kids role-play for certain situations — how to handle a disagreement with someone, how to ask for help, how to advocate for yourself, even how to let someone know you like them and/or are interested in them. I struggle with how to encourage my son to explore same-sex interests. I want to be supportive and know we, as a culture, are much more open to these types of relationships, but still fear him being rejected, or worse outcast or harassed by others. I am reminded of my uncle and learning of the pain he experienced at the hands of others for being gay. I want to believe that everyone would be supportive of my son, but know that might not always be the case. I want to protect him, but not limit him or hold him back from exploring his interests.  How do you help your son let another boy know they’re interested when you’re not sure the other boy identifies as gay or pansexual themselves? Anyone who has any experience and insight, please share.

Very much like when my kids were young, I want to help them, allow them to try and fail (even in relationships) and grow. I’m navigating new territory and hope I get it right.

How are you navigating challenging parental terrain? If you have a child who identifies as gay, transgender, pansexual or other, how are you helping them navigate their identify and sexual orientation?