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?

Being Good Enough

Have you ever struggled with self-esteem?

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

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

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

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

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

Teen Travel

Oh, I should have seen this coming. Finally able to travel post pandemic-✔️, have itinerary-✔️, have tickets-✔️, have everything packed-✔️. Everyone excited (pause for effect) — sort of???

Three out of four of us were really excited about getting away for our vacation, except for my oldest. There were complaints at every turn. The flight is going to be too long. This is going to be so boring. I’m going to make sure you understand how much I’m not ‘feeling’ this. 😂😭😬

He earned the nickname ‘sour puss’ at one point in the trip because there was no pleasing him. For those of you who have children that are grateful and can find the joy in things, consider yourself fortunate. Our youngest is wired this way. Our oldest isn’t. We’re aware of his need to be more independent and not hang out with mom, dad, and his kid brother, but during our trip it got to a point we had to have an impromptu family meeting in a hotel room to address it.

As a human, I was angry, frustrated, and angry (yes, I meant to say it twice). The planning, and investment, and all the wonderful venues and activities we had lined up weren’t appreciated (which as a human I thought—what am I doing so wrong that I’m raising an ingrate?). In fact, we were getting a lot of ‘why do we have to do this?’, ‘this is dumb,’ etc. As a mom, I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and not say something I might regret. I was the adult and I needed to act like it, but it was so infuriating.

When my husband and I had some time alone, we discussed the situation. I can remember trips as a kid where we were going non-stop all the time and the trip seemed more like a chore (at times) than a vacation. I could relate to how my son was feeling, but still irked at his behavior.

We sat as a family and discussed how the trip was going. We discussed how when one person complains and acts like they don’t want to be there, it negatively impacts all of our experience. “Just because you aren’t having the best time, doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us.” Ruin might have been a dramatic word to use, but it had the intended effect. I can’t say my son ‘snapped out of it’, but definitely tempered himself.

We gave him some free time to go on runs, or explore around the neighborhood where we were staying. He even got into finding energy drinks they don’t sell here to bring home to a friend. It became part of a game, where he’d find a convenient store near whatever touristy thing we were doing, and see if he could find a new beverage. It was a compromise, and for the most part it worked.

We’re planning another dream trip (one we’d hope to do many years ago, but we’re unable to) next year. While we’re well into the planning stage we’re asking our kids for more feedback and involvement in the planning so we can all have the best experience possible (if that is possible???😂😭😬).

For me, this trip was about having a once in a lifetime experience with my family. Was it a great trip?✔️ Did we see and do a lot of new things? ✔️ Was it all sunshine and rainbows – absolutely not. Did we learn more about each other and grow as a family? ✔️✔️✔️

How is traveling with your family? What resistance have you had from your child (or teen), and how did you address?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

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?