The Start of Something New

Is your child starting at a new school this year?

My youngest is entering middle school. His first new school in six years. He’s feeling a range of emotions – anticipation and excitement over the new school, what he’ll learn, how it will be different from elementary school, meeting the new students, and making new friends. He is also mourning elementary school. Classmates he grew close to, particularly towards the end of the year. Already missing those that will be moving away, or going to other middle schools. Concerned about if he will make new friends, concerned if he is ready for the harder material, ready for the independence he is gaining.

As a parent, I too am experiencing a range of emotions. I’m excited for him, but also concerned–will he be accepted as he is, will this experience be good for him, will he grow as my husband and I hope from it? I think every parent has these concerns at one time or another. But I have to let him go in order for him to grow, find himself, struggle, make mistakes and be there to help him work through the tough times, and celebrate the successes.

We’ll have the first day of school behind us before we know it. We’ll navigate the start of this something new like we have before (daycare and kindergarten)–by being open to what’s to come with optimism, preparing for unforeseen bumps, experiencing them as they come, and moving onward.

How do you help your child when they start something new? How do you help them adjust?

I’ll be off for Labor Day weekend and back in mid-September.

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?

Overcoming Fear

What scares you that doesn’t necessarily scare others?

For me, it’s been horses. Not to see them, be near them, or even pet them. It’s riding them. I’ve been opposed to doing so most of my life.

My fear of horses came from experience. I’d gone to a two week long overnight camp when I was 10 or 11, that offered extracurricular activities. I knew a few of the girls going to camp and they suggested we all sign up for horseback riding. So I did. When we went to ride horses for the first time the camp counselors asked me my experience level. I should have said “beginner”, but instead I said, “intermediate.” I paused, did I say that to impress my friends? They all did have riding experience and I didn’t want to be left behind. “Are you sure?” The counselor asked. I think she picked up on my uncertainty. “Yes,” I said, trying to put a brave face on. “Okay,” she replied, and so I was put in the intermediate group. It was clear fast that I didn’t know what I was doing. The instructors helped me, but I could easily tell these creatures needed to be handled a certain way — a way that an experienced rider would know — needless to say, I was scared.

Every day we would ride a different horse. Most of the horses were easygoing, and relatively easy to handle. I was grateful. Then one day I was told I’d be riding Lightning. He was a bit more to handle but the instructors told me I was ready. Well, I wasn’t. I got on the horse and it took off at full speed. I was holding on for dear life and had no sense for how to slow him down. After several minutes, and with the aid of others, the horse finally calmed down and I was able to safely get down, but not without feeling traumatized. I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. I was told by the counselors what happened wasn’t my fault, but I was done with horses. Done. Until this year.

We had scheduled to visit some of the National Parks (Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce). My husband wanted to set us up for some ‘experiences’ for the family while on the trip. One was going to the Antelope Slot Canyon and doing a tour. Another was doing horseback in Bryce Canyon. I had a decision to make — continue to be scared of riding horses for the rest of my life or face my fear. I thought it was time to address it, and an opportunity to show my kids that anyone can conquer a fear at any age.

We got to the stable the morning of our ride. I was given the tallest horse in the group. Gulp. They helped me on the horse. I was scared, but I saw my sons ahead of me on their horses. They seemed calm, I figured I should project calmness myself. ūüėä

The horses started down the canyon. I felt like a giant rocking back and forth so high in my saddle. Our wrangler was good — very straightforward, knowledgeable and encouraging. He helped build both my sons confidence in riding and mine. By the time we reached the bottom of the canyon my fear had subsided and we were all enjoying ourselves.

When we returned to the stable, we got off our horses. “What did you think?” I asked my boys. “I was scared at first, but after a while I really enjoyed it,” one son said. “Me too,” the other chimed in, “I’d definitely do that again.” I decided to come clean with my boys. I hadn’t said a word about my fear of riding as I didn’t want them to take on my fear. “I think I overcame my fear of riding horses today,” I said. “You were scared?” they asked. I told them the story of camp and shared how it was likely the difference in the immaturity of the camp counselors (who couldn’t have been more than 17-18 at the time) and our wrangler who was mature and wise regarding horses that made the difference. “Mom thought it’d be a good idea to show you you can overcome fears, and try things again, even if you haven’t done it for decades.” My boys just smiled. I smiled too. Any fear we had was behind us. It was a good day for us all.

How do you help your child work through fear?

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?

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son¬†didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t¬†blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep¬†speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa¬†and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer¬†care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice¬†in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another¬†at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off¬†every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone.¬†As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others.¬†I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force¬†my¬†wants and needs¬†on him,¬†but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain¬†to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?

Competition for 1

With the start of the summer Olympics, I’m reminded how much value we place on competition.

My sons are taking lessons this summer to help strengthen their swimming skills. My oldest shared how nervous he was prior to the first lesson. “Mom, what if I don’t do well and they send me back to the beginners class with the little kids?” I could understand his anxiety, he hadn’t really swam much¬†since the prior summer and needed to re-acclimate himself with being in the pool.¬†His stress waned once he started swimming and he did well enough to stay in the advance class. He wasn’t the most advanced and needed instruction from his teacher on several of the strokes, but he listened and was able to do what his teacher asked.

Before a lesson several weeks later my son once again expressed his concern. “Mom, I’m not as good as the other kids. They’re all better than I am.” I understood how he could feel this way, but thought he might be looking at this all wrong. “This isn’t a competition,” I said, “the only one you are competing with here is yourself. Instead of comparing how good you are against the other swimmers, compare yourself to how you did last week. Did you improve on any of your skills? Were you able to do something better than you did before?” I could tell I had got him thinking. “Thanks, Mom,” he said and headed off to get into the pool.

I wasn’t sure if I had really gotten through to him, or if he was saying thanks to end the conversation. ūüôā Following the lesson we were walking back home when he said, “Mom, I improved on some things today!” He was very excited, and I was too — he actually had taken what I’d said to heart. He shared how he had improved on his kick and how we’d learned how to turn his body so he could stroke and kick at the same time. He was very proud of what he had done, and so was I.

There is much competition in the world. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. We learn this as a child¬†and often cling to it as an¬†adult as a measure of our worth. Talking to my son about this made me rethink how I compare myself to¬†others., and¬†that life really is a competition for one.

How do you deal with competition? How are you helping your child?

 

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!

Mom Fail

As a parent, have you ever had felt despite your best efforts, you just¬†can’t do anything right?

I’ve certainly felt this way: when my sons have rejected clothes, toys, food and me! It’s a terrible feeling. You’re trying to do your best by your child, and don’t feel like you’re getting it “right.”

A girlfriend and I were swapping Mom stories one day. Here is how the exchange went:

“I had no idea how much work the Daddy Daughter dance would be to coordinate.”

“I know what you mean. Hang in there. The event will be great.”

“I got my kids to school 30 minutes late today. Mom Fail!”

“No way. You’ve got to cut yourself some slack. You’ve got a lot going on.”

“Thanks I needed to hear that.”

“Absolutely! You’re doing great. Keep me posted on how things go.”

Later in the day, it was I who needed my friend.

“I’m in the ER. Swallowed something he shouldn’t have. ūüė¶ Ugh. How many times have I told him¬†you¬†only put food and water in your mouth!?”

“Oh my gosh, how are you doing? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. I will feel better when he get’s a clean bill of health.”

“Prayers coming your way. Keep me posted.”

“Thanks.”

a while later…

“Just got the green light. He will be fine. So thankful. Appreciate you being there.”

“Great news. So happy to hear it. Talk to you soon.”

 ** ** ** ** **

Both my friend and I started out by sharing how we’d “failed” as moms. Of course, as a parent you go¬†through ups and downs. An ‘up’ for me, is when one of my sons accomplishes something or has an insight that he’s proud of, and I quietly think/hope I may have influenced or inspired it. A¬†‘down’ comes when I have to argue or be stern with my boys to get them to do something (homework, eat, etc.) or they experience something avoidable (like¬†swallowing something¬†that isn’t water or food). In these moments, my¬†mind wonders to think¬†if only I were a better parent. Ever have one of those moments?

As a parent, we can, too often, beat ourselves up when things don’t go right. There is no perfect parent, or perfect parenting. There are an infinite number of styles, and if your motivation is doing what’s best for your child (not what your child wants, but what’s best for them), you are probably doing a pretty darn¬†good job. My friend and I may have felt like parental failures, but only in the moment. Upon reflection, it was such moments that allow us to¬†stop and reevaluate how we are doing as parents, and adjust (or readjust) as needed.

How have you dealt with moments when you felt like¬†you weren’t at your parenting best? How did you¬†recover from¬†it?