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?

Cast Away

Has your child ever tried out for something–position on a sport, part in a play, chair in the band, part in the choir –and wished they had tried for another later?

My youngest son has been in his school’s play every year since kindergarten. Each year, the students in grades K-2 are given support roles, for the most part, they are background characters that participate in small, but meaningful ways — singing songs or milling about as if they are part of a larger crowd.  The older kids, in grades 3-5, get priority for the roles with speaking parts with the highest grade getting highest priority.

My son, who is in the third grade decided to try out for a speaking part, but was clear he didn’t want to be a main character in this year’s production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He and I practiced the lines he was given. He put extra effort into playing a convincing Mr. Bucket (Charlie’s dad) for his audition, but when the cast list came out he learned he would play the part of an Oompa Loompa. He was very disappointed. I asked him ‘why?’ He gave me a look that said ‘give-me-a-break-mom-you-know-why.’ After I stayed quiet for a few moments he said, “It’s embarrassing. I’ll barely have any lines.”  “But I didn’t think you wanted many lines?” I said. “I said I didn’t want to be a main main character like Charlie or Willy Wonka,” he shared. “Okay, well, we’ll have to let the director know that next year so she knows you’re interested in a role with more lines,” I finished.

Our exchange reminded me of times in my life when I held myself back from really going for something — trying for a top position/seat on a team, or singing a solo at church to name a few. I often regretted not going for it afterwards. While there was some relief in knowing I wouldn’t be embarrassed if I failed, I was disappointed I didn’t push myself to try harder and show the talent I really had — not so others would understand my potential, but that I would.

My son will have another opportunity next year to try out for a part in the play, and I will encourage him to really go for it and see what he can accomplish. I’ll be able to remind him of what happens when you hold yourself back — you just don’t know what you’re capable of.

What do you do when your child tries to ‘cast’ off really going for a tough role or part? How do you encourage them to work through their reluctance so they can see their full potential?

So You Think You Can Dance?

How do you stay active?

My youngest son is not interested in athletics at all. We put both he and his older brother in soccer when they were young to learn the skills and how to play the game. My oldest son loved soccer and worked really hard to get good at it. My youngest, well, he would take a nap on the field during the game, over go off to the side and sit down or bounce up and down on the blow-up barriers between the fields. It wasn’t worth it to us (literally and figuratively) to keep him in the sport. We tried others that were offered after school — including riding his bike, golf and tennis to no avail. Our next challenge was to help him figure out what he did like to do.

He showed an interest in cars, art and drama, and we’ve encouraged him in these areas, but we really wanted to find something to would get him more active. It’s not that he has to play a sport, we just want him to move more. My husband took my sons for a run with him to see if that might be a fit, but my son came home and said “no way.” We were starting to get discouraged, but weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Our son had done Wii Dance before and liked it. He came home and showed off some of his moves. My husband and I thought, what about a dance class?  We were fortunate enough to find a class that was nearby and decided to give it a try.

My son was fairly happy to try out the class. He couldn’t wait to show off his moves and learn some new ones, but dance class ended up being more challenging than that. It required you to do stretches at the beginning prior to actually dancing. I had forgotten all about this, it has been decades since I last took a dance class. My son struggled to do the exercises, even making grunts and sighs of anguish during the warm-ups. I kept thinking, please don’t let him try to take a nap in the middle of class, or go off to the side to play. Thankfully he is older now, and was able to keep going with the class, but he did struggle. It was something new. It was hard, as his parent, to watch. I was so proud of him for trying, but felt for him.

I don’t know if dancing is in his future or not, but we’re going to give it another try. We’re hoping with some more classes, he’ll start to see how hard work pays off, and how you can have a lot of fun with it. If he doesn’t, we’ll continue to explore other ways for him to be active.

How do you help your child experience new things? How do you help them be active?

Breaking Out of Your Shell

When was the last time you did something that forced you to break through your comfort zone?

Sometimes in life you’re afforded the opportunity to build up the courage to do something new or uncomfortable, and sometimes you’re forced. Becoming a parent, was by far, one of those experiences that felt forced, though I had tried to prepare. In order to be the mother of my son, I couldn’t just birth him. I had to break through who I was before to become the parent I now was, and learn how to handle all the responsibilities, joys, struggles and growth that go along with it. It felt like I was learning to walk, but with a new pair of legs. It took some getting used to, and at times felt very scary. If I could have crawled back into that protective shell, even for a little while, it would have been tempting.

I was asked to talk during an upcoming Children’s Time about something “egg-related” (keeping with the theme of Spring and Easter). I thought about how we all experience breaking out of our shell. We break out of our first “shell” when we are birthed, and break out of our shell through out life — sometimes by choice, sometimes by need. Every time we do try something new, particularly something hard that doesn’t come easy. We are breaking out of our ever-changing shell.

My youngest son has moments when he can convince himself that he can’t do something — the range is wide and goes from not being able to eat a certain food to not being able to ride on a roller coaster or go down a water slide.  My husband and I will talk to him, encourage him, explain the benefit of trying this new thing. My son will balk, sometimes cry, and reiterate why he can’t do it over and over again. But sometimes, most times, from somewhere inside, he’ll decide he can’t let his fear hold him back. Its often surprising when he moves into this mindset, but also very inspiring. It’s like watching a baby chick decide it’s time to be born, it’s time to experience the world. The joy on his face when he breaks through his shell, and sees he can do something he wasn’t sure he could is like watching him see the world with new eyes each time. It’s priceless.

What shell-breaking moments have you had? How do you help your child break through to become the person they are going to be?

 

Where the Wild Things Are

How did you pass the time when you were sent to your room as a child?

Oh, how I hated being bored as a kid. What I hated more was being sent to my room and being bored. You were trapped without having access to most of things you love (TV, music, etc.). When I was sent to my room as a child, I would move between lying on my bed seething at my parents and how I thought they’d wronged me, and then figure out what I could do to kill the time — read a book, write something down, play with some of my toys, etc.

I recently took my kids to a local production of Where the Wild Things Are, a story about a boy, Max, who gets in trouble for misbehaving and the wonderful journey his imagination takes him on. In the production we watched, Max was sent to his room without supper. This is where his adventure began. As I watched the show I thought, Wow, I wish I had this kind ability to create a new world when I was his age. It never even occurred to me to dream up a new world to escape those times I was ‘captive’ in my own room. It felt like I’d missed an opportunity (using my creativity, spending my time in a more enjoyable fashion, etc.) by not following in the main character’s footsteps. I was both inspired by the character and disappointed in myself. It made me think about how my children spend their time when they’ve been sent to their room. I’ve got to believe some of their time is spent lying on their bed seething at how I, or their father, have done them wrong, but then what comes next?

On the way home, we talked about the play, and how creative Max was. We talked about using our imagination to create new worlds, and how fun it can be dreaming up something on your own. I don’t know if my children were inspired by what they saw, and if they’ll follow in Max’s footsteps when they are bored or have been sent to their room, but I hope they will. Sometimes our imagination and the idea of what’s possible or ideal can be exactly what you need to get you through a hard time.

What does your child do when they are bored? How do they fill the time?

 

 

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?