Kids Choice – Dealing With Loss

When have you had to console your child when they experience loss and there is no way to soften the impact? It’s heart wrenching, right?

I had one of those moments on Tuesday night. While I was shocked as the results were coming in (and trying to handle my confusion and intense disappointment as discretely as I could), I wasn’t expecting my kids reaction. When I went to tuck them in, my youngest asked me if Hillary won. I told him “it doesn’t look like it.” He got fear in his eyes. He started to cry in a way I’ve never seen. What he said next jarred me. He didn’t say, “Why?” or “How could this happen?” That would have been expected. Instead he said, “Oh my gosh. We’re going to go to war! The country is going to be so bad.” War? I thought. Where did that come from? He’s really scared to think we are going to war. And how in the world did he grasp my own fears? That our country is taking a huge step backwards for women and minorities, the sick, the poor and mentally ill and all other marginalized groups. My older son joined in the conversation, he was equally distressed. “Why can’t kids vote? We never would have let someone like him be President.” My son made a good point.

Children have a wonderful inability to filter themselves when they are young. And they have an even greater ability to filter through BS. Politically correct is, well, not in their vocabulary. While there are certainly situations where you can grimace as a parent for what your child said out loud, there is something very straightforward about their views. They see things for what they truly are and convey them in black and white terms: you are nice, you are not nice; you are good, you are bad; etc. This ability came through Tuesday night. “I hate that I’m not allowed to vote until I’m 18. That’s ridiculous. If you asked the kids, none of us would ever vote for someone who was so mean, hateful and a bully!” my oldest said. While there was a big part of me that wanted to join in and bash the results and those who voted for the other side, I could tell what my kids most needed was for someone to tell them that everything is going to be okay, even though as their parent, and a woman, I’m not sure I believe it.

“It’s going to be okay. We’ll get through this,” I said. My youngest son didn’t buy it. He looked me in the eyes with that same terror pleading me to tell him I was kidding, or somehow the election results were going to turn out differently.  I didn’t know what else to do but to hug him. We were both experiencing a huge unexpected loss. We both felt the impact, and while they say time heals all wounds, this seems like a wound that will be opened for the next four years at a minimum.

I am grateful for educators at my kids school that brought the kids together to talk through the results and let the students voice their opinions to help them deal with their feelings. I am grateful for where I live and how people here are willing to stand up and say #notmypresident. And that many business leaders and local government officials have publicly said that won’t tolerate discrimination and hate, and are trying to give grieving adults the same message I gave my boys — we’ll get through this somehow. We just have to stick together.

Sometimes you can’t make sense of things, and sometimes you have to figure out how to make the best of a situation. I love the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” There feels like a lot of darkness right now and I, as a parent, need to figure out how to light a candle. I can’t let an election determine how my neighbors, or my kids classmates and their families are treated, we all are more alike than different and we all have to figure out how to come together and work together. No more division, no more fear.

How do you console your child when you are in an inconsolable situation, regardless if its the loss of a loved one or the results of an election?  How are you helping your child when you are experiencing your own grief?

 

Parenthood – Cracking the Code

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?

A good friend recently had a baby and was asking for advice and my take on her baby’s progress. The baby, who had once been a good sleeper, was now sleeping in short stints which concerned her.  As we talked about the situation she shared how much she craves learning parenting tricks-of-the-trade, in hopes of shortening the length of time she continues to feel anxiety as a new parent, and fearing she is somehow unknowingly doing wrong by her child simply because she doesn’t know everything.

“No one knows everything,” I told her, “No matter how long you parent. Much like you’re child is learning, so are you. But let’s think about what insights I can share that might help.” I don’t know if I came up with anything profound. I think I shared what most parents do…what worked for them.  “The bouncy ball was a miracle worker for me and getting my son to sleep.” “Rubbing the baby’s back helped calm him down.” “Swaddling stopped him from startling himself.” It was frivolous insight. It was my experience and what had worked for me. I decided instead to turn the conversation back to what seemed more truthful and valuable. “Parenting is hard and scary, and what you are feeling is normal. I wish there were shortcuts, but everyone’s parenting experience is different. You will get through this phase with your child and their sleeping pattern, and then something new will come up and you’ll figure that out as well. If you make your decisions based on what you think is best for you and your family, you are probably doing just fine.” I knew she was hoping I was going to give her some silver bullets around how to get through parenting, but in my time as one, I’ve never seen two parenting experiences that were the same.

I admire my friend’s desire to be the best parent she can as fast as she can be, and look forward to watching her son grow, and her as a parent. As much as she thinks she may be learning from me (and others), I will be learning from her too. It’s reinvigorates me as a parent to see a new parent starting from scratch. I’m reminded of my own anxiety from way back then and how far I’ve come. I am grateful to those who helped share their advice and insights along the way that helped me be a better parent and look forward to continuing to gain knowledge from others who are further along in their journeys than I.

What advice has helped you as a parent? What advice have you shared with others that helped them?

 

 

Just Relax…Don’t Worry About It

Is your child anxious or worry a lot?

When I was a child, I worried…a lot. I worried about pretty much everything — would people like me, what I be picked for the team, were there bad things lurking in the shadows of my room, were Scooby Doo monsters real, would my parents be okay, would I do okay on a test, would I make enough money to live on my own when I grew up, how would I do that, etc. It seemed never ending. Some of my worries made sense, many did not. It didn’t matter. They were real to me.

My oldest son has dealt with similar worrying. He worries about most everything. Will he do well on a test, will a burglar get into the house, are there river monsters (darn you, Animal Planet, for putting that thought in my son’s head), will something bad happen, etc. It seems never ending. Some of his worries are logical, some of them are not. It doesn’t really matter though, because I know they are very real to him.

Thankfully, at my son’s school, he has an amazing Guidance Counselor. She recently gave him a book to help. “What to Do When You Worry Too Much,” by Dawn Huebner, PhD. It talks about how worries are real, and how we can help them grow (instead of help them go away) when we pay too much attention to them. She provides strategies involving acknowledging when a worrisome thought occurs, using your newfound insight to defend against such thoughts, giving limited time (once daily) to address any linger worries that just won’t go away, and readjusting your body through activity or relaxation. The book is working wonders for my son.

When we finished the book, I shared with my son that while the strategies are good for him, there are similar strategies they give adults to deal with the exact same things. Adults may not worry about if the Scooby Doo monster is real, but we do worry about our kids, finances, friendships, health, job security, and the list goes on. It was a good reminder for me, that we all have stress and things to worry about. We also have an opportunity to do something about it. Do we spend time worry about everything (and is that productive) or not?

As I got my son ready for bed, we discussed using one of the breathing exercises recommended in the book. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. My son tried it and relaxed his shoulders. I did it, and did the same thing. I felt better already, and he did too.

How do you help your child when they worry about something?

I will be taking time off next week spending Memorial Day with my family. Enjoy the long weekend!

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?

 

I’m Scared

As a kid, what were you afraid of?

Our neighbor is really into Halloween. Each year, their front yard becomes a mini haunted house. I have to admit I was a little concerned how my children would react to the realistic skeletons, blood fountain (yes) and fake guillotine when they were younger, but up until this year they seemed more curious than frightened by them. My oldest son said, “Mom, I know this hasn’t bothered me in the past, and this isn’t real, but it kinda scares me.” I knew what he meant. There seems to be a shift at some age where things that you didn’t really notice or comprehend become scary.

My earliest memory of being scared was of shadows cast in my bedroom as a child from the door not being closed all the way and light coming in from the hallway. I’m sure I’d read or heard stories of monsters living under children’s beds, and while I logically knew the possibility was very small, the slightest possibility unnerved me. When I voiced my fear to my parents, I was often consoled and told, “It’s not real, don’t worry about it.” Easier said than done, right? The mind has the capacity for great imagination.

As a parent, my kids are now experiencing fear in their own way. Whether it’s the neighbors Halloween decorations or the unexplained noise (our house is old, and known to creak), or being afraid of the dark, it’s all very real to them. I sat my kids down after one of the boys asked if vampires were real. “Do you think people would be walking around outside ever if vampires were real?” I saw that I got their attention so I continued. “Doo-dee-doo, look at me, I’m just strolling along, hoping no vampire is going to come and get me.” With that, my boys started to smile. Realizing what I was saying was true seemed to comfort them. I added, “Same for werewolves, mummies, and zombies. We wouldn’t have a lock on our door, we’d live in a metal vault that would require a million different codes to get in. We’d never see our neighbors cause they’d have the same thing. Man, how’d we get groceries (and who’d work at the grocery store all open and exposed for some vampire to walk on in), or get to work or school, or go out and do anything fun if all these things that were trying to kill or eat us were all around?” Now my boys were laughing. They got it…vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies aren’t real.

But it was a good reminder. Fear is real, and needed for survival. It gets complicated when we talk about things worth really fearing in our world. But that’s a talk for another day. In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for ways to help my children understand those things they need not fear at all.

How do you help your child work through fear they are experiencing? How do you explain all the ‘scary stuff’ that comes out at Halloween?

Enjoy the extra hour of sleep following Halloween. I’ll be back in early November.

Brave

Were you brave as a child? If you were, what helped you be brave or kept you brave?

I was like many and easily scared as a child. It didn’t take much. I recall having nightmares after watching Scooby Doo–darn those adults in those monster costumes trying to scare those meddling kids! I was also scared of roller coasters–just the idea of them made my stomach do flips, or roller skating on anything other than a flat surface–my younger sister used to roller skate down our steep driveway without any fear, I was in awe. I wasn’t big into taking risks and sought out safety.

My youngest son has had a heightened sense of fear in the last six months. Things he didn’t seem bothered by before, now are concerning for him. He is very vocal about his concern and his desire not to attempt the following: roller coasters or anything fast, being within hearing range of thunder and lightning, and swimming. Since I too shared the fear of roller coasters as a I child, I understand where my son is coming from. Fear of thunder and lightning I understand too. We don’t get it much here in the northwest, so when it does happen, particularly when the storm is intense or close, it can be scary for anyone. Swimming is a bit more puzzling. He’s been in lessons for a while. He is just learning to swim on his own and hasn’t shown any sign of not liking class. When we took him to class, his anxiety surfaced and he shared what was bothering him. “I don’t want to go into the deep end.” “Why would you go into the deep end?” I asked. “You and your teacher will decide where you go in the pool. Just tell him you don’t want to go in the deep end.” He seemed to think about this for a second, but the fear was still there. “But what if I have to jump in, and I can’t touch the bottom?” I tried reassuring him again. “The teacher is here to help you swim and keep you safe. They won’t ask you to do anything they don’t think you’re ready for.” He was still nervous as he entered the pool, but quickly realized the teacher didn’t have any plans to take him to the deep end, and was soon enjoying the class.

This reminded me of an incident over the summer. We were at a community splash park, where they have water spraying, and tipping buckets. Our son was eager to go to the park, but wouldn’t come out from under the shelter to enjoy himself when he saw dark clouds in the distance and heard the low rumble of distant thunder. It was sunny where we were, the rain clouds were far away, and my husband and I (and all the other parents there) were keeping an eye on them. My older son took off for the splash park and was having a blast. My younger son looked at me after a few minutes of watching his brother and the others kids playing and said, “Mom, I’m going to face my fear.” He got up, and ran into the splash park. He was giggling within seconds, and having a great time with the other kids. My husband and I looked at each other–wow, did he just say that? we thought. There was a pride in both of us. That he was willing to recognize his own fear and want to overcome it was inspiring.

Our son is still vocal about this fear, but we’re now able to talk to him in terms he understands. Do you want to conquer your fear? we ask. We remind him how good it can feel to be brave and do something he might not think he’s capable of, but we do. It reminds me as an adult, we too have fears that we each face–taking risks, standing up for ourselves, working through stressful situations, illness, and the list goes on. It’s a scary world out there sometimes, but we have an opportunity to do something about it. When faced with a scary situation how do you conquer your fear? What helps you to be brave?

Stretch Goal

As a child, did you ever push yourself, or have someone encourage you to try something new? How did you handle doing something you weren’t comfortable doing?

I was encouraged periodically during my childhood this way, and I always experienced the same feelings: fear (what if I’m not good, what if this is a disaster), nervousness (I want to do well but am afraid I may make a fool of myself and people will laugh at me), and curiosity (what if I can do it? How cool would that be?). While my fear and nerves would initially deter me from taking on the new challenge, curiosity almost always won out. I had to figure out if I could indeed accomplish the new task or not. Even if I wasn’t perfect, or great, being able to say I did something new successfully (even in the slightest way) was a real confidence booster for me.

My oldest son recently joined a soccer league. He’s been playing soccer since he was young, but has never played in an official game. He knows how to play soccer, but doesn’t understand all the rules (my husband and I didn’t play soccer growing up ourselves, so we’re not much help here either, unfortunately). My son was reluctant to go to the first team practice. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to play soccer,” he said. We reminded him that he was committed, we had already paid for him to play when he said he wanted to sign up. We inquired further, “What’s really going on? You love soccer, and have many friends that are on the team. Are you nervous? If so, that’s normal. Most people get nervous when they are trying new things.” You could tell he was thinking about what we were saying. I added, “The coach’s job is to teach you. He’ll help you learn the rules of the game.” My son seemed to find some comfort in this. I finished with “You might even have fun.” He still was nervous about playing, but was becoming curious about whether he might be able to play on the team, and enjoy it.

As he and my husband left the house to walk down to the field I felt for him. I know that nervous feeling, that uncertainty that comes with trying something new. I knew he would be fine, but hated that he had to experience it. No parent wants to see their child suffer. Yet, I knew he’d grow from it, and gain confidence in the simple act of showing up and trying. My husband said about ten minutes into practice our son was all smiles and his worries seemed a distant memory. It was comforting to hear.

How do you experience trying new things? How do you encourage your child to try something new?

Meltdown

Do you struggle to get your child to eat the dinner you’ve prepared? My husband and I do. It got so bad recently, that our youngest had a meltdown at the table crying, “I’m so hungry, but I don’t want to eat anything.” Anything meaning the food we’d prepared. The meltdown continued and he eventually went to his room for the evening.

I have to admit fault, in that I’ve been a short-order cook for too long. When my children were younger it was fairly common for them not to eat much of anything. Growing concerned that they needed more nutrition than they were getting, I let the short-order cook in me emerge and live on.

I realized I needed to evaluate why I was cooking this way for my children and what I needed to do to change it. I grew up in a “clean-your-plate” household where dessert were scarce. As a result I’ve experienced fallout as an adult having to relearn how to eat (it sounds silly, but is quite a complex and emotional process), trusting my body to tell me when I am hungry and full, and knowing that I can have whatever I want (sweet or not sweet) whenever I want. No food is off the table or taboo. As I became more aware of my own eating struggles, I realized I was trying to overcompensate for them with my children, and instead of having the effect I wanted (e.g. allowing them to eat freely, and eating what they want) I was setting them up to potentially have weight or body issues too.

A book was recommended that really helped change this for me, “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School,” by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. I found this book to be very insightful with actionable items to put a new plan in place for feeding my family. Part of the book talks about being authoritative (vs. authoritarian). It encourages parents to be in charge of what you serve your child, but you allow them to determine how much or little they want to eat. It makes sense and feels right to implement this methodology, however, my husband and I knew making this transition with our kids wouldn’t necessarily be easy. We expected there to be some rebellion, and were hoping to avoid any meltdowns.

Of course, the first week there was strong rebellion and it subsided, until our youngest had his meltdown. After going to his room and having a good cry and articulating his anger, I joined him to talk. I shared that while I didn’t like the way he was handling the situation, I certainly appreciated that he was disappointed that we weren’t serving food he preferred, however, Mom and Dad’s job is to teach him things and keep him safe, and part of teaching him things includes exposing him to different foods and providing a nutritious meal. He claimed, “I’m starving,” and I explained that if he was truly hungry he would find something to eat at the table. He asked for some broccoli which had been on the table, but we had already finished it by the time he decided he wanted it. He got upset when he heard this, but was able to calm himself down and asked, “Can I have some carrots instead?” There weren’t carrots on the table, but the fact that he was asking for a vegetable or fruit made it a reasonable request for us. He ate the carrots, and the rest of the evening went on without much fanfare.

I know there are likely more meltdowns in our future around food, but I’m hoping that as my husband and I continue to serve a family meal that we all eat, this will lessen.

How do you deal with meltdowns at the dinner table? Or how have you avoided them?

Silence = Acceptance

I was recently flipping through the December issue of O Magazine when I came across an article capturing Oprah interviewing a Sandy Hook family that had lost a child. At first, I was uneasy reading the article. I have cried many times thinking about what occurred and what difficulty the families left behind have gone through. The article made the feelings fresh again.

Not long after the Sandy Hook shootings occurred, I was part of an audience that was encouraged not to be the silent majority any more, but to speak out to our government and school leaders and have our voices be heard in regards to violence and gun safety. I believe most of us in this country agree that there are measures we can and should take to make school environments safer and provide more assistance to those suffering from mental illness. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I cannot allow myself to do nothing. Silence = Acceptance. And while there is a part of me that is still working on gaining my confidence in finding my voice, I have great motivation to do so…my children. I certainly don’t want them asking me later in life, “Why didn’t you take a stand?” or “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you try?” If I expect my children to find their voice and make a difference in the world, working with others to solve big problems, it starts with me as their parent.

While I would prefer a gun-free world, I know that’s not possible, and see no benefit in trying to pursue that as an avenue to solve this issue. Guns exist and will continue to do so. I am suggesting that we, as parents and as a country, have an opportunity to discuss these really important issues that we are not talking about because we are divided and or fear there is no middle ground. To me, gun safety isn’t an us versus them discussion. We collectively have to figure out how to address this issue.

The Sandy Hook families are not slipping into silence. In fact, they are leading the way in how we solve this problem together by forming a community around the discussion The Sandy Hook Promise: Parent Together to Prevent Gun Violence in Our Communities. It’s simple to join the community and be part of the conversation. Participate and let your voice be heard. Let’s figure out how we solve this problem together.

Silence = Acceptance. I won’t accept silence anymore.

How are you making your voice heard? How do you take action when it may be uncomfortable or not easy to do?

Hidden Messages

My husband is a self-proclaimed non-romantic. A bummer, I know. I have often dreamt of him having a romantic-switch buried deep down inside just waiting to be turned on. Of course, I’ve tried everyway I know from hints to outright asking him to try to be more romantic, attempting to will the switch on, and unfortunately the magical switch has remained dormant.

I used to think that him not being romantic had everything to do with me, as if there was a hidden message I should be reading into about me (e.g. perhaps I’m not worth being romantic for), instead of it having anything to do with him. I have learned over time and from some very wise sources that my husband is who he is and while romantic notions may be how I envision love being shown to me, he shows me his love in many others.

I started to think about hidden messages and how we can easily misconstrue what peoples actions or inactions, words or lack of words mean. This can occur not only between spouse or partners, but also between friends, and with our children. Specific to our children, meaning can be derived in the tone of voice we use, in the words we say or exclude. Do your children understand what you are communicating to them and why? Or are they reading into what you are saying without verbalizing it, much like I was reading into my husband’s non-cues?

While coming to the terms that having many romantic experiences in my life may not be in my future, I’ve recently learned that I may be wrong and that there is hope. Before my husband left for a business trip, we discussed how to stay connected while he was away. I told him how much I valued his observations or acknowledgements he makes about me or our relationship. He shared how much being able to see me and our boys meant to him. We connected via video chat each day after his departure, and he unveiled a hidden surprise. He left me notes hidden around the house. One for everyday that he was gone. How romantic! These hidden messages mean more to me than he will ever know. They not only helped carry me through the time while he was away, but have created a wonderful memory for me that I will treasure. The message was received loud and clear — I am worth being romantic for, and I still have a lot to learn about my husband.

Are there hidden messages in your relationship with your spouse or child? How do you ensure they are receiving your intended message?