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. ūüėä 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?

Stumped

Have you ever struggled to help your child?

My youngest son shared that he had a bad day, and when I probed to figure out why it was bad, it made the situation worse. Instead of getting to the bottom of what made his day bad, he decided that his day wasn’t just bad, but everything was bad, and that he just couldn’t explain all his feelings. I could see my inquiries weren’t having the intended effect.

I attempted again to find out what was behind his feelings. He just got more upset, and after we talked in circles — me inquiring, him unable to explain — he said,”Mom, can we just stop? I’m all talked out.” I sighed, partly relieved since I wasn’t making progress and getting frustrated myself, and partly bummed because I pride myself on helping my kids work through their feelings. I was stumped. “Well, let me know if you want to talk again. I want to help if I can,” I said and that was the end of it.

My son never asked to revisit the topic, he wasn’t as upset as he’d previously been, so maybe whatever was bothering him passed. Or maybe talking helped (even if it was just s little that would make me feel better). My son knows I’m there and want to help, which I feel good about, but boy did I feel pretty helpless (and somewhat worthless) when I couldn’t help him.

It’s frustrating when you don’t have all the answers, or know how to help your child. After thinking about what had happened, I realized that instead of trying to solve the problem, it might be even more valuable to my son if I just listen and acknowledge his feelings, and in the moment, that might be enough. When I don’t have the answers I hope it is.

Have you ever been stumped with your child? How did you handle the situation? And what did you take from it?

Love at 10

What did you think love was when you were 10?

I only knew love at 10 in two forms: real – love from my parents; family and the occasional nod from the family pet; and what I thought love was supposed to be – what I saw on TV,¬† and in movies. I can remember my first crush at nine — a classmate in my 3rd grade class. I liked him not only because he was handsome, but because I thought he was nice and we could easily talk at school. I didn’t get flustered or conscientious when I was around him, he seemed to like me for me. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. I was fearful that if I said anything he might reject the idea of us (and therefore me), and didn’t want to risk it. I hoped he might feel the same way and also be struggling with how to share his feelings, but I found out soon enough, that was not the case, when he asked a classmate and close friend of mine to be his girlfriend. I was, in fact, crushed, and if memory serves me right, I voiced this to him. I recall a brief exchange where he wanted me to talk to him about problems he was having with his girlfriend — I heard him out, told him I had no clue how to help him, and ensured I caught his eye. “This wouldn’t have happened with me,” I said (wow, where did I get the guts to say that? I thought). His eyes widened ever so briefly as he had an ‘aha’ moment, he maintained eye contact, smiled a big understanding smile as though he liked the thought (I smiled back), then almost as quickly broke eye contact, cast his head down and frowned realizing the situation he was in. It was nice to understand for a brief moment that maybe he felt the same way I did, and just didn’t know how to express himself.¬† In my youth, I was always disappointed we weren’t able to maintain the friendship we’d previously had after that point. I moved away a year later and that was that.

My youngest, thankfully, is way ahead of where I was at when I was 10. His Asperger’s gives him clarity on what he likes and doesn’t like, and the ability to voice his opinion without any hesitation (it can be an inspiration and strength in certain situations; a challenge we have to work to overcome in others). He decided this year for Valentine’s Day he wanted to do something with his ‘girlfriend’. Instead of us parents commiserating and deciding where the kids go and what they do, we left it up to them. “Why don’t you call her and ask her what she’d like to do?” I suggested. My husband role-played the phone call with my son to prepare him. He called her and the exchange was pretty priceless. He asked her what she wanted to do, she suggested going to the Aquarium and my son said, “I could be okay with that. I don’t really care where we go. I super-duper don’t really care.” Okay, so we have some work to do on phone etiquette. He hung up the phone and we realized he hadn’t confirmed a time and logistical details. He called back and finalized the afternoon with her. We talked about what he wanted to get her for Valentine’s Day after. He said ‘a card’ and I offered that we might get her something in addition to the card. His thoughts went to candy, mine went a different direction. “What about a wrist corsage,” I asked, “Its small flowers that you can wear on your wrist. She likes flowers, do you think she might like something like that?” My son smiled. “Yes, she would. Let’s get her that!” Okay, so I intervened a little on this one — guiding him to get the girl a present I probably would have flipped over when I was her age.

My son is very clear on what he likes — family, cats and anyone who is nice to others; geography and pretty much everything associated with it; acting/drama; drawing; and his girlfriend. There is no waffling, uncertainty, or ability for anyone not to understand how he feels. It’s a clarity I wished I had more fully owned when I was his age. Clarity around who and what you love seems to make life so much easier.

What does your child love?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into¬†the ‘have-to-do’ compartment¬†of my brain which was setting off¬†my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said,¬†“I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time”¬†a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

A New Member of the Family

How did you acclimate to a new member joining your family?

It’s not an easy transition, right? My family has recently expanded. No, not with another child, but with a pet. A nine month old cat from our local animal shelter. Our family has been talking about getting an animal for a while. The kids were hoping for a pet for Christmas, but there was just too much going on, and we told the kids not to expect one¬†so they wouldn’t¬†get their hopes up. Following the holidays we revisited the idea of getting a pet. My husband and I agreed there would probably never be an ideal time to get an animal (there’s always something that is going to be on), but if we wanted the kids to experience the joy and responsibility of raising an animal the time was now. So we got in the car and headed to the shelter with two very excited kids.

I should have known when we walked into the shelter that we would be walking out with a pet, but foolishly thought we’d just look and have time to continue to prepare before bringing one home.¬† The kids saw the cat, everyone thought the cat was a good fit, so the cat got a new home…with us. My husband and I both grew up with pets. Our respective pets lived mainly outdoors. Living in a high traffic area with cold and damp weather, our cat will be an indoor pet so we needed to quickly prepare for our new arrival. Conveniently, there was an pet store practically next door just waiting for folks like us to come on in. ūüôā We grabbed everything we thought we would need, headed back to the shelter, got our cat and headed home. We scrambled to get prepared, but running over to a pet store and stocking up on supplies might get you physically prepared, but not mentally prepared. If the cat had come in, liked where the food and water was, found an easy place to sleep, etc. it would have been wonderful. But like any new member of the family, there was going to be an adjustment period. We were ready for starting the cat off in a small space (thanks to the shelter’s guidance). We weren’t ready for the cat’s near constant¬†meowing¬†once it was in our house, or for the cat to reject the kitty litter and go outside the box (yep, got to experience that on day one), my husband and I learned that¬†while we knew a lot about raising animals, we still have more to learn.

I¬†went to bed the first night thinking what have we done? What have we gotten ourselves into? I woke early the next morning thinking are we really ready to be this cat’s caregivers? I was taken back to when I first became a mom. Regardless of the long preparation (9 months) while the baby was growing inside me, I still felt ill-prepared when my son first came home. I’d taken classes, asked questions, gotten the house ready, but still¬†I had the same questions…what have we done and gotten ourselves into? Are we going to be good parents?

I know it will take a while for our cat to adjust to our home and us, and us him. The kids love the cat and the cat is quickly taking to the kids. Pets played a big role growing up. I can recall my pets giving a sympathetic ear when I was down, or sitting in my lap just when I needed someone. Pets are magical in that way, and I hope my kids will have the same experience as I.

Are you a pet owner? How did your family adjust to having a new pet?

 

It’s Natural

Does your child like nature movies?

Mine are obsessed with Disneynature films. Every time a promotion comes on for an upcoming movie my kids get excited. I love their enthusiasm for wanting to see these films, and have enjoyed seeing each one myself.

We recently went to see Born in China. The film follows several animals for a year with a focus on the cycle of life. I had heard that the movie had a sad part, but wasn’t prepared for it when it came. *** Spoiler Alert — please stop reading if you have not seen the film and do not want¬†to know what happens ***¬† The mother snow leopard is killed in battle while trying to get food for her young. As a mom I related to the mother snow leopard and her desire to do whatever it takes to feed and protect her young. My heart ached for the cubs she left behind. My mind thinking what will happen to them without her? Will they be okay?¬† My gut told me they would, but I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt. My oldest turned towards me. “Mom, you’re not crying are you?” he said. He clearly is leaving childhood and entering teen-hood. He would have shared my feelings only a year or two ago and now he was being stoic and acting as though it shouldn’t make anyone cry. He looked over at his younger brother, who seemed to be handling the mother’s death much better than I. He seemed un-phased. My initial reaction was please don’t let him too be growing out of openly feeling his feelings too.¬† When we got to the car, I asked the kids which parts they liked the most, and which parts they liked the least. My oldest sad he didn’t like it when the snow leopard family was made to leave their initial home by another. I said mine was when the mother died. My youngest chimed in and said, “She died? I just thought she was in a deep sleep.” He became visibly upset and his older brother¬†quickly jumped¬†in, “You’re not going to cry now are you?” To which I replied, “He and I can cry if we want to.” He let it go.

I’m not sure my youngest cried about the mom dying, but it was reassuring to know he was still willing to feel his feelings and not deny them. My oldest is growing up. I will continue to encourage him to feel his feelings, but know he wants to blend in with his peers and appear aloof and un-phased instead of allowing himself to express how he really feels. It’s a challenge to raise emotionally intelligent human beings, but I’m not gonna stop trying.

Disneynature showed a preview for Dolphins which will premiere Earth Day 2018 and there’s a good chance my boys and I will take in the movie. If nothing else for the beauty and intimacy you feel seeing¬†with the animals in their natural environment. The movie may have parts that will make me cry, it may not, but I’ll treasure it either way because I’ll get to see it with my kids.

Where do you see similarities in parenting in nature?

 

Talk to Me (or someone you trust)

Have you ever wondered what your child was thinking or feeling, and gotten frustrated when they weren’t able (or willing) to talk to you about it?

My oldest son is getting to the age where he is starting to hold back on what he shares with my husband and I. He is willing to ask questions and come to us when something is really on his mind, but struggles to talk to us (or his caregivers or teachers, etc.) when he is frustrated or upset. In these instances, his go-to strategy has been to express his frustration¬†with a grunt¬†and closed fists, or to simply walk away. While I appreciate him being aware enough that he knows he needs to calm himself done before responding, I yearn¬†for him to talk to me (or my husband, or his caregiver, teacher, etc.) to tell us what is going on and why he is getting so frustrated, angry or upset. When he doesn’t or isn’t willing, I feel helpless to help him. It’s feels awful.

We enrolled our son in a camp that was recommended to us to help with these types of struggles. When I picked him up following a day of camp his counselor came over and shared that he refused to participate and talk to them during the day. We discussed how we could get him to open up. The camp, which is outdoors-focused, runs a MineCraft project for their participants. They set-up a project the kids can work on, and help them with their social¬†interactions. My son heard about this and wanted to join. We saw an opportunity to help him get what he wanted (to ‘play’ MineCraft) while helping him open up and better express himself when frustrated or upset. “I’ll make you a deal. You tell your counselor what is bothering you¬†tomorrow, and we’ll consider letting you play MineCraft,”¬†I offered. “Okay,” my son quickly replied. The following day, he eagerly greeted me and said, “Mom, I told the counselor what was bothering me today!” He was excited about it (I’m sure his excitement was around the possibility of him playing MineCraft increasing, but I’ll take it).¬† I told him that I was glad to hear it, and I’d talk to the camp counselor about how to get him set-up to play with the other participants. My husband and I are not necessarily video game fans, but thought this was about as good as we could hope for as an introduction to the gaming world. As my son and I were leaving I reiterated why it was so important he not keep his thoughts and feelings to himself all the time. “We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us. We don’t know what you’re feeling or thinking. We can’t read your mind. But we can help you when you are willing to tell us. Make sense?” “Okay, Mom. I’ve got it.” We’ll see if this works, but it feels like we’re heading on the right path. I’m feeling a little less helpless.

How have you gotten your child to talk to you when they were reluctant to do so?

Anger Management

Have you experienced your child having an angry outburst? How did you handle it?

Our son had an angry outburst during a Pokemon game at his after school care program. He was playing with one of his classmates who was beating him soundly continuing to use the same card to do “damage” (a Pokemon term that refers to an ability to¬†weaken/damage another character). My son didn’t like it. Another classmate who was observing the game decide to goad my son. “You’re gonna lose. You’re gonna lose.” Well, my son lost it. He took his opponents’s card and attempted to destroy it, and slapped his classmate who was goading him on. It all happened very fast. He reached his boiling point and lashed out. Caregivers descended to attend to each child and my son was lead to the office to cool down and later apologize. ¬†When he got home, my husband and I talked with him about what happened. It was clear he understood he did something he shouldn’t have, and there would be consequences (we made him write apology notes to both boys). What he was struggling with was figuring out how he could¬†better control his anger to avoid situations like this in the future.

My husband and I worked with our son, both on the letters (prompting him to think through what he’d done, how the other boys might feel and what he would like to hear/know from a classmate if they did something similar to him), and how we needed to continue to work with him on developing his thinking brain. His feeling brain currently had way too much power and control over his actions that were leading to the situation he was presently in.

We went back to school the next morning and I spoke to his teachers about what my husband and I had asked him to do (e.g. write the letters to the boys). I shared he was struggling with the task, and might need some help or guidance. If my son was angry at his classmates he played Pokemon with, he was doubly angry with my husband and I. After talking to his teachers, I went to my son. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hate you!” In that moment, I knew that he meant it to his core. And I can relate to the feeling, I felt it myself many times with my own parents–you don’t like the consequence you are getting, you don’t think it’s fair or just, and you don’t like or appreciate the lesson you are being taught. I told him, “Your feeling brain is in control and your thinking brain is taking a time-out in a chair off to the side observing what’s going on. We have to work together to build up your thinking brain, so you can make choices that help you get what you want without hurting others, and we can avoid these situations in the future.” I continued, “My job as a parent is to teach you things and keep you safe. This is part of me teaching you. It’s hard. No parent wants to hear that their kid hates them, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay if it helps you learn and grow.” My son didn’t say anything. I knew it was time for me to go. He needed to think about what I had said, and I needed to think about how he was feeling and what he was going through. It wasn’t an easy time for either of us.

The teacher later reached out and said my son cooled off after a while and gotten back to his old self. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was happier than I’d seen him in days. I didn’t broach the subject right away, but gave us some time to enjoy being happy together. After a while, I asked, “you were pretty unhappy with me this morning, how are you doing now?” He looked at me and replied, “Okay.” Our eyes met and I could tell he no longer was carrying that I-hate-you¬†inside him towards me. I hugged him and commented that growing up can be tough sometimes, and left it at that. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying each other’s company.

Raising kids is challenging. It can be painful when you see your child struggle or lash out at you in anger of frustration. But that’s part of being a parent. Every time my son learns something new, so do I.

How do you handle your own anger? How do you help your child handle their’s?

I’ll be off next week for Memorial Day weekend fun with the family and will return following. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

Secrets

Secrets can be heavy, and are something a child learns to keep.

When I was six, I was playing restaurant with a¬†friend. We were seated at the¬†play table and decided we need to create a menu to make the game more fun. My friend asked, “what should we put on¬†the menu?” I was feeling gutsy, so instead of saying what I normally would have said–pizza, fries, pie–I decided¬†to try out a new word I’d heard¬†a neighborhood teen say–a word that sounded bad, but I wasn’t sure. I decided my friend would be a safe place to try it out. I said, “why don’t we put f***ing cake on the menu.” My friend’s face went pale. I giggled nervously, thinking I was somehow cool for having the nerve to try it out. My friend said, “you just said a bad word. I’m going to go tell your mom.” Oh no, I thought…I hadn’t thought about my mom finding out as a possibility. I panicked and begged my friend not to tell. They did tell, and I got into big trouble. My punishment was soap in the mouth — needless to say I didn’t say another bad word out loud for a long time, but I picked up another habit…learning how to keep a secret. Instead of asking my parents or a trusted adult what something I didn’t understand, or was confused by, meant I kept it to myself, trying to figure out the meaning on my own, or relying on my peers or older kids in the neighborhood. It was a recipe for a lot¬†of misinformation and even more confusion about how the world worked.

As an adult, I learned keeping secrets can become an overwhelming burden; weighing you down lot a ton of bricks. It can hinder your ability to enjoy your life controlling your thoughts and actions. Speaking your truth–whether it’s ignorance about how something works, or something you did, or something you didn’t do but should have, etc.–can set you free, or certainly start to lift you from the weight of the burden.

My son recently asked if he could talk to me in private. He asks me to do this occasionally, and I always reassure him that I will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t need to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about whatever he wants to talk to me about. He shared that he had seen a picture that made him feel excited, nervous and sick. Despite having the computer¬†in an open space in our home, with parental control filters on, he came across a picture that was too grown up for him to see (the pic was of a¬†woman scantily clad in a provocative pose–it was an ad next to a YouTube video (the YouTube video was appropriate for kids, the ad clearly was not)). My heart dropped a bit when he told me this,¬†partly because I recognized he was losing some of his innocence, and partly because I was hopeful we wouldn’t cross this bridge with him until he was much older. The upside of learning this information was¬†that my son¬†had the courage to tell me, and trusted me to help him¬†deal with it.

While I would love to take away¬†screen time forever and protect my son from being exposed to inappropriate matter, it¬†isn’t realistic, and wouldn’t solve the problem. Instead, my husband and I needed¬†to come up with a plan to help our son. I sat down and talked with him about what he saw (my husband had a separate conversation with him as well), and we came up with a plan for what to do when you come across inappropriate pictures. Like many parental firsts, I felt like we were treading new ground. I’d never had a conversation like this with my parents, and can only hope we’re handling this in a way that will truly help him.

After sharing his secret, my son’s demeanor changed: where he had been moody and short tempered, he became happy and couldn’t get the smile off his face. We were out the next day enjoying ourselves, and he came over to me and said, “Mom, I don’t have any more secrets!” I could see the shear joy on his face at this realization. I asked him how not having any secrets felt. He thought for a moment and said, “Pretty good.” Pretty good indeed, I thought.

Keeping a secret is hard. Helping your¬†child navigate growing up is hard. Having open conversations that don’t allow secrets to live is freeing, and it feels great.

How are you helping your child navigate challenging issues?

12th Man – Junior Edition

Last week’s Super Bowl was devastating for Seattle Seahawks fans. To watch your team almost win the game and instead throw an interception, with no time left on the clock, was hard to accept. The 12th Man had to go through stages of grief: denial (no! no! no! That did not just happen!), anger (why didn’t they rush? why???), and finally acceptance (it is what it is…there is nothing we can do about it, so we need to figure out how to move on). Easier said than done, right?

We watched the game with my oldest son and were in disbelief as the fate of the Seahawks changed. He was upset (we all were). He outwardly showed it, and my husband and I inwardly reflected on how best to address the situation — had I been alone, my reaction may have more closely followed my son’s. When we had time to collect our thoughts, we worked to console our¬†son–while we may have thought we were trying to console him, we were really trying to help him¬†(and us) make sense of what just occurred. “Sometimes these things don’t happen like you hope they will. We have to remember both teams wanted to win as badly as the other. I’m sure there was a good reason they called that play.” While our words were rational, it was hard to find comfort in them. We all were hurting.

I’m guessing, like most 12s around the country, many of us didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Getting up on Monday, only to be reminded of what happened the night before, was hard. I was concerned about how my son would do at school. I figured most of the students would struggle with what happened in the game, and I was right, but not for long.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the 12th Man is a strong community. One of my son’s teachers (part of the 12s) had the kids talk about the game and how they felt about it at¬†the beginning of the school day. The class joined the rest of the school in a weekly assembly later that morning and talked about the game. My son shared what he learned during this gathering. “Mom, it’s really simple. They tried a play and it didn’t work. That happens sometimes,” he said. “It’s only a game. It’s not anything worth getting upset about. It’s not like it really matters.” Wow, sage advice,¬†I thought. Teaching your child about life, is a big part of the parenting experience. My son was reminding me that while I like to think I’m his¬†teacher, I’m also the student too. My son was teaching me now.

My son’s acceptance of what happened, helped me accept it too. Seeing Russell Wilson, Seattle’s QB, and Pete Carroll, Seattle’s Head Coach, talk about the play, why they did it, and how they were dealing with it helped too. It was another example of the 12s helping each other get through something.

Seattle should have won the football game, but may have won a bigger game in the long run–how to get through life, during good times and bad, together.

How have you handled unexpected disappointment? What support helped you get through it?