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?

Combating Sticks and Stones

Words can hurt, right? Even when unintentional.

My youngest has grown tall for his age (over 6’), understands the importance of healthy eating and movement to live a long and healthy life, but eats more than the energy he’s expending, and is quickly growing out of his clothes.

He and I were out for a walk when he shared a comment one of his fellow students made, calling him fat. Of course, I wanted to know details so I asked him, “What exactly did they say?” He shared it was someone he didn’t know, it happened in the hallway, and the person was smiling, made eye contact with my son, and said, “hey man, your clothes don’t fit,” and kept walking. He wasn’t laughing, his tone wasn’t harsh, but his words landed like a punch to my son’s gut. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Sad,” he said. I understood. Of course the momma bear in me went into high gear, and I said, “if someone says that again, you can say, ‘well your personality doesn’t fit.’ It might confuse them in the moment, but should get them to think more carefully about their words to others.” I was angry.

We walked for a while more. My own feelings of insecurity and body image/shame that were more intense in my younger years came flooding back. I HATED that my child was having to experience people being so careless with their words, and trying to diminish my son and his self-worth. We talked about why the person may have said what they did — their own discomfort, or not feeling good about themselves and wanting to direct their negative energy elsewhere and my son being the unfortunate recipient. My son felt sorry for the other student and their ignorance. That student has no idea who my son is, or what he has to offer others (much like my son doesn’t know the other student).

We were fortunate that my son had been reached out to on the same day by his former school asking him to come back and volunteer, and commenting on how much he was missed. It helped ease my son’s pain. I was grateful.

Having a child that struggles with anything — looks, smarts, physical abilities, etc. is tough. People being thoughtless with their words and hurting others, just mean. I have to remind myself we all can and should do better. Be thoughtful. Be caring. Be kind.

How do you help your child when others aren’t nice? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your child and others?

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,

Discord over Discord

If you have a tween or teen you’ve probably heard of Discord. For those unfamiliar, Discord is an application that allows friends to communicate while playing games online. My youngest asked if he could get an account for his last birthday. We agreed but with rules — he can only talk with people he knows, and if his father and I ever have any concerns, we can take privileges away.

During Covid my son has benefited greatly from being able to connect with his friends through online gaming. After getting a Discord account he was enjoying it on another level. While I’ve been reluctant to let my son get really into gaming, I was glad he had this outlet.

Discord has been a positive experience for my son for the most part. My son sighs loudly (to maybe get me it my husband’s attention?) when he’s frustrated or upset. He sighed like this and I asked him what was going on. He shared he was frustrated because one of his friends via Discord chat was blaming him for something he didn’t do. He was upset that he was falsely being accused, but more upset that his friend did it publicly to his friend group versus messaging him directly. He was struggling with the situation. I sat down next to him at the computer and asked him to walk me through what happened. I could see the dialogue in Discord and could see what my son was saying. What shocked me was what the friend wrote — Who changed me from being the moderator? f u [insert my son’s gaming name]. I saw how my son had replied online. It wasn’t me. I don’t know who it was. Reply from friend: well then who did it? My son: I don’t know but it’s not okay what you said. Friend: get over it. My son: uncool man, uncool.

I asked my son, “Why don’t you block him?” My son at first thought it might make the situation worse, but after we discussed, he determined blocking this “friend” would make his Discord/chatting with his friends way more enjoyable, so he blocked him and breathed a sigh of relief as his “friend’s” messages disappeared from his feed.

Afterwards, we discussed friendship and the fact that we don’t really know why his friend was acting the way he was or saying what he did, but that healthy relationships require respect and his friend needs to earn my son’s respect and trust back. I want my son to get comfortable holding firm on how he’ll allow himself to be treated by others. It’s not always easy, but so important.

How are you teaching your child about friendship and what a good friend is? How are you helping your child set boundaries around how they’ll let others treat them?

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?

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?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

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?

All That is Green

Has your child ever felt overwhelmed?

My youngest son came home from a bad school day. His teacher had sent an email alerting us before the end of the day that our son struggled with an assignment the class was given — to write about how to help the environment.

When he got home I asked how his day was. “Okay,” he said. “Really?,” I replied, “I was under the impression you didn’t have a great day.” He could have asked how I knew he’d had a bad day, but instead said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” I said, “but it’s going to be hard for me to help you if you won’t talk about it.” He sighed, “Maybe later.”

We got some dinner. Once he had food in his belly, I asked if he was ready to talk. He wasn’t, so I gave him a choice. “We can talk about this on the way home in the car, or when we get home, but we are taking about it.” He agreed to discuss it on the car ride home.

He started off, “This is very upsetting. I really don’t want to talk about it.” “What is making you so upset?”, I asked. “The future,” he said. Okay, that’s a broad topic, I thought. “What about the future are you most worried about?” “Well, everything,” he replied. “How does your fear about the future have to do with your assignment on the environment?” I asked. He didn’t say ‘duh’ but he might as well have. “Mom, were not doing enough to protect the environment and it’s only going to get worse. And I mean really, really bad.” Aha, I thought, climate change is showing itself in more extreme weather and there is right to be concerned about it getting worse in the future, but that is true only if we don’t acknowledge the problem and do something about it. “Okay, I think I better understand.” It took some more going back and forth before I fully understood that my son was getting overwhelmed by the assignment thinking he had to figure out how to solve all the problems, versus finding simpler doable solutions that could have a positive impact. By the time we parked the car at home he felt better, was more relaxed and seemed ready to rethink how to tackle the assignment. “Picking up trash, helps the environment. Saving water. Conserving energy. Composting.” I could tell he was thinking.

Getting overwhelmed doesn’t feel good at any age. It’s being about to break down what’s causing into smaller chunks that are easier to deal with. Helping you see the forest through the trees.

I’m glad my son is concerned about the environment. I hope this assignment prompts he and his classmates not only to think about it, but to take action and inspire others (including their parents perhaps?) to join in and do even more.

What are you and your child doing to help the environment?

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?