Teen Distancing

If you have a teen, do you notice them wanting more space?

My oldest is definitely covets alone time. It’s not uncommon for him to disappear for hours to listen to music, exercise, text or talk with his friends, or just have time away from the rest of us. I get it. I can recall being a teen and spending hours on end in my room listening to music, and just enjoying having time to myself.

We’ve needed a change of scenery from being cooped up due to Covid, and went to a neighboring county for respite. This county has many hiking trails. I had been feeling my son’s distance and asked if he’d go on a mother-son hike with me. My hope was that we could take a leisurely walk and just reconnect. I could better understand what he is feeling — being separated from friends, school being over, the summer and upcoming plans changed or cancelled — and see how (or if) I could help. My son reluctantly agreed. He was suspicious that I had an ulterior motive than just talking (such as wanting to talk to him about something specific), but I assured him I just wanted to connect with no agenda to talk about anything specific.

We went for our hike, or should I say jog? We did walk but you would have thought we were having a race to see how fast we could complete the hike. I had to ask my son to slow down repeatedly. We didn’t have to be too concerned with social/physical distancing because he was always 20 feet in front of me. I started shouting my questions to him (thankfully we had the hiking trail to ourselves), “I just want to check-in with you. How are you doing?” I asked. His response, “Fine.” I tried again, “How are you feeling about things? School being over, and not being able to see your friends?” “Fine,” he responded again. Huff, huff, huff. Image me speed walking up and down inclines trying to get my son to engage in a meaningful dialogue. I’m sure it was quite a sight. “Please, slow down. It’s not a race. I just want to talk, you have been more distant lately, and I just want to make sure you’re okay. That you and I are okay.” “Mom,” he slowed down (hallelujah!), “We’re fine. I just want space. I’m a teenager. I’d prefer not to be cooped up, but what are you going to do? We have to until this is over. It sucks, but it’s just the way it is.”

He continued his slightly slower cadence so I was able to get in a few more questions and get more answers before we finished. He went off on his own once we rejoined his younger brother and my husband.

I remember being his age and seeking more independence from my parents. It’s bittersweet. Amazing to see him grow tinged with sadness with just how soon he’ll be off on his own. While he may want me to give him some teen distance now, I hope he’ll periodically slow down and allow for us to be closer.

How are you bridging any distancing that may be going on with you and your child? How are you keeping them close during this time of distancing?

Classic

What activities are doing with your family to pass the time while we’re physically distancing ourselves?

Puzzles have made a resurgence. Reading. Binge watching shows. Watching or reading classics. Sewing. Playing music. Gardening. So many wonders things I see folks doing around me.

We have picked back up reading as a family. Our oldest was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee prior to his school closing. As a book I’ve loved, I yearned to read it again, and suggested we read it together. Everyone agreed. We take a chapter each and read to each other most nights after dinner. We talk about the character in the books, how things were different in our country regarding attitudes and accepted stereotypes in the 1930s, we talk about class, opportunity (or lack there of), knowing your neighbors (in only a way you can in a small town), and passing judgement before having the full picture (or all the facts). It’s also a great opportunity for my husband and I to see how far our children’s reading skills have come (this book is not the easiest to read as it has many challenging (dare I say advanced?) words).

My husband and I were reflecting on the opportunity being stuck in the house has given us — being able to read with our kids again. We thought those days were long behind us, and have really enjoyed revisiting this activity. We enjoy seeing our kids interested in what we’re reading — in a way that shows the book is making them think, and helping them open their eyes to bigger issues we still struggle with in our society today. I’m grateful we’ve had this opportunity to do this as a family. I look forward to seeing what we do next once we finish this classic.

What activity are you enjoying doing as a family during this time?

So Thankful

What are you most thankful for this year?

There is much to be thankful for me — my family’s health, having shelter and food, support and love from family and friends, and I can’t forget our cat who brings us so much joy.

Something I didn’t realize how much I appreciated was my sons willingness to talk openly to me. My oldest seemed quieter than usual and less interested in wanting to talk to me. When I’d try to engage him he’d grunt, roll his eyes, or get defensive, “I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” I wasn’t alone in noticing how my son was acting. When this behavior carried over into the following week I decided I was going to have to do something drastic to get him to talk to me so I could better understand what was going on. I did the only thing I knew to do — I asked him to go for a walk.

“Fine,” he said in a tone indicating going on a walk with his mom was the last thing he wanted to do. I think he resolved himself to the idea that I wasn’t just going to leave him alone. We walked for a few blocks and I asked, “What’s going on with you? You seem almost angry at me. If there’s something we need to talk about, let’s talk about it.” He seemed surprised by my question. “I’m not angry at you. My mood has nothing to do with you.” “What does it have to do with because you’ve been acting differently lately and I can’t help you if I don’t know,” I asked. He made a sound of frustration and finally said, “Everything sucks.” Okay, we’re getting somewhere now, I thought. “What sucks exactly,” I asked. “School for one.” “Is it classes, or your teachers or your friends…” my question trailed off. “My teachers are great, classes are fine. It’s all the stupid kids who go to that school. They’re all dumb and judgmental, and it makes me mad because most of the people don’t know anything about me.” I could tell from the way he was talking we’d gotten to the heart of the matter — he was struggling with how you show up to others, what value you bring, how others see you. How bad it can feel when you’re ignored, or feel like you’re being judged. We talked about friendship and how it’s like growing a plant — you have to care for it and feed it, or over time it won’t survive. We arrived back at our house and my son seemed more at ease. His dark mood seemed to subside. I was grateful he agreed to go on the walk. I’ve been where he’s been — we probably all have as teenagers — trying to figure who we are and where we fit in. I’m grateful he was willing to listen and take in what I had to offer, and I’m thankful he no longer felt that he had to try to navigate this on his own.

What are you thankful for this holiday?

I’ll be taking time off to spend time with family and will be back in December.

Date Night

How often do you get out for a date night?

My husband and I have tried to get our for a date night at least once a month since our kids were born. It wasn’t always easy to find a sitter, but we knew for the health of our relationship we needed it.

Our date nights have evolved as our kids have grown and become more independent. When they were young, our dates were planned, and would include a nice restaurant, and a movie or a show if we could swing it. But as the kids have grown, the date nights have become more casual, less planned. It’s just time for us to be together alone.

On our vacation this summer, the kids were happy after a day of being outdoors to have some downtime (or should I say screen time). My husband and I suggested one night early in the trip that we should figure out what we wanted to do for dinner. My oldest quickly piped in, “Why don’t you all have a date night. We’ve got snacks we can eat here.” My husband and I looked at each other. “Are you sure?” I asked, “Because we won’t be bringing anything back for you.” “Yes!,” both sons chimed in. My oldest finished with, “Go!” My husband and I shrugged and headed out. We had a nice dinner, we got to talk about the trip, how things were going with us, and how things were going with the kids. We talked about the upcoming days and our plans, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It became a common theme throughout our trip. We had dinner as a family most nights, but several nights the kids would insist it should be a date night and my husband and I didn’t resist. It’s nice that we all enjoy each other when we’re together but need our space so we can enjoy each other even more when we all come back together.

How often do you have a date night? How are you connecting as a couple during time away from your child?

Just Be You

How old were you when you first became self-conscious?

I can’t recall exactly when the moment was, but would tell you it started around the third grade and grew from there. A collection of small comments here and there — whether about my looks or actions, or that of others — I picked up that people were watching, and judging.

My oldest son is a teen and extremely self-conscious. My younger is a tween, and is more self-aware, less self-conscious. That’s one if the gifts you get from being on the spectrum, you often don’t hear or register those small comments that neuro-typical folks catch.My oldest is embarrassed easily by everyone and everything (that he doesn’t see as ‘cool’) around him — my husband, his brother, and I can easily cause my older son embarrassment even if it’s in the privacy of our own home. I can’t sing, dance or be silly without my oldest asking me to stop. “Mom, you’re so embarrassing,” he’ll say. “We’re in our house. No one can see us. What’s to be embarrassed about?,” I’ll reply. “It just is,” he says. Ugh.

My oldest was having one of his you-all-are-so-embarrassing-me moments right before my husband, younger son, and I went for a walk. My oldest stayed behind. He didn’t want to be seen with us. 😊

As we were walking we discussed how easily our oldest gets embarrassed. His younger brother said, “I don’t know why he gets so embarrassed, we’re just being ourselves.” “We’ll, maybe that makes him uncomfortable,” I replied. My son said, “Well it shouldn’t. There’s a great saying I heard. Just be you. Everyone else has been taken.” My husband and I smiled. “How old are you again?” I asked. Very insightful for a tween. I just wish his older brother had just been there to hear it.

Is your child self-conscious? If so, how are you helping them see they are perfect just as they are?

Bitter Sweet

What parenting milestones are behind you?

My youngest just finished elementary school. It is bitter sweet. Bitter in that I’ll miss the innocence of elementary school, and all the milestones that occurred — learning to read and write, learning math, growing up and becoming a more independent person. I’ll miss the caring teachers, principal, and staff who all were vested in both my sons success. Sweet in that he is ready to leave and excited about what comes next.

It’s funny what you realize in these moments. My husband and my schedule will change — my son will be at a new school in the Fall with a new start time. We won’t be driving over near the elementary school as often. We won’t have a reason to be there. That can feel strange when it’s been part of your community for eight years (between both of my kids). I’m trying to accept the ending of this chapter and preparing myself for the next. Thankful the summer creates a nice break and an opportunity to reset and get ready for what comes next.

What moments in your parenting journey have been bitter sweet?

I will be away next weekend celebrating the holiday. Happy Fourth!

Growing into Yourself

How did you become the person you are today?

It’s not a simple question to answer.

It’s curious being a parent watching your children navigate who they are and want to be (now and in the future). My oldest son is very self-critical. He often gets frustrated when he can’t do something new exceptionally well the first time. He’s disappointed and gets angry that his body or mind requires him to work at something.

I don’t know where this comes from. We’ve always talked to our kids about hard work and how it pays off. How everyone, regardless how smart, strong, etc., has to work to hone their skill(s) and improve. He’s heard us talk about this numerous times, he’s heard teachers and coaches say this, but can only conclude that he believes our words don’t apply to him.

Until this last school year. For the first time Ive seen him want to get better on his own. It was as if he’d awakened and finally understood that if he wants to improve — in sports or school or anything else, he’s going to have to put in the work. During a student-teacher conference the teacher confirmed this growth / maturity my son had gained. I always feel it is a gift when someone acknowledges you in such a profound way. I could see my son appreciated the teacher’s comments as well. I left the meeting grateful that my son was maturing and taking a more active role in where life takes him, but I can’t put my finger on what led him to this realization, or desire to better himself. Is it self awareness that he lacked before and now found, or just a better understanding of how things work and realizing there are almost always no shortcuts to success?

I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but I’m somewhat in awe of watching my son grow into himself.

How are you helping your child grow into who they will become?

The Last Halloween?

What was your child dressed up as for their first Halloween?

Both my boys went as pirates their first Halloweens. Black pants, white onesie with a red scarf threaded around their middle. Put on a small pirate hat and you had yourself one cute kid.

My oldest son decided last year he had aged out of trick or treating though I think he had second thoughts Halloween night. This year he’s definitely decided he’s ‘too old’ (and even after finding him a Rick and Morty costume — when he turned that down I knew he was done). My youngest is into cats, and found a leopard costume, so I get to experience Halloween at least one more year with my son.

Each year I wonder, will this be the last year? Why must time go so fast?

My boys are already thinking to the holidays and festivities beyond Halloween. Their excitement is contagious. It helps me get through the reality that they are leaving childhood behind (or will be very soon). And while this may be my last Halloween trick or treating with one of my boys, there will be other memories to make and milestones to look forward to.

Scary how time flies! Happy Halloween!

Letting them Go

Have you ever struggled to let your child do something on their own?

My youngest son had his first overnight trip without family. His fourth grade class took an overnight trip to a school in the woods (a nature school). His older brother went when he was in the fourth grade and loved it so much he didn’t want to come back. We were excited for our younger son, but knew he was a little apprehensive, which in turn made me a little apprehensive. My fears: will he have fun? Is he going to be and feel included? Is he going to be okay? My son’s fears (though not confirmed by him) are likely more around no screen time (no TV, no YouTube, no Internet — oh my!).

The morning of his trip he teared up at the breakfast table. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. “I know, and we’ll miss you too,” I responded, “but this is good practice for growing up.” He gave me an eye-roll suggesting my response wasn’t what he hoped for (think he was looking for a “we don’t want you to go either…please stay!”). I hugged him and tried to reassure him. “You’re going with people who care about you. Most kids say this trip is the highlight of their elementary school, and now you get to go on it! Most kids (including your brother) would do anything to go back to this camp.” That seemed to help. He wiped his eyes and got ready to go.

It’s hard to let your kids grow up, do things on their own, and help them to be independent. It’s easy to think that if they are independent they don’t need you. But I want my boys to be independent, and to have confidence they have the skills to navigate this life. I want my boys, as they grow into adults, to want to talk and engage with my husband and I because they choose to, not because they have to. It’s still hard to experience the transition as they go from childhood into early adulthood. It’s hard letting them g(r)o(w).

How are you helping your child be independent?

I will be away for the next few weeks and back in July.

 

The Comeback

Has your child ever made a remark that has stopped you in your tracks?

When my oldest son entered middle school he struggled with people who made unkind comments. We talked about strategies for how to handle and one way we discussed was to have a comeback. Not an equally unkind comment (e.g. an eye for an eye), but a smart comeback, a clever comeback. One that shows you caught the person’s unkind comment and you’re handing it back to them (with the intent of getting them to become more self-aware and be more careful with their negative comments and how they use their words in the future).

Examples:

Unkind comment: “You’ve got a big nose.
Smarter comeback: “The better to smell jerks like YOU with.”

Unkind comment: “You’re weird.”
Smarter comeback: “Everyone’s weird, including you for saying that.”

I didn’t realize how far my son had advanced in his comeback skills until we were looking at some apps he’d downloaded. I was asking him to show me what each app did (as a parent, I wanted to ensure that there was nothing inappropriate). He showed me an app where you race cars, but the app’s title implied it was about wrecking cars. “Are you supposed to wreck the cars?” I asked. “Sometimes,” my son said and proceeded to show me how you could do it.  I commented, “Oh, you lost a wheel!” I laughed because the car appeared to be racing just fine even though a wheel had fallen off. “Well, you lost your youth” my son replied. It was matter-of-fact and direct. I don’t think he liked that I had laughed at the wheel falling off and was treating my comment as ‘unkind’ vs. an honest, non-emotional observation. “My youth?” I said. He smiled, “well, yea!” He looked sheepish as if he realized he may have had a disproportionate reaction to the situation. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Well, I know someone who may lose their youth if they don’t watch what they say to their Mom.” We both laughed at that.

When I grew up, I would and could have never had this conversation with my mother. It would have been seen as being very disrespectful. I’m not sure I was excited being told by my son that I’d lost my youth, but I was impressed by his comeback. It was clever, a bit out of left field for the situation, but I had to give him credit.

Self-advocacy can be hard to navigate as you age. Asking for what you want is key, defending yourself in a way that gets your point across without escalating the situation is another. My son is gaining ground in defending himself. I have to applaud him for that.

How do you help your child self-advocate? How do you help them respond when people direct unkind comments at them?